As a dietitian, digestive health continues to be one of the most fascinating areas of research. In the past 10 years, studies have shed light on the mind-gut connection, the gut microbiome and the benefits of probiotics. The ways digestive issues are being treated and diagnosed are shifting. By now, most people have heard of probiotics or are taking one, and there’s been an explosion of new probiotics on the market. So, how do you know which is best for you? Let’s take a deeper dive into the definition of probiotics and how to best select the right one.
Probiotics are living bacteria that populate the digestive tract and help regulate hormonal responses, communicate with the brain, break down foods and initiate immune system responses. At any given time, there are good bacteria (probiotics) and bad bacteria living in the digestive tract. The key is to keep the levels of probiotics higher than those of the bad bacteria.
When there are too many bad bacterial cells in the digestive tract, you can experience bloating, brain fog, thyroid issues, and trouble breaking down and absorbing nutrients. That’s why scientists isolate strains of bacteria and put them into capsules, allowing consumers to easily supplement their diets and improve good bacterial levels. It's important to supplement with probiotics to combat the effects of antibiotic use, stress, poor eating habits, smoking and disease, which can decrease the amount of probiotics in the digestive tract.
Selecting a Probiotic
Probiotics are a beneficial part of a daily health routine. Select a soil-based, broad spectrum probiotic with a high CFU count. That’s the best place to start if you’re experiencing digestive issues, as far as supplementation goes. However, I would not recommend starting a probiotic to anyone with small intestinal bacterial overgrowth as they may exacerbate symptoms.
If you’re having severe digestive issues, work with a functional medicine practitioner to get to the root of your problems. From there, your medical practitioner will provide the best route for you in terms of diet, medications and other lifestyle changes.