Follow Your Gut: The Reason Why Prebiotics and Probiotics Are Good for You
How Prebiotics, Probiotics, and Antibiotics Help Keep Your Gut Healthy
The topic of gut health has become increasingly popular over the last few years, and with it, so also has become the use of probiotics. In 2016, probiotics were the third most popular supplement in the U.S., according to a National Health Statistics Report.1 At the same time, the use of prebiotics is increasing, and the concern about the overuse of antibiotics has become widespread.2 But many people don’t know exactly how prebiotics, probiotics, and antibiotics work and what that means for their health.
How do Prebiotics, Probiotics, and Antibiotics Work?
Despite the routine overuse of antibiotics in the U.S. today, it’s important to note that their discovery is considered to be one of the most significant developments in modern medicine and has saved many lives. In fact, the use of antibiotics can be traced as far back as the ancient Greeks, who used the bacteria3 grown in moldy soybean curd to treat certain skin infections. Antibiotics work by killing bacteria,3 which can be a highly effective cure for many illnesses. There’s only one small problem with this — while bacteria is responsible for many serious illnesses, our body still needs some of it to be healthy.
Our gut health is highly dependent on the balance of bacteria that grow there,4 and so while antibiotics are a great tool for fighting disease and infection, it’s important we find ways to maintain a healthy balance of “good” bacteria. And this is where prebiotics and probiotics come into play.
Probiotics are the “good” bacteria that can be found in our bodies, and especially in our lower intestine.5 Not only do probiotics help to balance the bacteria in your body in order to offset the work of antibiotics, but they also can help to normalize any other bacterial imbalances in your body, leading to better digestion and a stronger immune system.3
Prebiotics are food ingredients3 that are not digested and help to aid the growth of the “good” bacteria in the colon. While the data is currently limited, it has been
suggested that prebiotics can have a number of benefits to your health,6 including helping reduce infectious and antibiotic-related diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, and promoting weight loss.
Should You Take Probiotics and Prebiotics?
Whether you’re on antibiotics and hoping to offset negative effects such as diarrhea caused by the imbalance of bacteria in your gut or simply trying to achieve optimal health, probiotics are a supplement worth considering.
If you are being treated for a fungal infection, have pancreatitis, are currently taking a drug that affects your immune system, get infections easily, or have a weakened immune system, you should consult a doctor prior to taking probiotics.
However, if you do not have any of these issues and would like help achieving weight loss, promoting a healthy immune system, or preventing occasional diarrhea and other digestive issues, probiotics7 might be a great supplement for you.
It is still unclear as to how beneficial taking prebiotic supplements can be. Prebiotics are a type of dietary fiber and include wheat, onions, and garlic, and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans Committee suggests eating the recommended intake of dietary fiber6 can provide prebiotics to the body to help support the probiotics.
How to Choose a Probiotic
Choosing a probiotic from a store aisle without guidance can be a daunting experience due to the sheer volume of options available. There are options in several different forms, with different culture counts, and different culture strains.
The first decision to make is what form of probiotic is best for you. Probiotics can be found in some foods such as yogurt, kimchi, and kombucha,8 but they can also be found in supplements, which come as liquid, tablets, powder, and capsules.
Ultimately, probiotic supplements are simply much more convenient9 than probiotics found in food and beverages. You can take probiotics on the go, or when you’re not hungry or interested in eating a probiotic-filled food. Probiotics also don’t expire as quickly as some foods might.
If you’ve decided to start taking probiotic supplements, it’s important to consider a couple factors as to which one is right for you. Probiotics are typically measured in colony-forming units or CFU,10 which refers to the different strains of bacteria or microbiome in your body. To choose the right probiotic supplement for you, you must assess what count of CFU you should take and which strains will be the most beneficial. Some strains that have proven to be the most beneficial are Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus and Saccharomyces, and it’s typically good to take between at least 1 billion CFUs per day. Depending on your lifestyle, it may also be worthwhile considering whether you need a shelf-stable probiotic supplement or if you’re OK keeping your probiotic refrigerated. If you are on the go often, a shelf-stable supplement might be the better choice for you.
Once you’ve picked out a probiotic supplement with strains that address your particular concerns and a CFU count that meets your needs, simply start taking the supplement every day and watch for improvements to your health. You should experience improvements to your digestive health within a couple days, and within a month or so, you may begin to feel better in general!
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