Allyn Wergin, R.D.N.
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Recently, there’s been a lot of conversation in the media about probiotics. As a nutritionist, I often answer questions from patients looking to know more about probiotics and their publicized health benefits. While medical science works to further understand the role the microbiome plays in our daily health, there are a few questions we can shed some light on to help you gain a better understanding of probiotics.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are live, active microorganisms ingested to alter the gastrointestinal flora for health benefits. They often are referred to as good bacteria in the gut and compete with bad bacteria to support the body in establishing optimal digestion and aid immune function.
Why are probiotics important to our health?
Probiotics help create a balance in a healthy digestive system. When this balance breaks down either due to illness, a course of antibiotics, a diet lacking nutrient-dense food or the overgrowth of unfriendly bacteria, gastrointestinal problems can occur.
Although more research is needed, there is evidence that probiotics may help:
- Prevent and/or treat diarrhea caused by infections and antibiotics
- Improve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome
- Boost immune system
- Reduce inflammation and allergies
Are probiotics right for everyone?
Probiotics have a good safety record for people who are generally healthy. Side effects, if they occur at all, usually consist of mild digestive symptoms like gas. As with any drug or supplement, always talk to your health care provider prior to taking any probiotic. This is especially important if you have a suppressed immune system, as serious complications such as infections have occasionally been reported in some people.
Foods that contain probiotics
Some of the most natural probiotic-rich foods include:
Recommendations for probiotics
The potential benefits of probiotics are widespread, but there’s no one-size-fits all application. There are many different probiotics, each strain performing a separate function or producing a different benefit in the body. Additionally, probiotic supplementation is an exciting and growing area of research. The current literature supports their use for a variety of conditions, primarily within digestive health.
Things to consider:
- Find the right strain for your individual needs.
- Follow storage instructions, as some probiotics need to be refrigerated.
- Check the expiration date of the probiotic you’re using.
- Try foods or supplements. Either is fine, though supplements generally have higher concentrations of probiotics.
Most importantly, eat a diet rich in nutrients and high in fiber — including fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Probiotics feed off of fiber and build colonies that will keep your gut in a healthy balance.
If you have questions or concerns about probiotics, make sure you to discuss them with your health care provider.Allie Wergin is a registered dietitian-nutritionist in New Prague, Minnesota.