Are probiotics just another fad?
Anymore, it seems like I’m just figuring out what is the “latest and greatest” before everyone’s off to try the next new craze. Big hair, straight hair, baggy jeans, skinny jeans, heels, flats, crazy bright sweaters … I think I have at least 4 different styles of jeans in my closet, because you know they’re just going to come around and be popular again in 10 years 🙂
Food and diet also seem to follow trends. One hundred years ago, our grandparents called probiotics sauerkraut, pickles, and homemade yogurt. They ate fermented foods on a much more regular basis that we do; and the amount of chronic illness and gastro-intestinal complaints were lower. In years past, people fermented foods because that was the easiest way to preserve them; they didn’t give a second thought to the health value of the foods they ate. Everyone had gardens, everyone canned and preserved, and dairy was fresh from the cow that morning.
Fast forward to the 20th century, where everything became ready-made, nutrient-empty, and lacking in beneficial probiotics. Fast food restaurants popped up on every corner, and the main section of supermarkets started focusing on boxed goods. It became “modern” to never eat a home-cooked meal. Women worked outside the home, and there was no time to spend hours in meal preparations.
Now, however, we are reaping the consequences of our actions. People are sicker and sick younger than ever before. Medications for ulcers, reflux and constipation are at an all-time high. Realizing the part that diet is playing in their illness, a new fad is under way: people are looking for ways to eat healthier. Although not realizing perhaps that their gut health is essential to their general well-being, people are noticing that when they eat, they are feeling ill. Perhaps they have various GI complaints. Or maybe they’re bloated, maybe they’re not regular, maybe they have ulcers or IBS or another diagnosed condition.
The commercial world, always aware of a new trend, is attempting to monopolize on this raised health awareness. Ads of Jamie Lee Curtis promoting yogurt brands like “Activia” are becoming more and more common as people look for other ways to help with their stomach pain and other complaints.
But will eating a serving of yogurt every day really do anything to help your gut health?
The Good Guys
In my last post, I discussed the GAPS diet and a little science behind your gut: how it is important to keep a balance between the “good guys” (beneficial bacteria and flora) and the “bad guys” (other bacteria and flora which are necessary, but can also run wild if given the opportunity). With the high-stress life we live, our fast-food, high-sugar diet, the lack of sleep, and the increased prevalence of antibiotic use, our gut health is at an all-time low. The soil, too, is becoming depleted from modern farming practices: the carrots that our grandparents ate provided more nutrition than the carrots our children eat today. Less nutrition also means less nutrition to provide gut health.
With all these stressors around us, it becomes more and more essential that we have to consciously provide foods that will assist our gut in regaining and maintaining optimal health. If we don’t care for the flora that live in our intestines today, we will definitely feel the effects years down the road. Our general health and well-being DEPEND on a gut that is in balance and healthy.
What are some ways, then, to promote gut health?
There are many ways that we can do this. In previous articles, such as “Heading Toward Healthy” and “The Gaps Diet-Why?”, I discussed different strategies to incorporate healthy eating practices. Fermented foods are a great way to promote gut health, and I will have a post soon discussing the benefits of fermented foods and how you can make your own fermented foods in your kitchen at home (it’s SO easy!) Today, however, I want to discuss the benefits of supplementing a probiotic and also some recommendations for how to choose a good probiotic.
Probiotics are bacteria or yeast that can help improve your health. When we think of probiotics, we often think of the ones you can buy in capsule or food form in the store, but they also could be found in your food. For the sake of simplicity, in this article when I mention probiotics, I’m referring to the pill/powder.
The benefits of probiotics are endless. “Probiotics can improve intestinal function and maintain the integrity of the lining of the intestines,” says Stefano Guandalini, MD, professor of pediatrics and gastroenterology at the University of Chicago Medical Center. Probiotics can be used to treat diarrhea, to improve constipation, to prevent yeast infections after taking antibiotics, and are even used in treating depression. According to WebMD.com, probiotics can be used for “treating childhood diarrhea, ulcerative colitis, necrotizing enterocolitis, preventing antibiotic-associated diarrhea and infectious diarrhea, preventing pouchitis, treating and preventing eczema associated with cow’s milk allergy, helping the immune system, treating symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, treating vaginitis, treating diarrhea caused by C.diff, and treating Crohn’s disease.” (According to a 2011 study done by Yale University). Another study published in 2010 showed that probiotics may lower the risk of common childhood illnesses such as ear infections, strep throat, and colds.
In my article on “The GAPS Diet – Why”, I discussed the connection between our brain, our immune system, and our gut. When our gut is healthy, we can expect to BE healthier and to have better mental health. So, regardless of whether we feel that we have stomach trouble or not, taking a probiotic or eating probiotic-rich foods is a very good investment toward our current and future health. Anyone living in today’s world, breathing the air and drinking the water, has some degree of gut disease. So be proactive!
The best way to get the “good guys” in is to eat probiotic-rich foods like yogurts and homemade fermented veggies like sauerkraut. Each teaspoon is full of billions of beneficial bacteria and yeasts. These bacteria are more likely to colonize in your gut. However, probiotics in capsule or powder form also serve a purpose. Often, if you have a gut imbalance, these probiotics can help to flush out some of the bad guys, cleaning up your gut environment. It is especially essential for children and adults with gut issues to take a daily probiotic.
When you go to the store to buy a probiotic, you often find a myriad of different choices, especially if you go to the health food store. Which probiotic should you choose?
