Should you take a daily probiotic?
Registered dietitians are often asked, “Do I need a daily probiotic?” The answer to that question really comes from an understanding of what probiotics are and their role in the GI tract.
What are probiotics?
The GI tract contains both beneficial and harmful bacteria. The key is to establish a healthy balance between the two. Probiotics are a beneficial type of bacteria and are essential to achieving that healthy balance of bacteria.
To be considered a probiotic, an organism must be able to be isolated from humans, survive inside the intestine, offer some health benefit, and be safe for human consumption.
What do probiotics do for the body?
The primary role of probiotics in the GI tract are to maintain the healthy balance between beneficial and harmful bacteria. Probiotics keep harmful, disease-causing bacteria in check.
Other roles of probiotics include helping with food digestion, creating vitamins, and breaking down and absorbing medications. Believe it or not, probiotics (aka beneficial bacteria) are always present in the GI tract.
Foods naturally contain probiotics
A healthy diet featuring diverse foods will promote gut health, including supporting probiotic bacteria. Some foods naturally contain probiotics, especially fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, and kombucha. Some yogurts also contain beneficial bacteria, but use caution as some of these touted probiotics are destroyed during digestion.
Is a probiotic supplement necessary?
Many times, probiotics are trialed as an option to improve a GI issue. Sometimes, probiotics are recommended after a round of antibiotics are prescribed. So, should probiotics be part of your daily supplementation regimen?
Probiotic supplements are generally safe for most people. Individuals who are immunocompromised or are recovering from a serious illness should consult with their healthcare provider before beginning a probiotic supplement, as there is a small risk of developing an infection.
Like most dietary supplements, over-the-counter probiotics are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Therefore, these supplements are not held to purity or dosage standards. This means a probiotic supplement may not contain live bacteria or may contain strains of bacteria that will not survive the harsh GI tract conditions. In either case, supplements such as these confer no health benefits whatsoever.
A healthful, fiber-rich diet featuring diverse food options is one of the best ways to support gut health and the beneficial bacteria that live in the GI tract. However, if a probiotic supplement is needed, there are some general recommendations to improve the odds of selecting a solid product:
- Look for Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, or Saccharomyces boulardii strains of bacteria
- One dose should provide at least 1 billion colony forming units (CFU)
- Choose well-known (not discount) brands
Always following the dosing and storage recommendations. Some probiotic supplements need to be refrigerated to keep the bacteria alive.
In summary, probiotic supplements are generally not necessary for all individuals. Like most nutrition-related interventions, choosing to take a probiotic supplement is based on the individual’s nutritional needs and goals.
If you have more questions about probiotics, it’s always a great idea to speak with a registered dietitian. Registered dietitians are the only credentialed experts qualified to address your unique health questions. Click here to request a direct consultation with a dietitian today!
How to pick the best probiotic for you. Cleveland Clinic Health Essentials website. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/how-to-pick-the-best-probiotic-for-you/. Updated November 9, 2018. Accessed November 18, 2021.
Probiotics. Cleveland Clinic website. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/14598-probiotics. Updated March 9, 2020. Accessed November 18, 2021.
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