The term probiotic has been touted for several years as something beneficial for health and wellness, but what is it exactly? Your gut is filled with a diverse population of gut flora or bacteria. While people generally become squeamish when discussing the idea of bacteria, gut flora are primarily beneficial and necessary for many digestive processes and bodily functions. Probiotics are “good” gut bacteria.
The Benefits and Needs of Gut Flora
Bacteria or microbes are necessary for maintaining a healthy digestive tract. The probiotics of the lower intestine help regulate immune functioning, digest food, and fight harmful bacteria.
However, for the flora ecosystem to remain beneficial, it must stay balanced. An imbalance within this delicate system can result in unhealthy levels of “bad” bacteria. With too many “bad” microbes, the digestive system can become prone to inflammation, irritability, cramping, and loose stools.
Eating an unhealthy diet can cause an imbalance in the system. Unfortunately, because of the demands of modern life, more people are consuming unhealthy and overly processed foods, meaning there is a greater likelihood of a poor balance of beneficial gut flora.
Understanding the need for a healthy balance, manufacturers began producing probiotic supplements. The brands producing these supplements market their products as capable of introducing thousands or more beneficial gut bacteria back into your system. However, it would be best if you took some caution before buying and using over-the-counter supplements.
The Risks of Taking Probiotic Supplements
In general, probiotics are healthy and provide many benefits for the digestive system. In fact, some studies even suggest some probiotics could have mental health benefits. However, that is neither here nor there. The main concern for those interested in taking a supplement should be the lack of FDA guidance.
Probiotic supplements are not considered drugs but dietary supplements. Because of the category description, the FDA does not regulate or monitor the manufacture of the supplements. Consequently, the consumer can't tell if the probiotic supplements purchased at a pharmacy or health food store contain what is promised on the package.
Natural Sources of Probiotics
Thankfully, while supplements are an option, there are also plenty of food sources for healthy gut bacteria. The top foods include:
Fermented vegetables (Sauerkraut, pickles, etc.)
While food sources can provide excellent, natural options for probiotics, they are not the most consistent or specific. You will not find specific probiotics listed on food labels or packages. The most informative products will be supplements, but you must do your homework to find reputable brands.
Should You Take a Probiotic Supplement
Probiotics do offer several advantages, but a supplement is not for everyone. Before you start taking any dietary supplement, talk to your doctor or pharmacist. These supplements are not recommended for people with immune disorders or cancer because the bacteria introduced could cause illness.
If you and your doctor believe a probiotic supplement could be good for you, follow the supplement label's dosing instructions and do not exceed the recommended dose. Additionally, it is common to experience loose stools the first few days when starting a probiotic supplement. The symptom should resolve itself, but you can take the supplement after a meal to help reduce its severity.
Do you take a probiotic supplement? If so, what is your experience? Leave a comment below, and keep the conversation going.