- Unless you have recently taken antibiotics or encountered foreign bacteria by visiting another country, you may not need to supplement your diet with more probiotics.
- Probiotic foods such as yogurt are usually a better choice than probiotic supplements, as the FDA does not regulate the supplement market.
- If you have a digestive condition such as IBD or IBS, probiotics might be helpful for alleviating symptoms of discomfort.
- This article was reviewed by Melissa Rifkin, MS, RD, CDN, owner of Melissa Rifkin Nutrition LLC.
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When it comes to taking probiotics, you have two main options – probiotic supplements or probiotic-containing foods like yogurt and sauerkraut.
However, contrary to popular health trends, not everyone needs probiotics on a regular basis. Here’s what you need to know about when probiotics can help with your health and what probiotics you should take.
When probiotics are most effective
Probiotics can either refer to living microorganisms that makeup certain yeasts and bacteria, or the foods and supplements that contain these beneficial microbes.
However, the majority of these important microbes are already inside your gut, intestines, and elsewhere helping you out. It’s when you lose some, or many, that you’ll need outside help.
For example, if you’re taking antibiotics or you’ve been exposed to bacteria in a foreign country, this may reduce your number of healthy microbes. Or chronic digestive issues from autoimmune conditions like irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can also disrupt your normal balance of good bacteria.
“It is during this time… that probiotics are most effectively used,” says Lynne McFarland, PhD, a professor of Medicinal Chemistry at the University of Washington
Probiotic foods vs. supplements
If you’re on antibiotics, it’s best to start taking a probiotic the same day and continue for two weeks after you’ve finished your dose of antibiotics.
In this case, a good option is a yeast called Saccharomyces boulardii CNCM I-745, which you can purchase as a supplement by the brand name Florastar. McFarland says that a yeast is best in this situation because it will not be killed by the antibiotics.
This is one case where probiotic supplements may be helpful. However, in general probiotic supplements are considered by experts to be a waste of money.
“If you’re concerned about health, skip the supplements and seek out naturally live-cultured, probiotic-containing foods,” says Cate Shanahan, MD, a physician who specialises in nutrition and food sensitivity.
If you have a chronic condition like IBD, you may need to consume probiotic foods on a regular basis. In fact, any digestive disease that causes frequent diarrhoea should be countered with frequent probiotic foods.
For IBD, McFarland recommends a mix of 8 strains called VSL#3. You can find these strains in two types of yogurt: ProViva and Align. Probiotics won’t cure these chronic conditions but they can help alleviate or prevent symptoms.
For IBS, a growing body of research suggests that yogurts containing strains of Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria show some promise in helping improve symptoms.
Right now, the FDA does not regulate probiotics and more research is needed before healthcare professionals can adopt probiotics as a go-to treatment for certain health conditions.
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