The Whats & Whys of Probiotics

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are good bacteria and yeasts that 1) help aid in digestion, and 2) counter the effects of harmful bacteria. The human digestive system already has good bacteria in it. The intestinal tract is teeming with bacteria that help the body break down and digest food. Unfortunately, certain conditions (see below) have a tendency to wipe those good bacteria out. In such cases, it is important to supplement with probiotics and help reculture our gut.

What conditions tend to affect the body’s good bacteria?

Taking antibiotics, taking birth control, receiving vaccinations, exposure to parasites, and exposure to foods causing sensitivities and allergies all can affect the ecoculture of the intestinal tract. If any of these apply to you, and especially if you have apparent gut issues, you are at greater risk of not having enough good bacteria in your body to adequately digest your food and protect against harmful bacteria.

What forms do probiotics come in?

Capsules, water kefir, and kombucha tea are 3 of the most common probiotic supplements. There are billions of live bacteria in every probiotic, as well as different strains of probiotics in each. A few of the probiotic capsules that I recommend are Metagenics UltraFlora Balance (15 billion live cultures and 2 probiotic strains), Jarrow’s Fem-Dophilus for women (5 billion live cultures per capsule and 2 probiotic strains) and RenewLife’s Buddy Bear chewable probiotic for children (1 billion live cultures per tablet and 4 probiotic strains).

Water kefir and kombucha tea are probiotic beverages. Water kefir is fermented water made with kefir grains and kombucha tea is fermented tea made with a scoby (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast). Water kefir and kombucha tea can be made at home, and also purchased. Note that home-brewed water kefir and kombucha tea are not recommended for pregnant women. It is recommended that pregnant women take a probiotic capsule.

Probiotics for infants are available in powder form and can either be applied directly to the baby’s mouth with a finger, or applied to the nipple of the breast or bottle before feeding. Klaire Laboratories Ther-Biotic For Infants (10+ billion live cultures and 10 probiotic strains) is a great probiotic in powder form for infants.

 When taken with antibiotics, use probiotics either 3 hours before or after every antibiotic dose.

How much do probiotics cost?

Fem-Dophilus costs $20 for 30 capsules, and Buddy Bear costs $15 for 60 tablets. Homemade water kefir and kombucha is significantly cheaper (hundreds of dollars a year) than store bought probiotic beverages.

Why take probiotics?

The intestines digest food and absorb the nutrients and minerals from it. There are thousands of bacteria in the intestines that help to digest and absorb food. Some foods are more difficult to digest than others. Such foods put a strain on the intestines, and the intestines aren’t able to absorb nutrients like they are supposed to. This contributes to issues of gas, constipation, malabsorption, leaky gut syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, crohn’s disease, and other bowel problems and systemic issues. In addition, the immune system and the majority of the body’s neuroreceptors (which affect mood) start in the intestines. Taking care of, and in some cases, fixing the problems with the intestines increases health throughout the body. Probiotics are a useful tool that help the intestines do their job more beneficially. Taking probiotics is a good way to help a malfunctioning gut, and to prevent malfunctioning in a healthy gut.

Jaimeé Arroyo Novak, FNP