Should I be on probiotics? Seems like the $64,000 question. Well I guess we have to start with what are they, what do we use them for and how can they benefit my overall health?
Let’s start with basic gastrointestinal anatomy and physiology. The mouth is connected to the esophagus. The esophagus is connected to the stomach, the stomach is connected to the small intestine. The small intestine is connected to the colon—and that’s the way it works! If only it were actually that easy, Anatomy would not have taken 9 months to study in medical school. The gastrointestinal tract is comprised of millions (if not billions) of bacteria that help our gut functionality. There are many things that can affect those bacteria, one such example is sugar. Ever have too many swedish fish, and then have gas all night? Well the break down product of sugar is carbon, hydrogen and oxygen—GAS!
So what are probiotics? Probiotics are microorganisms that are intended to provide health benefits by restoring gut bacteria. There have been some studies that show that probiotics help with symptoms of some chronic health conditions, including depression.
Before I go on any more, this is a good time to throw in prebiotics. Wait, huh? Yeah, these are the things that feed the gut bacteria. Usually very fiber rich food, some examples include beans, bananas and berries. Oh and then here are synbiotics, which just combine the prebiotics and probiotics into one pill.
Let’s go back to the original questions—should I take them. Well, that depends. Most people don’t need to be on pre/probiotics. One of the biggest issues with supplements is that they are not FDA regulated. Meaning there is not regulation as to what is (or is not) in them. So you have to be very careful with which you take.
And, as per my supplements debunked post, why would you take a pill that may or may not have what you want, and may or may not work, when you can just eat them! Here is a list of probiotics that you can just get in your normal diet. Similarly, here is a list of prebiotics.
Now, who SHOULD be focusing on pre/probiotics? Anyone that is taking chronic antibiotics (recurrent sinus infection, recurrent UTIs, oral antibiotics for acne). Some antibiotics are worse than others. Though to make is simple, increase your intake of pre/probiotic rich foods if you are on antibiotics.
To wrap this up—pre/probiotics are likely a safe addition to your life. Though I encourage increase in dietary intake as opposed to supplemental intake. And if you just feel better taking a pill—then, likely, it should be fine!
…until next time, #IrishDoc07