What are they and would it benefit me?
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that naturally live in our intestines. There are hundreds of different species of bacteria that call our digestive track “home” and when they are in the right balance, they greatly benefit us. These good bacteria help us digest food and regulate our immune systems. However, there are several ways we can lose this balance.
Am I in balance? How do I tell?
A diet high in processed foods (refined sugars, grains, and oils), antibiotic use, lack of physical activity, stress, and certain medications can all affect our gut bacteria balance.
Any digestive difficulty such as bloating, gas, loose stools, or constipation can be indicators that you’re gut is out-of-whack.
If you have any of these symptoms, diet is the first place to look and change. A healthy diet, exercise, and stress relief all benefit our digestion. If symptoms are not improving with lifestyle changes or if they are significant, it may be beneficial to add a probiotic for a few months to support the rebalancing of the gut bacteria. Antibiotics can really throw this balance off if you have to take them for an extended period of time or multiple times.
What do I look for on the label?
You want to look for a probiotic that has multiple strains (not just a single strain) and that contains strains from the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium families, as these are two of the most abundant species in the gut.
An acid-resistant capsule is also helpful so that it passes through your stomach intact.
Does my probiotic need to be refrigerated?
Most probiotics do not need to be refrigerated if you are using them daily and they are stored in a cool, dry place. If you buy in bulk or will not be going through the bottle within a few months, you can refrigerate it to extend the shelf life. That being said, refrigeration is not a sign of a higher quality probiotic, as many people think.
Probiotics that do need refrigeration have more potential to become inactive, actually. Because of shipping and travel from store to your house, there is more chance the bottle is exposed to elements and can become less potent. Buying shelf-stable probiotics eliminates this concern.
Can I just eat food instead of taking a supplement to get more good bacteria?
Sure, but foods need to be consumed regularly to get any benefit. Read: every single day. Try including more of these: fermented dairy (yogurt, kefir), sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, and pickles.
If you think a probiotic may be beneficial to you, ask your dietitian or medical provider at your next visit!