Wellness Wednesday: Pro-probiotics? In my case, the jury is still out.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The process of digestion begins when you eat food.  The food travels through your digestive system, which includes the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine and large intestine.  The liver, pancreas, and gallbladder aid the process.  The hollow organs that food travels through contains juices and bacteria that aid in the digestive process.

You'll read over and over that there are "good" bacteria and "bad" bacteria in your gut.  The "good" bacteria supposedly helps keep the "bad" in check and has a variety of different health benefits.  There are three different terms related to the production of this "good" bacteria.
  • Prebiotics are nondigestible carbs that stimulate growth of beneficial micro-organisms.  They are found in various foods--oats, wheat, bananas, etc.  
  • Probiotics are micro-organisms in the gut that are beneficial to digestion.  They have been touted to benefit digestion and help prevent a variety of infections.  It is difficult to take probiotics and expect the bacteria to make it into your stomach without being killed along the way.  Different types of supplements make different types of claims about their ability to keep the bacteria alive until it reaches the stomach.
  • Synbiotics are a combo of pre & probiotics.  
The benefits of this "good" bacteria and highly touted, but I was struggling to find out and understand what it really does.  How do I know if I need more of this bacteria?  What health benefits could I expect to reap by improving my bacteria balance?  If I should increase this bacteria, will supplements actually work or is a dietary focus more helpful?

These questions are actually a bit tricky to research and the answers aren't readily available.  Here are some things I was able to glean:

  • Studies have only confirmed that certain strains of probiotics have benefits.  Thus, to be sure you're actually reaping a benefit, you should look on the label for a product to advise what strain it contains and research the scientific benefits of the particular strain.  The probiotic I take contains strand BC 30, which is supposed to health immune health.  If you're looking for an overview, rather than researching a specific strain, my best advice is to start with this WebMD article or  this chart on wikipedia (yes, I know) that shows the different studies related to different probiotics and then read the linked study and conduct follow-up research on any strains with benefits you're interested in.
  • The FDA has not endorsed any claims about probiotics and does not regulate supplements.  This doesn't persuade me either way but is interesting to know.
  • The potential health benefits rum the gamut.  Studies tout improved immune system functioning, improved digestion, relief from common digestive complaints, such as IBS, and today, the NYTimes is reporting that consuming probiotics reduces your blood pressure.
  • I did not find studies testing specific supplements.  I learned that studies have tested Dannon yogurt and determined it has beneficial effects, but did not find anything testing the gummies or pills you see at Target.  Many articles talked about foods containing probiotics such as yogurt and various types of cheese.  This was interesting to me, though, because it reinforces the core principle of eating a balanced diet that includes things like dairy and cheese, which are often high of my list of things to reduce.
  • I was not able to determine any way to test whether you need to increase the good bacteria in your gut.  I found articles making unsupported claims that most Americans need to increase the good bacteria and articles suggesting to increase your probiotics if you have a weak immune system.  In short, I could not discover any scientific test.
My conclusions are basically that probiotics might be helpful and they might not be.  I'm not sure whether I specifically need them or not.  For now, I'll probably keep them around and take them when I'm feel like my digestive system is having a rough time.  I'll also probably make more of an effort to eat yogurt because yogurt is awesome and a good thing to be eating anyway.

Has anyone else researched this/have any thoughts??

No comments :

Post a Comment