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Should You Be Taking Probiotics?

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If you have a well-balanced diet and are not consuming high quantities of highly processed foods, then you don’t necessarily need to take probiotics. Probiotics are essentially foods or supplements that contain high quantities of “beneficial” bacteria that are thought to improve health and will definately improve digestion. Unfortunately most modern diets do not contain sufficient quantities of these bacteria with the result being that we do not maintain viable populations of probiotic bacteria in our gastro-intestinal tract.

Recent studies indicate that probiotic bacteria can help to:

  • manage diarrhea, especially diarrhea that is linked to prolonged use of certain antibiotics
  • treat irritable bowel syndrome
  • improve digestion and nutrient uptake
  • reduce the likelihood of food allergies
  • control cholesterol levels
  • get rid of yeast infections caused by Candida
  • reduce the risk of certain forms of cancer
  • assist in the treatment of intestinal infections

Labeling requirements around probiotics are still weak so take care when looking for a good probiotic supplement. If you see a product labeled “probiotic”, it may not contain sufficient quantities of viable bacteria to provide a significant health benefit. In addition, some manufacturers make generalized claims about health benefits, without linking these back to the specific genus, species and strain that is provided in the probiotic food or supplement.

The best probiotics are sold in good quality packaging (often inert glass), with clear expiration dates and with all health claims backed up by independently conducted scientific studies. In particular make sure that the probiotics are identified down to the strain level and information is provided on the specific quantities that are provided. You will normally see this measured in terms of Colony Forming Units or (CFU’s). If in doubt stick with probiotic supplements that include acidophilus and bifidobacterium strains as these are the most studied and mimic the natural bacteria found in our intestines.  For more guidance when choosing which probiotics to purchase the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) is a good resource.