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Should You Be Taking Probiotics?

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(Photo: iStock)

The words “bacteria” and “good” aren’t words you’d typically use in the same sentence – unless you’re talking about probiotics.

Probiotics are naturally found in our bodies, but they’ve only recently enjoyed some newfound fame starting in the mid-1990s, with a surge in discussion amongst the health and nutrition crowd. Since our bodies are full of bacteria – both good and bad – we figured this topic deserved some extra attention, which is why we consulted Certified Nutrition Health Counselor Sarah Moore to get some fast facts.

What are probiotics and why are they important?

Put simply, probiotics are a type of live bacteria—but the good kind. “Probiotics are healthy, beneficial bacteria found in and on our body as well as in food,” Moore explains. These “good” bacteria and yeasts help reduce the harmful bacteria in the human gut, aid in proper digestion and nutrient absorption, and can even support and encourage the response of the immune system when it’s needed.

“Probiotics boost our immune system and maintain healthy gut flora,” says Moore. “They are our "good army,” if you will. They also help to maintain proper PH internally and externally.” Probiotics are available in over-the-counter dietary supplements that are becoming increasingly popular among the health-conscious crowd due to their positive results for a variety of conditions and concerns. They’ve even been said to inhibit infection, inflammation and disease by crowding out the bad bacteria growing in our bodies.

So, are you a probiotic candidate?

“Anyone who has taken an antibiotic needs a probiotic,” Moore says. “Once the antibiotic is ingested, it takes care of both the bad bacteria and the good, unfortunately. That’s why many women get a yeast infection after antibiotics because their PH levels are disrupted and all of the good bacteria in their gut is completely wiped out.”

Another sign you might need to take a probiotic supplement is if you suffer from poor digestion and other gut issues such as diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease, as reaching the proper level of probiotics in the body has been known to improve these conditions. They also help the body to absorb nutrients that are sometimes lost due to these digestive issues, allowing your body to receive the essential vitamins and minerals it needs to thrive.

Moore also suggests considering probiotics if you a breastfeeding mom. “Gut flora is established as an infant and flourishes with breast milk., meaning probiotics can help moms and babies simultaneously through creating good, healthy guts and beneficial bacteria in the milk.”

Can I get probiotics from food instead?

If you don’t feel comfortable taking a probiotic supplement or you’d rather try replenishing your good bacteria through the use of food instead, there are plenty of great options. “I have my clients get probiotics through things like Kombucha and probiotic drinks, such as Kevita,” Moore details. “Some other ideas are sauerkraut, keifer milks, kimchi and cultured veggies.”

Another tasty way to incorporate probiotics into your diet is through Greek yogurt; this type of yogurt has a higher amount of helpful bacteria because it’s much more concentrated than regular yogurt. Just make sure the brand you buy has the words “Contains active cultures” on the label or includes specific probiotic names such as Lactobacillus acidophilus or Lactobacillus casei. 

“A busy person who’s always on the go can greatly benefit from taking a supplement,” Moore adds. “But if you can get a variety of probiotics from the foods mentioned above, then even better.”