Deciding whether or not you should be taking probiotics can be a confusing subject. From diarrhea and constipation to clearer skin and immune benefits, they have been touted as being useful for a wide variety of issues. When you combine that with all the talk of keeping a healthy gut and microbiome, it can be easy to assume you should be taking a probiotic daily.
Although I do not feel that probiotics are the answer to everyone’s health conditions, it’s important to understand when they can be helpful and how they could potentially enhance your health.
Before we get into if adding these strains of bacteria are the right choice for you and the science behind them, let’s begin by discussing what probiotics are and how they work.
What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics are microorganisms that may provide various health benefits when consumed. This is because they try to restore a healthy bacterial balance in the gut by replenishing the normal flora and lowering the number of bad bacteria.
There are many different types of probiotics that have specific strains of healthy bacteria in them. The seven core genera used include:
Potential Health Benefits of Probiotics:
Although we do not have adequate scientific data to confirm, some of the possible health benefits include:
- May help our digestive tract and increase motility
- May benefit our immune system
- May promote a healthy balance of bacteria in our colon, especially after taking antibiotics
- Probiotics can help reduce symptoms of certain digestive disorders – ulcerative colitis & Crohn’s disease
- May decrease frequency of vaginal yeast infections
- May improve cholesterol levels
- May aid in weight loss
- May improve oral health
- May improve various skin conditions
Probiotics and Science
Most probiotics are sold as dietary supplements which means they don’t need FDA approval. What does this mean for you? It means there’s no way of knowing the safety or effectiveness of what you’re purchasing. While these products can’t make health claims, they may lead you to believe they’ll help with certain issues. For this reason, use discretion when reading labels.
The study of the human microbiome is complex, to say the least. In fact, your body contains trillions, yes trillions, of microorganisms — outnumbering your cells by 10 to 1. There’s much to learn and science does not yet know which bacterial strains are helpful and which aren’t. While there’s a history of safe use for this dietary supplement, there’s a lack of human scientific studies backing up the efficacy of these supplements.
Research is ongoing and new research is coming out every day. At this time, probiotics with the genus Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, or Saccharomyces have the greatest amount of medical research to back up their health claims.
UPDATE: In 2020, the American Gastroenterology Association released a summary stating that for most conditions, the effectiveness of probiotics has not been supported by clinical studies.
Should You Take a Daily Probiotic?
It’s my recommendation that patients do not look upon probiotics as a daily vitamin supplement. If you’re healthy and not experiencing digestive symptoms, you probably won’t see much of a benefit. They are really designed to help improve a dysfunction or dysbiosis in the body and not to supplement a deficiency.
However, I often do suggest probiotics to patients with certain health conditions like ulcerative colitis/pouchitis or Crohn’s Disease. Also, if you’re taking antibiotics, they can help reduce the risk of antibiotic-associated diarrhea and reduce the risk of developing Clostridium difficile infection. I generally suggest taking probiotics while you are on antibiotics and for two weeks after completion of the antibiotic course.
If you’re considering taking probiotics long term, it may be best to discuss with your gastroenterologist or primary care doctor to determine if they are right for you.
Have Questions About Probiotics?
If you have questions about whether or not probiotics are right for you, schedule an appointment at our office to speak directly to our skilled staff. We’re here to help you improve your gastrointestinal conditions while involving you in your care every step of the way.
Call us at (972) 867-0019 or request an appointment. We’d love to hear from you!
Does everyone respond the same way to a specific probiotic strain?
No. People have different genetic makeup, different health conditions, and unique microbiomes which means what works for you might not work for your neighbor.
Which digestive conditions are probiotics good for?
Generally speaking, they can be good for improving symptoms of conditions like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
Are probiotics regulated by the FDA?
They are typically sold as dietary supplements and do not require FDA approval unless they make health claims.
Difference between prebiotics and probiotics?
Prebiotics feed or fertilize the good bacteria already present in your gut. Probiotics are bacteria you take to help populate or replenish your microbiome.
Are probiotics similar to a multivitamin?
No. Multivitamins supplement deficiencies in the body. Probiotics are really designed to help treat, improve, or solve dysfunction.