Maintaining the health of your digestive system is vitally important, and when things get out of balance using a probiotic may be the best thing that you can do to help the good bacteria take back control.
A healthy digestive system is the foundation of good health. It helps you to digest food and absorb nutrients, eliminates toxins, acts as a line of defence for your immune system, and even produces some vitamins. When things go wrong, you experience gas, bloating, diarrhoea, and even constipation.
There are over 400 species of bacteria living within your body starting at your mouth, going through your stomach, intestines, and urogenital tract. For the most part, despite the fact that there is a mix of “good” (probiotic) and “bad” (pathogenic) bacteria, they all manage to live in harmony with one another.
What Does Good Bacteria Do?
- helps digest lactose, which is why people with lactose intolerance can often eat yoghurt
- produces many of the B vitamins, which are responsible for energy, metabolism, and balanced mood
- maintain a healthy digestive tract, helps to get rid of constipation, diarrhea, and protecting the gastrointestinal tract
- help prevent colds, flu and other illnesses by promoting a healthy immune system
- also useful in treating many allergic conditions
Finding Sources Of Natural Probiotics
With all of these amazing roles, it’s no wonder we’re seeing probiotics added to everything from yoghurt and cereal, to even some juices!
Not all probiotics are created equal, however, and just because a chocolate bar contains them it doesn’t actually make it any better for you.
Bad bacteria in the gut feeds on things like simple sugars, so if you’re eating a product laden with sugar hoping to get some benefit from the probiotics that have been added, and then you’re wasting your money.
Some of the best natural sources of probiotic bacteria include fermented foods like plain yoghurt, kefir (a yoghurt drink), sauerkraut, and kombucha.
There are also a whole slew of other products out there (yoghurt, cereals, granola bars, juice, and even pizza!) that have probiotics and prebiotics (food for good bacteria) added to them, but added sugars and other additives and preservatives outweigh any positive effect the probiotics might have.
The Best Time To Take Probiotics
If you’re suffering from digestive upset or trying to replace the good bacteria that has been wiped from your system after taking a round of antibiotics (oh yes, antibiotics wipe out the good AND the bad), then the amount of probiotics added to food won’t be enough.
What to look for in a good probiotic supplement
Probiotics amounts in supplements are measured in CFUs (colony forming units) and when shopping for a good quality probiotic supplement there are a few things to consider:
Potency – make sure you’re getting a minimum of 100 million CFUs per dose.
Storage – most probiotics require refrigeration, although there are some products in “pearl” format that are shelf stable and more suitable for things like travelling.
Expiry date – a good manufacturer will guarantee a certain potency until the product’s expiry date and will list this right on the packaging.
Probiotics aren’t cheap, but smart shopping will help you navigate the supplement aisles and choose the best product.
There are different species of probiotics that are more suited to help manage different conditions, but for the most part, if you choose a product that contains a few different species you will more than likely feel beneficial results.
There are specifically designed probiotics for kids, and I encourage you to consider adding probiotics to your child’s diet, especially as they head back to school, to help boost their immune system.
How long should you take probiotics?
Probiotics can last in the gut for anywhere from 7-14 days, depending on which study you read. I usually recommend that my clients take them on a regular basis for 1-2 months to re-establish healthy gut bacteria, and then settle into a routine of taking probiotics for 2 weeks every month, and after a bout of illness (especially where antibiotics were taken).
And remember, the best thing that you can do to support a healthy digestive system is to eat real food and avoid the processed stuff.