Geraldine Sexton BSc, RD, MINDI is a Consultant Dietitian & Clinical Nutritionist who specializes in women’s health and nutrition. View profile
Have you ever thought that the more you try to look after your health and wellbeing, the more confusing it gets? Are you fed up with the way the rules and guidelines keep changing like the wind?
Don’t worry; you are not alone. When I speak to prospective clients, they often cite this as a reason for their struggle in meeting their health goals. It becomes so difficult for them to navigate through all the conflicting information that they give up. One area that causes a lot of confusion is around gut health and whether or not we should be taking probiotic supplements to help restore balance within our gut. So, I wrote this short post to hopefully make things a little clearer.
PROBIOTIC SUPPLEMENTS 101
WHAT ARE PROBIOTICS?
Probiotics are live bacteria that naturally reside in the gut. They are also found in many different foods such as yoghurt and kefir and also in a dietary supplement. When taken in adequate amounts, probiotics can potentially improve your health.
WHY SHOULD I TAKE A PROBIOTIC SUPPLEMENT?
You don’t necessarily need to take a probiotic supplement. In fact, for general health reasons, there is no evidence to support their use. The best way to optimize your gut health, and therefore your overall health is to eat a balanced diet rich in a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. It is also vital that you exercise regularly, manage your stress, and get adequate, good quality sleep.
There is some evidence that certain strains of bacteria can help certain conditions, primarily within digestive health. However, it is important to remember that we are all different, just like the community of microorganisms that live in our gut. So, a probiotic supplement that helps one person might not help someone else. That is why the evidence around this topic can be confusing.
ARE THERE ANY RISKS TO TAKING A PROBIOTIC SUPPLEMENT
For the most part probiotics are safe however, if you have a chronic disease, are being treated for cancer, are immune compromised or pregnant you should not take a probiotic without speaking to your Physician, Registered Dietitian or Pharmacist first.
WHAT SHOULD WE LOOK FOR WHEN CHOOSING A PROBIOTIC SUPPLEMENT?
When choosing a probiotic supplement, you should follow these steps:
1. Match the probiotic strain to your symptoms or whatever it is that you want help with.
Your Physician, Registered Dietitian, or Pharmacist should be able to help you with this.
2. Check if there is scientific evidence to support its health claims.
Look for a brand that is supported by scientific research. Finding this information may require some digging on their website.
3. Look to see if it provides an effective dose.
CFU stands for Colony-Forming Units, and this tells you the number of living microorganisms in a dose. The number of CFU you need depends on your health and intended use of the probiotic. If you are using them for a specific health purpose, look for a probiotic with around 15-50 billion CFU’s.
4. Make sure that it is safe for you to take.
Probiotics are safe for most people but talk to your doctor or pharmacist first if you have any underlying illness; you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or are buying them for a child.
5. See if it is appropriately labelled?
Make sure the label gives you:
- Clear direction on how and when to take them.
- Details on where and how they should be stored.
- Information on how long the bacteria should survive -The expiration date is just as crucial as the CFU. Only buy a product with an expiration date that reads “viable through end of shelf life” or even “live cultures guaranteed.”
Short Article Review
- The potential health benefits from consuming probiotics as a food or supplement is an exciting and rapidly growing area in nutrition.
- Probiotics are not necessarily suitable for everyone so speak to your Physician, Registered Dietitian or Pharmacist before taking them.
- For general health reasons taking a probiotic is probably unnecessary. It is more beneficial to focus on your overall diet and lifestyle as a whole.
- There is good evidence to support their use in a variety of conditions, primarily within digestive health.
- To get results you must take the correct strains appropriate for addressing your specific health concerns and at the right dose.
The information in this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your healthcare provider regarding any questions you may have about any medical condition.
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