Probiotics have received a lot of attention over the last few years, and this attention is much deserved. I'm a big fan of probiotics and I’ve experienced the health benefits personally. In my opinion, probiotics are one of the few supplements I recommend taking on a daily basis (the others are Juice Plus+ for minerals, fish oil, and vitamin D).
Mitch Sirgent, probiotic expert extraordinaire and V.P. of Marketing for Bio-K+, joined Lisa Davis and I on Naturally Savvy Radio to clear up some of the confusion around probiotics, and help to explain why probiotics are one of the key supplements for better health, based on the latest scientific research.
1. Probiotics help improve digestive health.
Probiotics help the body digest food properly, manufacture vitamins, improve nutrient absorption, and help reduce gas and bloating. This is perhaps the most familiar effect of probiotic supplementation and is the likely reason most people are taking probiotics.
2. Probiotics help support natural defenses.
Mitch points out that immune support is one of the most overlooked benefits of probiotics. Most of the body’s immune cells are located in the intestinal tract (70-80 percent of them!) and they interact daily with the bacteria in our bodies. Known as Peyer’s patches, these clusters of immune system cells tap into the gut looking for threats. Healthy bacterial flora help the body better discern what the real threats are and utilize its defenses more efficiently.
3. Probiotics help fight allergies.
Allergies are tied to immune system function, and probiotics can help educate the immune system, modulating its overreaction to environmental triggers that are perceived as normal under most circumstances. Mitch points out, “tree pollen is not poison, so why is the body responding to it like it’s poison?” Probiotics help the body better respond to environmental triggers.
4. Probiotics support women’s vaginal health.
Probiotics have a long history with treating vaginal yeast infections and maintaining a healthy balance of vaginal flora.
5. Probiotics help prevent Urinary Tract Infection’s (UTI's).
Though often lumped into women’s health issues, many children suffer chronic urinary tract infections. Probiotics like Bio-K+ can help prevent these recurring infections in both children and adults alike. My kids love taking their probiotics and don’t fight taking this ‘medicine’.
Taking probiotics daily is key because so much of what we do in our daily lives impacts the balance of intestinal bacteria. Antibiotics play a huge role in this. “As beneficial as they can be, they disrupt those friendly bacteria in our body which are our first line of defense,” Mitch notes.
Antibiotics are also present in our food chain, fed to farm animals at extraordinary rates. Stress is another big factor. When you are “stressed-out”, the body produces more anxiety hormones and more free radicals circulate as a result. The body becomes run down and the immune system has to pick up the slack, eventually suffering its own exhaustion. I love the analogy Mitch uses to help explain the role of probiotics in daily life: they can be seen as our ‘little warriors’, our protectors – and this means reinforcements need to be sent in every so often.
Mitch points out that an ideal ratio is less important than protecting the diversity of the bacteria in your gut – the more strains of friendly bacteria in your system, the better. “Like any eco-system, it is the diversity and richness of different organisms that brings a balance to the environment,“ Mitch explains. “It’s not as easy as saying we need 80% good and only 20% bad; you can be very, very sick with only 2% bad bacteria in the body if it’s the wrong kind.”
When it comes to choosing probiotics, quantity is not the only thing to look out for. While the literature is quite clear that 10 billion CFU (colony forming units) per day and up has a measurable impact on the intestinal flora, you also want to look for a potency that has been supported by clinical studies. According to Mitch, “probiotics don’t do anything if they are not made properly, if they are not manufactured with care and the strains aren’t well documented. There is a lot of science involved in creating probiotics that deliver results.”
For all of the great reasons discussed by Mitch Sirgent above, I highly recommend including probiotics in your daily regimen. If you’re worried you won’t remember to take your probiotics daily, take Lisa Davis’ advice – put a little sticky note on your fridge door. You’ll know it’s the right decision – you’ll feel it in your gut!