Gut bacteria have been the focus of a huge amount of research recently, as scientists are discovering that the microbes living in our intestines can have wide-reaching effects on our entire body. Links have been found between gut bacteria and everything from depression to stomach problems to obesity to sinus infections.
Of course, food marketers are running with this, and many products are now being advertised as containing probiotics. Here’s a rundown of why you should care about this new trend, and what to look for if you’re interested in adding probiotics to your diet.
Probiotics are live microorganisms (bacteria), intended to have health benefits. The human body is populated by an immense number of microorganisms, actually outnumbering our own cells by 10 times. In the gut, these microorganisms serve important functions such as digesting fibers and other foods, producing vitamins, helping with nutrient absorption, and destroying harmful bacteria.
When our internal balance of good bacteria to bad bacteria is out of whack, we may experience side effects such as diarrhea, upset stomach, bloating, and even weight gain or loss. And recent studies have found that the microbiome of thin people is significantly different to that of overweight or obese people. There are many factors that go into determining the make-up of a person’s microbiome, starting in the womb, but diet certainly has an impact and that’s what we’ll focus on here.
Fermented foods naturally contain beneficial bacteria. Asian cultures in particular have a long tradition of consuming fermented foods on a regular basis, while in the west we don’t often have these on our daily menu. Here are some examples:
slow fermented sauerkraut
slow fermented pickles
Anytime you see a label that says “live and active cultures”, you can be confident there are probiotics in the food.
If that list of foods seems daunting but you want to get some probiotics in your daily diet, a supplement might be a good choice for you. There are many, many brands and varieties to choose from these days, and since supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA, be aware that you never can be 100% certain that what the label says is actually what’s in the bottle. There are a lot of broad and bold claims you will see on those labels, so be a skeptical consumer and research brands before you buy.
Here are a few suggestions of specific strains to look for:
any broad spectrum probiotic that includes the above
This one is harder to pin down to specific strains, because recent studies have used a wide variety with success. Your best bet is to find a good quality mixed probiotic. www.LabDoor.com is a good resource for comparing brands and testing for efficacy and label accuracy. Check out their full list of probiotics here to help determine what might be best for you.
You may also want to consult a physician or help professional for additional guidance on specific product recommendations.
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