Probiotics are everywhere these days. From cleaning supplies to skin care products and potato chips, probiotics have become mainstream. These products claim to do everything from aiding with weight loss to preventing chronic illness, but are they all that they’re cracked up to be?
Let’s start by defining what a probiotic is. Probiotics are living organisms that increase the good bacteria in your body. They “prime” your gut and immune system to keep it alert to harmful bacteria and help fight off toxins. All this results in a healthier overall immune function and helps with digestion.
Another element that we should discuss when talking about probiotics is prebiotics. Prebiotics feed probiotics and are also known as fermentable fiber. As prebiotics are digested by the probiotics, short-chain fatty acids are produced. These fatty acids are essential because they are crucial in reducing inflammation, maintaining the integrity of the gut lining, regulating appetite, and sending signals to the brain.
Speaking of the brain, studies have shown that the microbiome in the gut is directly connected to the brain, and it’s the GUT—not the brain—that’s responsible for up to 90 percent of our serotonin production, aka the “happiness hormone.” Taking a probiotic could also help balance your mood and mental health.
If you’ve ever walked down the probiotic aisle in a health food store, you know how many different types there are to choose from. This is because there are many different strains and strengths of beneficial bacteria to choose from. Next time you’re picking out a new bottle of probiotics, use this cheat sheet:
- Choose a broad-spectrum product that provides multiple microbial strains. - Pick a probiotic with at least 10 BILLION colony-forming units (CFUs) per strain. - While taking your probiotic, eat lots of prebiotic foods to help that good bacteria survive and thrive once it reaches your gut.
Remember that the more unbalanced your gut flora, the longer it will take for a probiotic to work. Make sure that your probiotic is working for you by taking note of digestive symptoms. Do you feel less bloated? Are you experiencing regular and comfortable bowel movements? If so, you’re probably on the right track. If not, you might need to explore a different type of probiotic.