What’s really really tiny and crawling around your intestines right now? Probiotics!
Probiotics are “pro” = good + “biotic” = bacteria….i.e. good bacteria. 🙂 We all have some good bacteria inhabiting our intestinal system (small and large intestine), and some of us have more than others.
Should I be taking probiotics?
Technically everyone can benefit from taking some sort of probiotic. They are so useful! Probiotics do multiple things:
– ease digestion, help produce enzymes
– colonize in your small and large intestine and provide a barrier against yeast and other organisms
– improve your immune system – 70-80% of your immune system is located in your gut! The healthier your gut is, the stronger your immune system will be
– they produce the lactase enzyme – important for people with lactose intolerance who cannot digest milk
– help decrease inflammation and improve skin conditions
– produce fatty acids that help nourish intestinal cells
You should definitely take probiotics whenever you are prescribed a course of anti-biotics. Anti-biotics are meant to kill off harmful bacteria, but most are so strong that they end up wiping our your good bacteria too. Make sure you wait at least 2 hours between your anti-biotic and pro-biotic so the effects of the anti-biotics are not negated. (FYI – In Europe it is standard practice to prescribe a patient probiotics with anti-biotics – they are so smart over there!).
How can I get probiotics?
Two ways: through cultured foods or through supplements. Cultured foods like sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, kefir, yogurt**, kimchi and kombucha are all products fermented by bacteria. These foods are all wonderful sources of whole food good bacteria to help your digestion!
**disclaimer with yogurt – there aren’t that many strains of probiotics in yogurt and most yogurts are so processed and filled with sugar that those ingredients weigh out the benefits. If you want to get your good bacteria from yogurt, try mixing your yogurt with kefir, or empty a probiotic capsule into your yogurt and stir it around 🙂
What to look for:
Dosing – A daily dose of 1 to 15 billion probiotics is the number of probiotics shown in research to be effective for most people. In Canada, the dose labelled on the bottle is required to describe the number of bacteria in the supplement at the time of expiry. So that’s kind of cool, meaning that if a bottle says “10 billion”, there will usually be more than that so that 10 billion bacteria will remain in that supplement at the time of expiry.
Digestive upset can sometimes happen when starting probiotics, but many people attribute this to their system being significantly deficient in probiotics – the “upset” is caused by the good guys re-colonizing.
Refrigerate or not refrigerate? – Check with the company website. Probiotics are live bacteria, so technically keeping them in the fridge keeps them alive longer. But there are many companies that manufacture their products in such a way that they can last on the shelf too. Generally if you keep yours in a dry room temperature area, it’s probably fine.
Types – Try and get a supplement with a few different strains (types) of bacteria – at least 3. Lactobacillus strains like to live in the small intestine, and Bifido strains like to live in the colon.
For cultured foods, I cannot get enough of kombucha. Kombucha is fermented tea! I’ve even tried making my own kombuchas using this video 🙂 Miso soup is another personal favourite (a traditional Japanese soup using fermented soy beans). Whenever I can I try and include fermented foods in my diet, but the following are some other options:
I really like New Roots probiotics, they are Canadian and offer lots of different blends for different issues (IBS, travel, diarrhea, etc.). They also enteric coat their bacteria meaning they travel right to where they are needed. Yay!
My personal favourite is Dr. Ohira’s probiotics from Japan (but available here!). They take 12 strains of bacteria and introduce them into a giant vat filled with whole foods like fruits, vegetables, mushrooms. They then leave the vat with the bacteria in it for 3-5 years, outside, exposed to the elements. When they go back and get it, lots of magic happens:
1. the bacteria have all synergistically melded together
2. the exposure to the elements makes them hearty and stable
3. the exposure to all the great whole foods results in lots of byproducts like organic acids, enzymes, amino acids, vitamins and fatty acids. All good stuff!!
And finally, I’ve used this beauty in times of need (perfect for UTIs or yeast infections). Renew Life Ultimate Flora VS. It is a very high dose of probiotics (50 billion) and contains strains native to the vaginal and urinary areas. It really works, I recommend it once a day during acute situations.
PS: Another cool resource about probiotics – click here 🙂