While bacteria may have a bad reputation when it comes to human health, we now know that specific strains of bacteria are actually beneficial to our health!
What are probiotics?
You have probably heard of the microbiome which is made up of trillions of microorganisms that mainly live in our gut. A lot of attention is directed towards these bacteria and the importance of maintaining a good balance between the good and bad bacteria in the gut microbiome (1). Probiotics are the beneficial bacteria that could be consumed as a part of a healthy diet (2). You may have heard of prebiotics which are carbohydrates that could be digested by probiotic bacteria, thereby helping them grown and multiply on our gut (2).
What are probiotics good for?
Research suggests that probiotics may benefit those with:
- irritable bowel syndrome or IBS (2)
- ulcerative colitis (2)
In addition, individuals taking antibiotics could benefit from taking probiotics as they may help lessen diarrhea that is associated with antibiotic intake (2).
Other suggested benefits of probiotics which are still being investigated include:
- lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and improving the LDL/HDL ratio (3)
- lowering blood pressure (3)
- regulation of immunity (4)
Again, it is important to note that research in this field i inconclusive and these benefits have only been suggested based on limited research.
What are food sources of probiotics?
Probiotics are naturally found in fermented foods such as (2, 3):
- sour cream
- fermented vegetables
- beer and wine
Note that yogurt and yogurt drinks may specifically have additional probiotics added to them. For example, Activia yogurt have added bifidobacterium. You can also read food labels to see whether probiotics have been added to foods. Common strains that are used in the food industry include lactobacillus and bifidobacterium (2). These should be indicated on the ingredients list on the food package.
Should I take probiotics or probiotic supplements then?
As mentioned, probiotics and their effect on human health are still being investigated. There currently is no specific recommendation for how much probiotics should be included in the diet to promote health. Considering that probiotics are found in nutritious foods such as dairy, including them as a part of your diet would not do any harm and is likely to impose benefits.
On the other hand, probiotic supplements are not recommended. If you choose to take supplements, make sure you consult your doctor or a registered dietitian to make sure that the product is safe and that you are taking the right dose. It is also important to look for a NPN (Natural Product Number) on the product to make sure that it is a regulated Natural Health Product and is safe to use.
Emerging evidence supports the idea that probiotic use is safe and is likely beneficial to our health. However, it is important to recognize that this research is ongoing and more evidence is required before there are claims made regarding specific health benefits. Whether you choose to focus on probiotics or not is your personal choice. I personally include probiotics in my regular diet, but I focus on products that are natural sources of probiotics (e.g. yogurt, cheese). It is also important to read labels and make sure that the products that are marketed as probiotics are regulated.
- Chicago Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. (2015, October 29). Maintaining a Healthy Relationship with Your Gut Microbiome | Eat Right Chicago | CAND. Retrieved from https://eatrightchicago.org/maintaining-a-healthy-relationship-with-your-gut-microbiome/
- Eat Right Ontario. (2016, November 2). Eat Right Ontario – The Pros of Probiotics. Retrieved from https://www.eatrightontario.ca/en/Articles/Digestion/The-Pros-of-Probiotics.aspx
- Thushara, R. M., Gangadaran, S., Solati, Z., & Moghadasian, M. H. (2016). Cardiovascular benefits of probiotics: a review of experimental and clinical studies. Food & function, 7(2), 632-642.
- Wu, R. Y., Jeffrey, M. P., Johnson-Henry, K. C., Green-Johnson, J. M., & Sherman, P. M. (2016). Impact of prebiotics, probiotics, and gut derived metabolites on host immunity. LymphoSign Journal, 4(1), 1-24.