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Probiotic Quiz: Would you benefit from taking probiotics?

Ever wonder if you should be taking a probiotic? Or do you take probiotics – either added to food or as a supplement – and sometimes wonder if you would be fine without them? Let’s look at what probiotics and prebiotics are and then take a quiz to find out if you are someone who needs them.

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are “good” bacteria”, just like the good bacteria found in your gut. You may also hear them referred to as “live cultures” (for example bifidobacteria and lactobacilli). They can help boost immunity and improve digestion by protecting the gut from “bad” bacteria. Our bodies naturally contain “good” bacteria, so adding probiotics means adding more of these good guys.

Conditions treated

Diarrhea

There are many studies examining the effect of probiotics – mainly lactic acid bacteria, also known as lactobacilli – on diarrhea. It turns out that consuming probiotics reduces the duration of diarrhea by an average of one day. Here’s how: the bacteria in probiotics help the body fight the infection causing the diarrhea by suppressing the germs causing it. Don’t forget to also include plenty of fluids when suffering from diarrhea.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Studying ways to improve IBS symptoms is challenging because the cause of IBS symptoms is unknown. IBS symptoms include abdominal pain, constipation, and diarrhea. The gut environment (also known as the gut flora) in some individuals with IBS has changed, so studying how probiotics might help seems logical. The results of research on probiotics and IBS show that 14% of IBS sufferers experience improvements in symptoms when including probiotics. This number is not very high or encouraging for someone with IBS who is looking for relief, however adding probiotics is worth trying.

Eczema in children

15% of children will experience eczema (itchy rashes) by the time they reach two years old. While highly genetic, many parents want to do anything they can to decrease their child’s risk. The jury is still out on how helpful probiotic consumption during pregnancy and breastfeeding are, but promising preliminary evidence shows decreased eczema as a result of: probiotic consumption during pregnancy, probiotic consumption during breastfeeding, and supplementing young children with probiotics.

Heart health

Studies have shown an improvement in cholesterol and a slight improvement in blood pressure with regular probiotic consumption. Here’s how it works: bile is something that is secreted into the gut after we eat. Its purpose is to help break down the fat we consumed into smaller parts that can be absorbed into the bloodstream. Bile is made of cholesterol. After bile does it’s job, it can also be absorbed into the bloodstream. Because it is made of cholesterol, there is now an increase in blood cholesterol. Probiotics help break down bile so that it is not absorbed into the bloodstream as cholesterol later.

Weight changes

There is some research looking at gut health and weight. The change in weight in those taking probiotics compared to placebo (fake pills) however was slight – a few pounds. Theories about gut bacteria affecting appetite, changes in gut bacteria causing changes in energy (calories) burned, and even gut bacteria’s role in taste buds and food preference are being investigated.

Probiotic products

You will find probiotics and prebiotics sold in supplement form and in foods that have them added. However, probiotics and prebiotics are also naturally present in some foods. Try to seek out foods there they are naturally occurring as absorption is higher in the natural state compared to supplemental state. You will find naturally occurring probiotics in fermented dairy foods including yogurt, kefir, and aged cheeses. These contain live cultures. Some non-dairy foods also contain probiotics: kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, and tempeh. You can also find non-dairy yogurts that have live cultures added.

What are prebiotics?

Prebiotics are food for probiotics, so they promote your good bacteria by feeding the probiotics. We continue to learn more and more about prebiotics, and to date it looks like they are beneficial for digestion in addition to enhancing calcium absorption. They are indigestible carbohydrate that cannot be broken down but can be used by probiotics. Prebiotics are naturally occurring in bananas, onions, garlic, whole grains, soy beans, leeks, and artichokes.

Products that contain both prebiotics and probiotics are called synbiotic because they contain both the live bacteria and the fuel needed for them to thrive. Examples of synbiotic combinations include sliced bananas on yogurt, or sauteing garlic and onions with your tempeh.

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