Q&A: Probiotics

Q: What is your opinion on probiotics? I’ve been having digestion problems for the last few years, and I was wondering if probiotics could help me.

A: Probiotics are live bacteria that are the same or very similar to “good” bacteria naturally found in our bodies. Probiotics can be found in pills, yogurts, and drinks. While there are some live bacteria in all yogurt (that is how yogurt is made), yogurt is usually only considered a “probiotic” for medicinal effects if bacteria has been added to it.

Probiotics are thought to help the body by “resetting” the balance of “good” and “bad” bacteria. Based on currently available research, however, the benefits of probiotics are unclear. People have studied many different strands of bacteria, so it is hard to get a good picture of which ones are beneficial for which problems. There is some evidence that suggests probiotics are helpful in cases of acute diarrhea or diarrhea after taking an antibiotic. For other issues, like irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease, further research is still needed.

Probiotics don’t seem to have many side effects, although long-term safety has not been adequately studied. Still, pregnant or breastfeeding women, children, and people with underlying health issues should definitely talk with a health care provider before using any probiotics.

My opinion: I think probiotics are worth a try for digestive problems, as long as your doctor is ok with it. Anecdotally, I have seen them work for people, including myself. Whether you try a pill, yogurt, or drink is a matter of personal preference. It does need to be taken regularly, so choose whichever you can deal with daily. Also, don’t expect to see changes overnight. Activia, for example, reports benefits after 2 weeks of regular consumption. If you are looking at a pill form, I have seen much better prices for these products at big box stores like Costco, Sam’s Club, etc.

Thanks for the question!

Have any nutrition questions? Need help with meal planning or a special dietary need? Send your questions to me at kimberlykmarsh(at)gmail(dot)com, and I will answer them in upcoming posts!

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