We all know what antibiotics are, but what about probiotics? They have become important within the past few years as aids to digestive health. As over-the-counter supplements, there are now several different brands from which to choose. But how to choose? Dr. Mae Tighe, a gastroenterologist connected with Danbury Hospital, explains, “Probiotics are organisms which may be beneficial to the digestive system by creating a healthy balance of bacteria. There are emerging data that probiotics may help decrease gas and bloating and help regularize bowel function.” By adding live beneficial bacteria to your digestive system, and creating a healthy balance in your intestinal tract, Dr. Tighe says, many symptoms are decreased or eliminated.
The good bacteria are like those in yogurt. They can affect gas, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea, all the digestive annoyances that come and go but are difficult to control. Our gut has a life of its own and it has been compared to a second brain, influencing how we feel, think and behave. Probiotic supplements supply millions of good bacteria that deplete the bad bacteria, they attack the harmful troublemakers and relieve the symptoms.
When you begin taking a probiotic, the good bacteria tend to colonize in the digestive tract. Some benefits can begin within the first few days, and increase incrementally each day of usage. Light, air, heat, and moisture can affect the strength of probiotics, diminishing the number of live, active bacteria, which is why probiotic capsules are usually individually sealed. Since the probiotic is securing a healthier bacterial balance, there may be some minor, temporary side effects, like bloating, gas and intestinal gurgling.
“When our gut bacteria digest poorly absorbed carbohydrates in our diet, they ferment them and the by-product of fermentation is gas,” Dr. Tighe says. “On the other hand, fermented foods, like pickled vegetables, are created by the process of fermentation using bacteria. These bacteria are a good source of natural probiotic. For those who would rather get their probiotic through diet instead of a capsule, these foods are good options.”
Certain myths have developed about probiotics, since they are easily obtainable over-the-counter supplements and as such haven’t been officially approved by the FDA. Though they are being called the key to digestive health, here are three of the biggest myths:
- “Yogurt is the best probiotic.” No, you would have to eat 50 Greek yogurts a day to get the recommended amount.
- “All probiotics are the same.” Not true. There are different inactive ingredients and different kinds and amounts of live bacteria in different brands.
- “Probiotics will be destroyed in the stomach.” No, the best probiotics have special ingredients to resist stomach acid. Look for probiotics which mention stomach acid resistance for assurance that they will reach the intestinal tract.
There are currently many brands of probiotics, and a majority of them have been researched by Smarter Reviews, an online service which collects data from the actual purchasers and users of health products, as well as from the latest studies and clinical trials. Brands include:
- IMD Complete Probiotics Platinum, which contains 50 billion live cultures in each capsule. It has 11 robust strains, selected specifically to assist with bile and acid resistance. Has no synthetic fillers or binders.
- Culturelle, which contains 50 billion 100% Lactobacillus GG, which the manufacturer claims is the most studied probiotic, backed by 25 years of research.
- Align, which contains one billion bifidobacterium infantis, a clinically studied strain. It also contains milk, which may decrease benefits to those with lactose sensitivity.
“Probiotics can influence gut function while in your intestine, but they do not permanently recolonize in their host,” Dr. Tighe explains. “Essentially, they do not reproduce in your gut so you need to keep taking them daily or perhaps every other day to continue to reap the benefits.”