Nutrition

The Probiotic Craze

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I never really jumped on the probiotic bandwagon, in fact for the longest time I thought that this was just some other trendy fad that’s given far too much credit for being so impactful on one’s health. But this is something that has gained some serious popularity in recent years, mostly with yogurt … people really love their yogurt. There are now entire aisles at the grocery store dedicated only to yogurt and its seemingly endless varieties. What’s more is that there are actual “challenges” from these yogurt conglomerates to eat not one but two yogurts per day to improve digestive health and, dare I say, help with weight loss. Now I find myself wondering if there is any truth to this, what’s the science behind it and if I should become a yogurt fanatic myself.

Your gut contains 100 trillion bacteria, the majority of which is considered the good kind and a small fraction that is the not so good kind. There are some factors that impact the ratio of good to bad bacteria such stress, age, illness, medication and diet. Your microbiome is like a small world inside of your digestive tract that actually comprises up to 90% of the cells in your body. There is research showing that the balance of the bacteria may play a key role in fighting or preventing a whole slew of illnesses including obesity, IBS and others. The thing to keep in mind though is that these studies and research are conducted mainly on animals and are mostly backed by food conglomerates trying to find ways to sell you more of your beloved yogurt. Now that’s not to say that it’s all a conspiracy against the consumer, but take this into consideration before you start swapping other healthy snacks or meals for two yogurts a day. Overall, the research that has been conducted mainly shows that certain strains of bacteria may help out with certain medical conditions, but it’s inconclusive. More long term work on this will need to be done before anyone can fully understand the benefits. If you are already taking some kind of probiotic whether as a supplement or as a food and you feel a difference then by all means continue, but just keep in mind that you may be spending your hard earned money on a placebo effect.

There are some instances when your healthcare provider will suggest that you take some kind of probiotic and it is always important to follow the doctor’s orders to a T. For some it may be for chronic digestive issues or nutrient deficiencies or after taking antibiotics for some underlying condition as was my case. Two months ago I got hit with some pretty severe food poisoning that lasted for 8 days and landed me in the hospital for three. I couldn’t hold down anything I was getting sick on an hourly basis and I lost about 15 pounds in 5 days. All three gastroenterologists that examined me were totally baffled as no one else I know got sick and they typically only see cases this severe with rancid or undercooked animal proteins which I don’t eat. So for one week I took a smorgasbord of anitbiotics which took a while to kick in but when they did it was a miracle. Unfortunately since then my tummy hasn’t quite been the same so I was advised to take, you guessed it, a probiotic in supplement form along with a digestive enzyme. I like to think that it’s helping, but who knows? I’m just glad to be able to eat vegetables again without running to the bathroom (sorry for the TMI).

My situation was fairly extreme, but chances are I will most likely continue to take a supplement for the long term, just in case it really is helping (I know, I know, placebo effect, but the food poisoning was REALLY bad). The supplements did cost me a pretty penny, but thankfully there are other and less expensive ways to get probiotics into your diet each day. Fermented foods are a great option. Fermentation involves methods of preservation to create lactic acid making foods sour. Some good sources are tempeh, sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, miso and pickled items like beets, radish, garlic, etc. There are also a lot of new trends in fermented foods like kefir or kombucha, but these can be hard to come by and may carry a hefty price tag.

Whether or not probiotics are all that they are cracked up to be, is still a mystery. Maybe it is just another trend like chewing your food 100 times before you swallow it (yes, this is an actual thing), or maybe this really is something great for you. Just remember that there is no such thing as a miracle food, diet or secret that lets you eat greasy food while losing fat. Also keep in mind that you cannot out-train a bad diet, so if you hit the gym but you eat junk food, it’ll show, even if you take a bunch of supplements. Before taking a probiotic especially if you aren’t exactly regular, make sure that you are getting enough fiber in your diet and are meeting your fruit and vegetable requirements each day. Before taking any kind of supplement or trying a fermented food, consult with a nutritionist or healthcare provider just to be on the safe side and to make sure that this is a good choice. Whatever you choose, spend wisely and don’t take too much that the suggested dosage or serving size as your gut might get a little, how should I put this? overwhelmed.  Train hard, eat well and only supplement when you really need to.

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