If you’re trying to treat a specific disorder (whether it’s anything from diarrhea to eczema), check out this article: How to Choose the Right Probiotic for You
In general, when you’re looking at the label on a probiotic, you will see several different strains of probiotics. The most common are Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium. It is good to look for a probiotic with several different strains of bacteria. Also, it will include the amount of colony-forming units (CFUs). This is the number of live bacteria that the product is expected to contain. This decreases with time, so also look at the shelf-life of the product you are planning to buy. The more live bacteria, the more benefit you can expect from the product. Probiotics with more CFUs are usually refrigerated, so to buy a better probiotic, it is good to look in this section of the health-food store.
Of the probiotics that you can find at your local store like Wal-Mart, Culturelle is usually one of the better choices. However, it is cultured on dairy media, so if you have a severe dairy sensitivity, you may react to probiotics that are grown in dairy. When it doubt, it is always good to call the company producing the probiotic to check how it is grown. They can often let you know how much dairy remains in the product, as shown by testing.
Another consideration that some have to make when choosing a probiotic is whether it contains the strain Streptococcus thermophilus (or S. thermophilus) Many children with PANDAS (Pediatric Acquired Neuropsychiatric Disorder Associated with Strep) cannot tolerate this strain of bacteria in their probiotic, or other Strep strains. There are children and/or adults who may have a chronic strep infection and not be aware of it. Often, it can lead to symptoms that are otherwise diagnosed as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) or ADHD, and many children with autism may have PANDAS or other closely linked disorder of chronic bacterial/viral infection called PANS. If you try a probiotic and notice an increase in tics, obsessions, or behavioral symptoms, you may need to choose a probiotic that does not contain S. thermophilus.
There are several different good probiotics to choose from. I’ve listed a few here:
Life9 – This is the probiotic that we currently take. It has 17 billion live cultures per serving with 9 different strains, including B. longum (which has shown benefits in studies in reducing symptoms of depression). Some of the benefits we have noticed from taking this are better regularity, less stomach aches, and better mood.
BioKult – This is the probiotic recommended by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride. It contains several different strains of Bifido and Lacto species, Bacillus subtilis (soil-based bacteria), and S. thermophilus (a strep strain of bacteria). It is shelf-stable and does not need to be refrigerated.
Prescript Assist – This is a probiotic made from soil-based bacteria. When we first started using it, we noticed a huge difference in terms of gut health. However, this probiotic does contain strep strains of bacteria (three strains of Streptomyces), so please take this into consideration when using. Prescript Assist is shelf-stable and does not need to be refrigerated.
Klaire Labs – Klaire Labs makes several different types of probiotics. One that we used and recommend that does not contain S. thermophilus is Klaire TheraBiotic Detox Support. It contains over 50 billion CFUs.
GutPro – This is a strong, good-quality probiotic. While on the more expensive side, a little goes a long way! We have also seen great success with another one of Organic 3’s products, Gutzyme Restore (a digestive enzyme).
Theralac – This is a probiotic containing Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. CFUs should be around 30 billion.
Probiotic 225 – One serving (or packet) of this probiotic contains 225 billion CFUs! It does not contain S. thermophilus, but it is on the pricier end of the probiotic spectrum, which may be prohibitive for some. No refrigeration is necessary.
VSL3 – This is a popular probiotic that has been tested to ensure that the bacteria count in the final product is what the label states it is. However, it does contain S. thermophilus.
Living Streams Probiotic – This is one that we haven’t tried yet, but I’ve heard good things about. It is on my list to try in the future.
S. boulardii – This is not a bacteria, but instead, a yeast. It does not colonize in your gut; when you take it, it goes in and then comes out 🙂 However, if you have an overgrowth of yeast, S. boulardii can be beneficial for you because it will also drive out pathogenic yeast from your body, such as Candida. Several different companies produce S. boulardii.
Some people recommend rotating your probiotic regularly (every 3-6 months or so), but Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride states that if your probiotic is working for you to stick with it. We have tried a few different probiotics to find one that is right for us. When starting to take a probiotic, especially if your gut health is poor and the probiotic is strong, you may need to start with a smaller dose of probiotic and work up to taking a full capsule. You can open the capsule and sprinkle a small amount of it on your food or in a drink. You may experience some “die-off” symptoms (from the “bad guys” dying and releasing toxins into your body), such as fatigue, nausea or brain fog. Sometimes the symptoms that you are trying to treat may initially seem to worsen before getting better. Usually this passes quickly. If you notice an increase in uncomfortable symptoms, go more slowly in the amount of probiotic that you are taking.
Dr. Natasha’s recommendations for probiotic doses are as follows:
Infant up to age 12 months: 1-2 billion cells/day
Age 1-2 years: 2-4 billion cells/day
Age 2-4 years: 4-8 billion cells/day
Age 4-10 years: 8-12 billion cells/day
Teenagers to age 16: 12-15 billion cells/day
Adults: 15-20 billion cells/day
There are a myriad of different probiotics on the market (this list is definitely not all there is!) Do your research, and then choose a probiotic that’s right for you. Also, just because you’re taking a probiotic doesn’t mean that you don’t need yogurt or other fermented foods. All of these things work together in a wonderful way to help build up your gut health.
“Probiotics are one of the best supplements you can take to avoid an intestinal imbalance. They strengthen the intestinal walls and manufacture vital nutrients. They also help the body to use nutrients and fight harmful microbes in the GI tract. Your body actually contains about ten times as many probiotic bacteria cells as it does human cells! You simply couldn’t survive without these little creatures.” – Lana Asprey, The Better Baby Book: How to Have a Healthier, Smarter, Happier Baby