Probiotics, prebiotics, antibiotics. As if it’s not enough to sort out the differences among those things, then you have all the different forms of each one.
So let’s start small. Let’s tackle the “biotics.”
In the “one of these things is not like the others” game, the antibiotic is the odd man out. As its prefix would suggest, antibiotics are designed to get rid of bacteria, specifically the bad kind. Cipros, ceftin, augmentin, z-packs, amoxicillin–if you haven’t heard of these, count yourself healthy, because these are some of the more commonly prescribed antibiotics used to target run-of-the-mill sickness like ear infections, sinus infections, urinary tract infections. While they’ll hopefully get you back on your feet again, they aren’t used to maintain your health, and prolonged use can actually render you susceptible to other bothersome ailments, like yeast infections.
Enter our hero, the probiotic. The probiotic is a bacteria–a good kind because that’s a thing–that comes galloping in on a white horse when your digestive system gets out of balance with unhealthy levels of bacteria. Commonly used to reduce pesky GI symptoms like gas, constipation, and diarrhea, particularly if you’re on certain antibiotics, probiotics secrete substances that may activate the immune system and get you better before you get worse.
There’s some belief that probiotics are quite the Renaissance Man, helping with other health aspects, like eczema, prevention of viruses, and vaginal and urinary issues. So, the questions are, if probiotics are so great, 1) should I be taking them? And 2) how should I take them?
The first answer–talk to your medical professional. Probiotics are widely available and generally seem to have few side effects in the long run, but if you’re wondering if they will relieve symptoms you’re having, such as the ones that go along with Irritable Bowel Syndrome or Inflammatory Bowel Disease or trying to discern which form to take and how much of it you need, your doctor is your best resource.
Some of the many sources of probiotics include
- Yogurt–Look for “active cultures” on the label and less than 15 grams of sugar
- Kombucha–super popular on tap and in bottles, more like a fermented tea or fruit drink
- Probiotic supplements–pack a stronger health punch in less time, and without having to deal with flavors or textures that may not be up your alley.
- Kefir–drinkable, but similar to yogurt in makeup
- Foods, e.g. kimchi, sauerkraut, olives
Have the conversation with your medical provider to decide whether probiotics are something you should include in your health routine, and then take these questions into consideration as you choose your source:
- What are you more likely to take consistently (think “do I hate taking pills,” “how do I handle dairy?” “how do I feel about sour tastes?”)
- How do you get the most bang for your buck? Some sources of probiotics contain strains that start out live and active, but succumb to the acid in your stomach before they ever make a difference. Probiotic spores are tougher and make it all the way through your system, so any supplement containing spores may be more effective.
- How do I know that what I’m taking/eating/drinking has enough probiotic material to matter? Shoot for probiotic products with at least 1 billion colony forming units. We make a great one that has 4 billion, so…we think you’re covered there.
- Are there other health issues I have (like cholesterol or weak immune system) that might also be helped by one form of probiotic over the other?
- What strain of probiotic do you need? Grocery store products mostly contain Lactobacillus | Bidobacteria, which don’t stand up to your stomach’s acid well. Bacillus and other strains found in higher grade products may well be worth the extra cost.
Don’t think we’ve forgotten about them. While less known, these game-changers are just as helpful to the digestive system as probiotics, but they occur in more commonly eaten foods, like apples and bananas. You’re likely getting a good amount of them in your current diet if you’re following the “eat the rainbow” rule. As opposed to PRObiotics, which are bacteria in themselves, PREbiotics are food for good bacteria. A gut fueled by prebiotics is fertile ground for healthy bacteria.
Eat, drink, feel good.