When people talk about probiotics—those beneficial microorganisms that are great for your gut, immune system, and overall health—one of the most often asked questions is, how much probiotics do I need? And the answer is…well, it depends on a number of factors. Let's explore those factors and get you some answers you can incorporate into your life.
Before you even consider taking probiotics, perhaps you are wondering why they are so important? Basically, we rely a great deal on our immune system to function optimally so we can be as healthy as possible. Beneficial bacteria (probiotics) play a critical role in gut health, and your gut makes up about 70 percent of your immune system.
In addition, healthy microbial flora in your gut is essential for converting nutrients for the body's use, balancing body chemistry, and optimal brain function. A wide variety of environmental factors, including a poor diet, emotional turmoil, air pollution, food additives, pesticides, and others place the body under stress and can cause an imbalance in your gut bacteria.
Probiotics can come to the rescue. They are front and center when it comes to taking care of your gut health and, by extension, your whole body's well-being.
When we ingest beneficial microorganisms, they produce various compounds, such as lactic acids that work to inhibit the growth of damaging bacteria. Probiotics can be found naturally in a few foods and fermented beverages (e.g., kefir, miso, pickles, some yogurts and sauerkraut, kimchee). If you want to ensure you are getting enough probiotics supplements are also a great source.
How much probiotics do you need?
Probiotic supplements are measured in colony-forming units (CFUs). The appropriate dose of probiotics depends on your reasons for taking the supplement, and your age. It is recommended, however, that most people take probiotics and prebiotics daily (and eat foods rich in prebiotics and probiotics) for maintaining overall health.
Generally, the common dose of probiotics is 3 to 6 billion CFUs, if you are healthy and want to support and protect your overall health. More specifically, the dose for children may range from 1 to 10 CFUs daily and for adults, 3 to 20 billion CFUs per day.
Other situations may call for higher doses of beneficial bacteria. If you are taking antibiotics, are scheduled for or have recently undergone surgery or a hospital stay, have serious gastrointestinal problems or are traveling, then a dose of 50 billion CFUs may be appropriate.
Now let's look at some general guidelines for taking probiotics by age.
Probiotics for kids
Kids are not little adults; they have their own unique needs. In fact, kids who take probiotics regularly can experience some important health benefits. For example, probiotics can reduce the severity and duration of cold symptoms, relieve dry itchy skin, support healthy digestion, and enhance immune function.
Consider this: kids often get ear infections, respiratory infections, diarrhea, and other health problems. Children who take probiotics regularly can be ahead of the game because their microbiome will be exposed to additional beneficial bacteria on a daily basis. Although gut health is important at any age, it's especially critical during the early years when the immune system and gut microbiome are developing.
Some other reasons children are good candidates for daily probiotic use are:
- Use of antibiotics: These drugs kill good bacteria, which is why it's critical for children to take probiotics before, during, and after a course of antibiotics and they should be taken at least two hours apart from each other.
- Respiratory infections: The risk of developing flu, common cold, and other upper respiratory infections may be reduced by giving your child probiotics.
- Allergies: Taking a probiotic may help reduce a child's chances of developing allergies because the bacteria assist the development of the immune system and thus may reduce the risk of allergic reactions.
Kids tend to be picky, so it's fortunate that probiotics are available in several forms: tablets, capsules, liquids, powders, and gummies. Besides the form, you want to choose bacterial strains that are the most beneficial for a child. Among the candidates are Lactobacillus acidophilus, which produces an enzyme called lactase and is good for the gut. Another suggested strain is Bifidobacterium lactis, which helps with diarrhea, boosts immune response, and improves digestion.
Several other strains that are good for children include L. gasseri, B. bifidum, and B. longum, all of which can aid digestion and immune system health.
Are probiotics ideal for all children? No. Premature infants and kids who have a compromised immune system should not take probiotics because they can increase their risk of infection. However, for many children, it's a good idea to start them on a daily probiotic regimen they can continue for the rest of their lives.
Probiotics for adults
Both men and women benefit from taking probiotics on a daily basis, but women have a particular reason for being vigilant about these bacteria. About 75 percent of women will develop at least one yeast infection (Candida albicans) during their lifetime, and many get such infections more often. Daily use of probiotics may help ward off such infections. Women are also more likely to experience occasional gut problems and diarrhea than men and probiotics can help with these health issues as well.
Guys aren't immune to gut issues, however. In fact, men are less likely than women to seek help for gastrointestinal problems and are more likely to be diagnosed with serious gastroesophageal reflux-related conditions.
Another reason men should consider daily probiotics is that the bacteria can help with utilization of protein. Men who take protein supplements or who are concerned about protein intake can get help from these healthy microorganisms.
As we age, the tendency can be for the bad bacteria to beat out the good ones. Advanced years are also often accompanied by the presence of chronic health conditions, poor nutrition or absorption, and limited mobility. Therefore, older adults need to turn to daily probiotics to help support and promote the immune system, ward off infections, and aid digestion and nutrient absorption.
How to take probiotics
Beneficial bacteria survive best in the body when they are taken 30 minutes before eating or with foods that are high in fat (preferably healthy fat), such as avocado, extra virgin olive oil, or nuts. If you are taking probiotics because you are on an antibiotic regimen, a general approach is to take the probiotic two hours before or two hours after taking your antibiotic. This allows the antibiotic to work but not kill the beneficial bacteria. Follow the serving suggestion on the probiotic supplement that you are taking.
Are you experiencing regular digestive problems? Then you may want to boost your daily probiotic use from 3 to 20 billion CFUs to 50 billion CFUs. One of the more effective combinations of probiotic strains for digestion is Lactobacillus gasseri KS-13, Bifidobacterium bifidum G9-1, and B. longum.
Your body can benefit from a dose of probiotics every day. An average maintenance dose of 3 to 20 CFUs, depending on age, is suggested for kids to seniors. Special health issues, such as chronic digestive conditions or use of antibiotics, may benefit from a higher dose of 50 CFUs. Talk to your healthcare provider before beginning a regimen of probiotics.
[Editor's Note: Our sponsor Wakunaga of America offers a whole line of probiotics depending on your needs. Check out Kyo-Dophilus Probiotics.]
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