Monday, September 12, 2016

Popping a pill or devouring a bean burrito to safeguard health is alluring.  But there's a problem, the strength of evidence is not sufficient for healthy individuals, without any medical problems or digestive issues, to be investing in daily probiotics.

One reason is that most supplements provide a singe strain of bacteria - but your gut is home to hundreds.  Finding the right strain of probiotic supplement to help boost your unique mirobiome is a crapshoot at best.

If you do take an uncoated capsule, there's a good chance your stomach will kill many of the bacteria strains before they can work.  Unless it is encapsulated and designed for delayed release, the average probiotic won't survive long in your body.  One study found that just 10 to 25 percent of uncoated strains survive once swallowed.

Another issue; To aid the gut, microorganisms must be alive when consumed - but many of those inside a supplement, food, or drink are often DOA.  In fact, Consumer Lab reports that roughly half of the organisms initially put into a product are dead by the time they hit the store shelves.

As for the ever-growing number of probiotic-infused chocolate bars, ice creams, crackers, and frozen foods, no research has proved that they have probiotic benefits, and experts say most are merely gimmicks to lure the health-obsessed.  If a food is inherently unhealthy, sprinkling a little good bacteria on it won't make it any better for you.

That's not to say that microorganisms themselves are problematic.  Science shows that naturally occurring probiotics are beneficial for your micro biome.  But they should be consumed in whole foods - yogurts - sauerkraut - kimchi - that are loaded with billions of colony-forming units (CFUs) of friendly  bacteria, along with fiber that feeds the microorganism in your gut.  You need about a billion CFUs to get a positive effect.  While serving of kimchi may provide several billion CFUs from a variety of bacteria strains, many supplements and fortified foods barely reach half billion of one strain - if they're even alive then you consume them.

Instead of expensive supplements, spend the money on a plant-based diet that includes fermented foods.  That will give your gut bacteria enough fiber to create a healthy biome.

How To Get The Most Of Probiotics

Watch for sugar
Yogurts and drinks like Kombucha are rich in naturally occurring probiotics, but many brands are sweetened with 20-plus grams of sugar.  This can negate the benefits.  Skip an product for which a sweetener is one of the first ingredients listed on the label.

Be smart about supplements
If you buy them, look for shelf-stable capsules with at least a billion CFUs per dose.  Because bacteria can die during shipping, you want a brand  that lists its CFU number with a "best by" date, not "present at time of manufacture."

Eat fermented food frequently 
Occasionally topping a ball-game bratwurst with kraut doesn't do much for your microbiome.  To get the benefits of fermented foods, you must eat them often. Work yogurts, tempeh, and pickled produce into your daily diet.

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