All probiotics are created equal, right? We understand that within our digestive systems, is a bacterial flora that is responsible for breaking down the food we eat, into useable minerals and energy for our bodies. But do you know how probiotics really work, and how to evaluate high-quality sources, both dietary and in supplements?
Without probiotics and a healthy, balanced bacterial ecosystem in your digestive tract, the body is actually incapable of absorbing all the nutrients from the foods you eat. In fact, you could eat the healthiest diet on the planet, but without a balanced G.I. tract, your body would be wasting valuable fiber, minerals and essential nutrients. When things are not working well in the gastrointestinal system, it can have broader impacts on our immune system, making us more susceptible to viral, bacterial and chronic infections.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation about probiotics out there, and much of it online, encouraging people to buy more, and take more active probiotic supplements on a daily basis. Did you know that taking too many probiotics can actually harm you? We will share five myths about probiotics that will help you better plan your own personal dietary and supplement needs.
- All Probiotics Are the Same
Just because it’s labeled a probiotic, doesn’t mean the supplement is the same as all other brands in the market. There are literally hundreds of species of probiotics that the medical community is studying, and they haven’t all been evaluated. Each probiotic capsule or drink contains live organisms that are beneficial for treating certain conditions, like inflammation.
Different sources of probiotics can have different effects, depending on the individual, lifestyle, prescription medications and chronic health issues. Some can even impact the efficacy of the prescription medications you may be taking, which is why it is important to talk to your doctor about all dietary supplements you plan to take daily.
- All Probiotics Are Live and Active
Did you know that live probiotics have a limited shelf-life? Food labels do a poor job of explaining in detail, the type of bacteria, or cultures that are being provided in a probiotic. Labels on many retail supplements simply state ‘live bacterial culture” without microbe counts, and they can be a single type of bacteria, or multiple types in one bottle.
Look for a supplement that indicates it is ‘shelf-stable’ probiotic. What that means is that your daily supplement won’t work less efficiently over time. Shelf-stable probiotic supplements are typically in capsule or tablet form, and must have an expiration date (like all vitamin and nutritional products).
A company called ConsumerLab.com acts like a watch dog for consumer products, and in 2013 an independent test found that 5 out of 19 probiotic supplements on the market, contained less live microbes than were indicated on the packaging and through advertising. The testing revealed 16-56% less live bacterial culture, than advertised.
- Probiotics That Have to Be Refrigerated Are More Potent and Effective
A marketing tactic used by brand manufacturers, has mislead the public into believing that fresh probiotics are the only live or activated microbes, and superior to shelf-stable alternatives. Some probiotics (depending on the microbe strain) do have to refrigerated, but because the shelf-life of those products are so much lower than tablets, many consumers choose shelf stable probiotics instead.
Vitamin manufacturers use microencapsulation and cryoprotectants to stabilize active probiotic cultures. Additional dietary sources can also help balance the gastrointestinal tract, including many types of cheese, and of course, high-quality yogurt. Remember, not all yogurts contain active, probiotic benefits; read the label to learn more.
- You Can’t Combine Probiotics and Antibiotics
When the body is undergoing a course of prescription antibiotics, the natural balance of the gastrointestinal tract is disrupted. In an attempt to eliminate a bacterial infection, frequently the good bacteria (the stuff your G.I. tract counts on for digestion) can be killed off, and discarded too. What follows next is inflammation, bowel irritability, upset stomach and other signs that indicate that the chemical balance of your digestive tract has been temporarily derailed.
Certain strains of probiotics are clinically proven to help the body recover, after taking antibiotic medication. Chronic conditions like psoriasis, ulcerative colitis, and chronic fatigue syndrome have been scientifically linked to damaged digestive tissues, but probiotics are proven to help. Ask your doctor for advice about increasing your probiotics while being treated.
- You Can’t Feel Probiotics Working
It would be more than a little strange, if you could feel the impact of millions of bacterial working inside your body, right? The truth is that you can’t feel when the probiotic is promoting internal health, but if you have been taking a supplement on a daily basis and stop, a few things may happen.
First, you may notice that you experience more indigestion after eating certain foods. Consumers who stop dietary and supplement consumption of probiotics also sometimes report a sudden drop in mood, and energy level.
No, you may not be able to feel them working, but when your body does not have enough of them, it becomes very apparent quickly, and it impacts general health. Urinary health is also positively impacted by daily probiotic consumption, and women who stop taking a probiotic may find themselves more susceptible to bladder and reproductive bacterial infections.
While ‘bad’ bacteria represents a threat to health and wellness, allowing the body to become even more prone to infect, probiotics are ‘the good guys’, helping to ensure that the gastrointestinal system remains in good balance, to support a healthy immune system. And that’s a pretty big job for millions of good bacteria you can only see under a microscope.