The gut is a glorious place and according to mind-blowing studies somewhat responsible not only for our digestive health, but our overall wellbeing including our mental health. A good gut leads to a strong immune system, less stress, and even higher happiness levels as your serotonin soars – if all that news doesn’t have you reaching for the kimchi and the sauerkraut, or brewing your own kombucha, then we don’t know what will.
Although for those who can’t get onboard with fermented foods or who want an extra dose of gut goodness, you have probably been turning to probiotics over the years. Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that help out your digestive system. They are commonly referred to as ‘the good bacteria’ and include long-winded names like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.
While health stores and homoeopaths rave over them, more recently there has been a spat of suggestion as to whether or not probiotics (particularly in the supplement form) live up to expectation or are just a bunch of hype. We break down the myths to get a closer look at whether probiotics are pills worth popping.
Fact: It Reduces Diarrhea
There have been many studies into probiotics and their effectiveness but on a short-term scale. The most frequent set of positive results came in regarding how probiotics helped to clear infectious diarrhoea, especially the kind of diarrhoea that can be a side effect of taking antibiotics. In a study from Rand in California, they found that of the 63 studies they took, the people who used probiotics alongside antibiotics halved their risk of diarrhoea.
Fiction: Probiotics Are Consistent
If you decide to go for probiotics its not as simple as picking a packet up off the shelf. Some probiotics are much more effective than others, and some brands are simply closer to placebo. The truth is that microbe concentrations vary and one batch of probiotics even from the same strain could vary dramatically to another. So probiotics are really hard to pin down in terms of consistency meaning that we are still in the early days of sorting through the research stage.
Fact: They Boost Immunity
While the jury is still out when it comes to things like working out if probiotics improve depression and reduce the chance of asthma in babies, it has been safely said that probiotics do boost immunity. Studies have shown that probiotics promote the defence systems of the body. This doesn’t mean the immune system can rely solely on probiotics instead of medication, but that they may help to strengthen your body against things like the cold and flu virus.
Fiction: The More the Merrier
We are always told that the more billions our probiotics have the better they are. This has been found to not be necessarily true and means that we go in blind just looking for the highest count on the bottle. The age-old adage applies – it’s not the quantity but the quality and also the combination of strains that really matters. Sometimes a low strength probiotic can perform even better than a higher strength, so what you really need to do research on is the documented efficiency of a probiotic strain or brand rather than simply being swept away with the numbers.
It seems that probiotic studies are still collecting evidence as to exactly how effective these billions of friendly bacteria can be. All the research seems to be pointing towards probiotic supplements being a positive addition to your lifestyle and diet, especially when taking antibiotics which have been known to strip the gut of all its defence. Whether probiotics are the second coming they have been touted as is still in the works, and there are plenty of companies keen to jump on the bandwagon. Remember to do your research and find the strain settings that work for you.
What are your thoughts on probiotics – sell out or lifesaver? Share in the comments.