Probiotics – Hype or Healthy?
I’ve been noticing more and more commercials advertising the virtue of probiotics recently so I wanted to blog about it.
First, let’s start with explaining what probiotics are – microorganisms that live in our bodies – yup that’s right, tiny little things living in our bodies. Sounds kind of creepy huh? However, they are actually really good for us. These bacteria live in our intestines and help reduce the growth of bad bacteria (think good guys vs the bad guys).
Do you need more of them? If you watch any TV lately, you’ll think you do. But tread lightly my friends, we are still learning about them. And while there’s some indication that they are helpful in terms of boosting the immune system and digestive support they are yet to be proven as the end-all-be-all. How can you get your hands on these microorganisms? Most people turn to supplements but they are readily available in the form of food too (see list below). That said, there are skeptics on both sides of aisle. As Michael Pollan pointed out in his article last May, “… the probiotic marketplace is largely unregulated, it’s impossible to know what, if anything, you’re getting when you buy a “probiotic” product. One study tested 14 commercial probiotics and found that only one contained the exact species stated on the label.” Note the grimace on my face. Don’t forget that supplement business is big business. There’s a ton of money to be made. Who doesn’t want to just pop a pill to make the years of eating poorly “all better”? Too bad, it’s just not that easy. You’re thinking, okay, maybe I should be wary about probiotics in the form of supplements but can’t I just eat certain foods? Again, if only it were that easy. As I mentioned not everyone believes that food sources of probiotics are safe either since it is unknown which types of bacteria these foods carry. In addition, while I eat many of the probiotic foods, some of the claims for things like Kombucha curing cancer are unproven and probably a bit exaggerated.
And what about prebiotics you ask? Unlike probiotics, which are live organisms, prebiotics are substances that encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria. Again, they come in the form of supplements and real food (see list below).
So, do you need them? There’s no conclusive answer yet although most studies support some positive impacts on the immune system and digestive support. Should you consume them through supplements or food? That’s really up to you. If you go the supplement route, make sure that they don’t contain “extras” like gluten or soy. What do I do? Well, I took supplements on and off for several years but now I really try to get all of my nutrients through food.
I know, I didn’t give you a clear “Yes” or “No”. I gave you a yeah, probiotics and prebiotics are probably good for you but they won’t magically make you all better especially if you are still eating poorly, not getting enough sleep and living a high stress life. I know it sucks to hear this, but there is really no ONE solution to good health. If someone claims otherwise chances are they are trying to sell you something. We know a little about a lot of things when it comes to proper health but everyone comes to the table with different health histories. Everyone may need different versions of “healthy living”. So when you hear about new diet trends, or supplements remember that the best thing you can do is to focus on nutrient dense eating – focus on whole foods, limit processed foods, consume organic, grass-fed, wild-caught when possible.