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The Need-To-Know on Probiotics

We see commercials for probiotics and they’ve been popping up on food and drink labels, and even have their own plastic containers on shelves at the grocery store. So what are these mysterious, microscopic things? Unless you’re already using probiotics, you might have no idea what they are, or why our bodies need them. That’s where we come in!

What they are:

Probiotics are essentially little pills filled with live cultures (think: good bacteria). They live in your body naturally, but you can also find them in foods that you eat regularly, especially dairy products. There are two different classifications (lactobacillus and bifidobacterium). The former aids in the digestion of the enzyme lactase, which (you guessed it) is found in dairy. It’s found prevalent in yogurts and fermented products such as kombucha, which is now available in most grocery stores. The latter is also found in dairy products but is more commonly used as a treatment for those with Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

What they do:

Probiotics have different functions within our bodies, but their main tasks lie within our digestive tract. Within the small intestine lies about 70% of our overall immune systems, so making sure that there are plenty of good bacteria in there to fight off the bad ones is important, especially if you have an already-diminished immune system. More often, however, probiotics are prescribed as a treatment for those with digestive complications. Though not readily supported by research, there are claims that probiotics are helpful in other instances as well, such as aiding in the prevention of UTIs and managing eczema.

Who should be taking them:

If you have a compromised immune system due to an autoimmune disorder, probiotics might be something to talk to your doctor about. They’re also beneficial, as previously mentioned, to those who have trouble with digestion for various reasons. Ultimately, before making the decision to take probiotic supplements regularly, talk to your doctor about what the best options for you will be. As probiotics are regulated as food and not as medicine, there are manufacturers who sell probiotics that may have little to no effect in aiding your problems.

Where to find them:

You can probiotics in yogurt and dairy products, which are readily available at your local grocer. Many foods and beverages are now becoming infused with probiotics (such as chocolates and beverages, like kombucha). These are also sold in many grocery stores, as are probiotic supplements. However, as with any “trending” nutritional product, it is important to be aware of brands that may not be as effective as they advertise. Do your brand research, compare and contrast your options and eat well!