Should You Be Taking Probiotic Supplements?

18 Nov 2019

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Whether you’ve heard about the benefits of probiotics or the human microbiome project, there’s a good chance that you’re already taking probiotic supplements – after all, that seems to have become the norm. So, how much of what you’ve heard is just hype? Valued at USD 12 million [1], India’s probiotic market growth has exceeded expectations, showing an annual growth rate of over 22% [2]. As you should know, when big business interests come into play, the truth often gets twisted to match the profits. Let’s take a closer look at what we really know about probiotic supplements and whether you should even be taking them.

Health Benefits Of Probiotics

The main talking point for proponents of probiotic supplementation has been its usefulness in restoring the balance of gut bacteria when there is a proliferation of harmful bacteria. This claim is not unfounded, as the health benefits of specific probiotic strains have been documented [3]. We know that probiotics can be helpful when dealing with antibiotic-related diarrhoea, certain types of gut infections, and inflammatory bowel disease.

What’s important to note is that probiotics don’t necessarily have to come from supplements and be found in a number of foods. Moreover, the benefits of probiotic supplements are often exaggerated and because of the uniqueness of your microbiome, they won’t always produce the same results.

Why You Should Think Twice Before Consumption

When you consume probiotics, you’re basically ingesting live microorganisms. For most healthy adults, there is no risk or side effects of probiotic consumption. However, you shouldn’t take this for granted.

Probiotic supplementation is most commonly used after a course of antibiotics to help replenish gut bacteria and restore that healthy balance. This is what we were told and what we believed for quite some time. Now, research shows [4] that probiotic supplementation following antibiotic treatment may actually impair the natural restoration of this microbial gut balance.

That’s not all, everyone’s microbiome is unique and has a delicate balance. This means that all of us can have different experiences with the same probiotic supplements.

The greatest risks of probiotic supplements can be linked to the poorly regulated probiotic market. According to this research [5], some probiotic products were even found to contain microorganisms that were unlisted on labels. These can include contaminants that cause infections or even transfer antibiotic resistance genes in probiotics to other harmful microorganisms in the gut.

When Probiotic Supplements Are A Definite ‘No No’

You should be particularly cautious with the use of probiotics when dealing with a critical illness or immuno-compromised conditions caused by HIV infection, diabetes, or chemotherapy. This also applies to premature babies. Dutch researchers [6] who looked at this data strongly advise that ‘caution should be observed in administering probiotic bacteria to critically ill patients’.

How To Enjoy Probiotic Benefits Safely

If you want to be absolutely sure that you’re getting the probiotic benefits you want, you’ll need to do consult a specialist. Look for products that contain the specific strain that you need, with at least a billion live microorganisms. Of course, because of poor regulation, there is no guarantee that you’ll actually get what’s listed on the label, so make sure to stick with the big brands.

As pointed out by most doctors and dieticians, a great way to reap probiotic benefits is also by consuming fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, tempeh, and kefir, the naturally probiotic foods.

References:

  1. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/257537041_Probiotics_in_India_Current_status_and_future_prospects

  2. http://www.chemijournal.com/archives/2019/vol7issue4/PartE/7-3-612-220.pdf

  3. https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/2013/10/probiotics-can-help-prevent-dangerous-infections/index.htm

  4. https://www.cell.com/cell/fulltext/S0092-8674(18)31108-5

  5. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/probiotics/introduction.htm#hed14

  6. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.3109/08910600903495046

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