Should I Be Taking Probiotics?
By Charlotte Foster BSc (Hons), MSc, RD
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts which are often promoted as having various health benefits. You can find probiotics in supplements, live yoghurt and fermented foods. Probiotics are often described as ‘good’ or ‘healthy’ bacteria, because they are thought to restore the natural balance of bacteria in your gut if it has been disrupted by illness.
Are probiotics a miracle cure?
Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation surrounding probiotics, convincing readers that they can fix any problem. I have really seen it all – ridiculous claims that probiotics promote weight-loss, banish colds and flu, and even cure sepsis…! Do I think that probiotics are a miracle cure to solve all your health problems? Absolutely not! However, they can be a great supplementary treatment if you are looking for symptomatic relief from a condition such as IBS or antibiotic-associated diarrhoea.
If you are in good health, there is little evidence to suggest that taking a probiotic supplement is useful. However, if you are struggling with a gut symptom that you are looking to manage, in some cases it may be advisable. It is important to remember that different probiotics have different uses… You wouldn’t take an antihistamine to help with a headache because there is no evidence to suggest it will help. In the same way, you will not see benefits from taking a probiotic that isn’t clinically proven to help your symptoms. Inside our gut, there are between 300-500 different kinds of bacteria!
So how do you know which probiotic to take? Whilst there is constant research happening in the world of probiotics, we are not quite at the point where we can confidently identify which strains of bacteria are the most beneficial for certain conditions, and what the most optimal doses of these probiotics are. So if you are considering taking a probiotic the best thing to do is to pick a brand and try it for at least 4 weeks – you are not going to see results overnight. Sometimes taking a probiotic can make your bowels a little overactive initially but this should settle after a few days. If you do not notice any symptom improvement after this time it is worth considering trying a different type.
There is some evidence which shows that for people with constipation, taking a probiotic with Bifidobacterium lactis can be beneficial. Here is a useful probiotics guide
which gives a summary of different probiotics, the symptom-based benefits and the recommended dosage.
Even though there is limited evidence to suggest probiotics offer health benefits for those without gut issues, many people are still interested in taking them for overall gut health and to ‘feed’ their microbiome! If this is the case for you – go ahead. Taking probiotic supplements will not hurt you and they have very limited adverse side effects. Many people also like to include probiotic rich/fermented foods into their diet for some added microbes!
Here are a few suggestions to try and include throughout the day…
– Live yoghurt (such as Greek yoghurt, skyr yoghurt or any yoghurt with live cultures)
– Kefir (a fermented milk drink which resembles a milkshake – there are loads of flavours to choose from!)
– Sourdough bread
– Kombucha (fermented green tea – this also comes in many yummy flavours)
– Cottage cheese
– Tempeh (this is made from fermented soybeans and is a great source of plant-based protein)
– Sauerkraut (fermented cabbage – trust me it is nicer than it sounds!)
– Kimchi (fermented veggies with Korean seasoning)
– Miso soup
In conclusion, probiotics can be a great supplementary treatment if you are struggling with gut issues or taking a course of antibiotics. However, it is important that you don’t view probiotics as a miracle cure, because they probably won’t be. If you are struggling with gut issues, be sure to consult a medical professional to get help. Whilst most of the time it is nothing serious, you should always rule out more serious bowel conditions.
If you’re feeling like you have tried everything and are looking for symptomatic relief for your gut issues, do get in touch! Drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or complete a contact form
via our website.