Gut Health

With handwashing signs in nearly every public bathroom and hand sanitizer dispensers available for your purse or backpack, there’s no doubt that you may have a fear of bacteria! While proper hygiene is essential for health, there are actually good bacteria that can help keep you healthy: probiotics!

Within this one article, we will give you an essential guide on how to take probiotics and what to look for. If you want to learn about probiotics and how they can help improve your gut health, then this is the guide to read! Keep reading for helpful definitions, benefits and suggested gut-related products for you to try!

What are Probiotics (and Prebiotics)?

Probiotics are living microorganisms that like to live in your gut. Above all, they work hard to promote healthy bacterial growth and inhibit harmful bacterial growth in your intestines. During digestion, probiotics help you digest your food and extract certain nutrients from the diet.

There are multiple words you may hear about in terms of gut health (aside from probiotics). Along with probiotics, prebiotics are also an important substance to consider. What’s the difference between probiotics and prebiotics? Check out this chart below:

Probiotics

Prebiotics

Living microbes that live in your gut for digestion and nutrient processing. Non-living food substances that feed probiotics so that they function well and continue to multiply.
Examples of probiotics: kefir, cottage cheese, sauerkraut, soy sauce, tempeh, miso, yogurt, buttermilk, kimchi, kombucha, pickled foods, probiotic tablets Examples of prebiotics: onions, leeks, banana, asparagus, oats, barley, apples, flaxseed, seaweed, wheat bran, honey, legumes, garlic, chicory root, Jerusalem artichoke 

What are the Benefits of Probiotics?

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, probiotics can help improve immunity and reduce gastrointestinal inflammation, however, more research is needed to determine which specific probiotic bacterial strains are the most effective. Other potential benefits of probiotics include (1):

  • Producing antibodies against certain viruses
  • Processing nutrients like vitamin K and B vitamins
  • Decreasing diarrhea, especially in those who have recently taken antibiotics
  • Assisting in digesting problematic foods to which you may have an intolerance (i.e. lactose-containing foods with a lactose intolerance)
  • Potentially improving the functional gut health of those who suffer from ulcerative colitis and irritable bowel syndrome
  • Helping to decrease the time a woman suffers from bacterial vaginosis

How to Take Probiotics

Now that you know what probiotics are and how they can benefit you, there several things to keep in mind on how to take probiotics:

  1. Probiotics from capsules vs. probiotics from food.

You can purchase probiotic capsules at a store or online (I highly recommend this probiotic with 40 billion CFU), however, more research is still needed to determine which type or combination of probiotics is the most beneficial. Also, research is still working to determine if shelf live plays a role in the overall effectiveness of a probiotic product. If you are planning on taking probiotic capsules, try a few different brands.

If you are skeptical about probiotic capsules, then there are plenty of food sources of probiotics. These foods offer many nutrients along with probiotics, so they can give you a multitude of nutritional benefits. Regardless of how you get your probiotics, it is still important to also feed the probiotics with prebiotic-rich foods. As you can see, foods that are rich in prebiotics and probiotics can be implemented in an overall healthy diet that is rich in fiber and plant-based foods.

  1. Take your probiotics daily.

Like any pill or healthy eating habit, consistency is key to getting the intended effects. Try your hardest to get probiotics into your diet each day. Whether you choose to consume whole foods that are rich in gut-friendly bacteria or you want to try probiotic tablets, try to get the same amount each day.

  1. Be aware of probiotic side effects.

Even though probiotics can be beneficial for your health, there are several side effects to watch out for:

  • Gas and bloating from excessive fermentation in the gut as a result of taking high doses of probiotics
  • Constipation
  • Increased thirst
  • Headaches from the amines (certain proteins) that are found in some probiotic-rich foods
  • Allergic reactions (may be minor or significant) from being allergic or intolerant to certain substances found in the probiotic tablet or probiotic-rich food

While these side effects may seem to be minor, they still can be really annoying, so it is important to weigh the benefits and symptoms (if they arise). However, you can try remedying theses side effects with pain-relieving hot-and-cold masks (the best I’ve found is the IMAK Compression Pain Relief Mask) or by staying hydrated with this great water bottle. Taking added probiotics may not work for everyone.

  1. Try one source of probiotics at a time.

If you add several different sources of probiotics into your diet at once, then you may not know which ones are more effective than others. Also, adding in lots of probiotics and prebiotics at once can increase the likelihood that you will experience the adverse symptoms we mentioned above.

By slowing increasing your probiotic intake and trying just one product at a time, you can better determine how your body reacts to each type of product. Above all, make sure to notify your healthcare team if you decide to purchase non-prescription probiotic supplements.

  1. Record your symptoms to find the most effective probiotic product for you.

As with any changes in your nutrition, supplement and medicine routine, always keep track of how your body reacts to the changes. To become a pro at logging your symptoms or changes in your condition, try the following steps:

  1. Set a reminder to log daily or weekly. 

    This could be an alarm on your phone or by keeping a notebook on your nightstand to remind you to record your symptoms.

  2. Get some baseline data.

    Do this by recording how you feel and function before taking any probiotics. Make notes on your energy levels, if you are sick and the consistency and frequency of your bowel movements. If you are looking to take probiotics for specific reasons, then make sure you record related conditions and symptoms. Above all, record baseline data for at least a week.

  3. Add in one type of probiotic product (or one serving of a probiotic-rich food).

    Make sure to record which product you use. Consume the same product for at least two weeks and record your symptoms and any other associated changes.

  4. If you think there is something better, then switch to another product.

    To do this correctly, stop using any other probiotics for a few weeks and then introduce a new one. Record your symptoms and conditions. Repeat this process until you find a regimen that works best for you.

Products You May Be Interested In:

Avatar