Probiotics: Should I take them?

Should I take probiotics?

Are your digestive symptoms ever making you wonder if you should be taking a probiotic? Maybe you have seen commercials or social media ads promoting their use, or maybe you have heard about them from a friend. Regardless, this question can cause a lot of confusion. The media can be very good at convincing you that you NEED this $60 probiotic, but you may be asking yourself, should I take a probiotic? Which one is right for me? Or is it even necessary for me to be taking one?

We’ve all been there…reading articles, seeing commercials and ads for different supplements and wondering if it’s worth it. Probiotics are one of the new hot topics that has reached the internet, but also one that can cause a lot of confusion. Marketing is very good at convincing you to spend money on those $60 probiotics, but you may be asking yourself, should I take probiotics? Which one is the right one for me? Or is it even necessary for me to be taking?

should i take Probiotics

Designed by Amaris Galik

You probably need a probiotic if…

As a digestive dietitian, I do recommend probiotics to specific clients that I feel would benefit, especially after listening to symptoms and evaluating their diet. As you can see above, probiotics have a lot of roles in our bodies! Usually clients with pre-existing digestive conditions like inflammatory bowel disease, IBS, recent antibiotic use, and additional unique situations are those who are most likely to benefit from a supplemental probiotic. The reason for this is that the conditions mentioned above can deplete your good gut bacteria meaning you need more than the average person! Do you fit into this category?

I would make an appointment for a one-on-one consultation so I can make the right probiotic recommendation for your body and unique needs!

You may or may not need a probiotic if…

For someone without those pre-existing conditions, symptoms, and is also consuming a balanced diet, a probiotic supplement may not be warranted. Did you know you can get probiotics from fermented foods such as kombucha, Greek yogurt, kefir, or sauerkraut? Activia isn’t the only food source of these gut health warriors! A food first approach is always the best! But it’s not just about consuming probiotic foods and supplements.

yogurt with toppings

Photo by Kaitlin Eckstein

Do I need a prebiotic supplement too?

Should I take probiotics? Maybe. But whether you take a supplement or amp up your fermented food intake, we need to make sure we are eating the foods that feed our gut bacteria! Yes, bacteria need to eat too! Probiotics need fiber-rich foods in order to flourish. This type of “food” is often referred to as prebiotics. This also doesn’t need to be in supplement form. Prebiotic foods include asparagus, artichokes, leeks, bananas, onions, and more.

lemon chicken asparagus

Photo by Amaris Galik

Best probiotic for overall health

If friends, family, or a client wants a probiotic recommendation for overall health, I typically recommend reputable brands such culturelle, align, or trubiotic which are all available in drug stores.

Probiotics have an elaborate identification system just like mammals do with genus, species, and strains. Probiotics act differently based on the specific bacterial strains that the product contains, meaning 20 strains may not be better than just 1! Most of you may have seen “contains lactobacillus or bifidobacterium” on the label if you have eaten yogurt or consumed a probiotic, and these are just the genus, not the strain. The strain is usually an additional designation that comes after the bacteria’s full name, for example “GG” or “DN-17010”. Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG is a common probiotic, with the GG being the strain. The most reliable probiotics specify the strain, and if there is no specification, you may want to think twice!

You may have also seen on labels the statement, “CFU’s or colony forming units”. CFU’s are simply the number of cells and are used to quantify the product. Just as I mentioned about not necessarily needing the largest number of strains, you don’t necessarily need to get the highest amount of colony forming units (CFU’s) either which are typically in the billions. 1-15 billion is adequate.“

If deciding on which probiotic is best for you, asking a health professional that is experienced in this realm would be your best bet because of the sheer number of probiotics on the market! It can be overwhelming to choose, especially with all the information (good and bad) that is out there!

To summarize the “should I take probiotics” graph above:

Here are some reasons to take probiotics:

 Repair the intestines to attenuate intestinal permeability.
 Promote intestinal growth and regular bowel movements.
 Produce antibacterial compounds that protect our gut and prevent infections (systemic
and GI).
 Reduce infections by regulation local and systemic immune function.
 Metabolic pathway nutrients: glycemia control, cholesterol, and amino acids.
 Improves local and systemic inflammation which is the start of many conditions
 Produce short chain fatty acids, vitamin K, B vitamins, and majority of your serotonin.

See How A Dietitian Can Help You with Digestive Issues

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Our Food Sensitivities Cookbook

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For more information on Healing from Digestive Issues:

Take a look at some of our most popular digestive blogs:

Three things your registered dietitian wants you to know
Low gastrointestinal bacteria can help you lose weight
Natural remedies for constipation
Adverse food reactions
Six things to know or consider when following a low fodmap diet

Looking for some new recipe ideas to help heal your gut, take a look at these easy recipes using yogurt that you will like even if you don’t like yogurt!

Healthy Probiotic Recipes

Recipes with probiotics—are typically going to be yogurt based. Here are some of our favorites:

Types of yogurt and how to use them in recipes
Vegetarian greek bowl
Greek yogurt coleslaw
Buffalo cauliflower with ranch greek yogurt
Cranberry orange smoothie bowl

Kathleen Tabb is a registered dietitian based in Maryland. She specializes in digestive conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and has extensive training through her master’s degree in integrative and functional nutrition. She is passionate about looking at her clients holistically to illuminate the root cause of their concerns in order to improve health and quality of life