Four million people may not all be correct when it comes to probiotics, but at least they are cultured.
Every year, an estimated 4 million people spend $40 billion on probiotics, expecting that this combination of beneficial (good) bacteria and/or yeast will solve a range of gastrointestinal issues.
And it’s true, if the bacteria are present and taken properly, probiotics can improve gut health by helping to balance the good and bad micro-organisms in the gut microbe. They can, for example, assist in helping a range of GI issues, including irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease.
However, not all probiotics are the same. There are various bacterial strains, and each has different properties, with different benefits depending on the condition.
Making Probiotics Honest: 3 Common Myths
What can confuse many consumers is the sheer number of products available, let alone exactly how much probiotic is necessary to improve health.
Here are three of some of the most common misconceptions.
Myth #1: All yogurts are rich in probiotics. Nope. The live cultures that yogurt contains aren’t necessarily probiotic. Yes, a yogurt may contain starter cultures full of live bacteria, but if the yogurt is heat-treated or pasteurized, these cultures die in the process. Look for products that have added live probiotic bacteria after pasteurization.
Myth #2: “Live bacteria” means the same as probiotic. Building on the yogurt lesson here, not all listed “live bacteria” or “live cultures” are probiotic. True probiotic products will include information about the bacterial species strain, such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Also, the number of live microbes on the label may represent the number at manufacturing and may have diminished. It’s best to buy from a manufacturer that has a proven reputation and verification. Third-party certifiers such as USP or ConsumerLab test such brands. MeriCal, NatureMade and TruNature are USP-verified.
Myth #3: The more bacteria, the better. Products that list a high amount of bacteria are not necessarily more effective. Some probiotic strains require lower numbers to work. Further, more than one strain is not necessarily better. Rather than aim for number, aim for solutions: Pick a probiotic strain (or strain combination) that has proven, specific health benefit.
Know these 3 Facts
Before investing in probiotics, consumers should understand some simple truths. This blog provides quite a bit of detail on probiotics but I’ve summarized the key points below:
Fact #1: Some foods naturally contain probiotics. The trick is choosing foods with high enough levels of good bacteria that survive the passage through the stomach. Some such foods, called prebiotics, include dried beans, asparagus, onions/leeks, garlic, and green bananas.
Fact #2: Probiotics may be helpful if taking antibiotics. Antibiotics not only kill bad bacteria, but they can also destroy good bacteria, throwing off the balance in our bodies. Probiotics can help restore that balance. However, it’s advised to take antibiotics and probiotics a few hours apart.
Fact #3: They are not good for everyone. Regulation of probiotics is complex. Probiotics sold as dietary supplements, for example, do not require FDA approval before they are marketed, though they do face more strict requirements if marketed to treat a disease or disorder. Some people who have compromised immune systems or severe illnesses should avoid them.
The Goods on Getting Good Bacteria
Those seeking true probiotics should use a discerning eye. Read the label, look for the most common strains (Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium), and choose reliable manufacturers.
But even more important: Seek advice. Before investing in probiotics, talk to your gastroenterologist. This will ensure money spent on them is well invested, and you may find other ways to improve the gut microbiome.