Q: What are the pros of taking a daily probiotic, and are there any cons?
A: There’s been a lot of research done about the benefits of probiotics, those live microorganisms promising better gut health. But a lot of unknowns remain about which probiotics are helpful and which aren’t, and what impacts they may have on certain health conditions.
What LAURA JACOB, a Christie Clinic dietician, tells patients who are healthy is that taking a daily probiotic could possibly be beneficial.
And, she said, “for most people, it’s very safe.”
Jacob doesn’t advise probiotics for younger children.
And there’s some potential risk for anyone with an underlying medical condition, such as a compromised immune system.
Probiotics, which can be consumed in certain foods and beverages or taken as a supplement pill, are intended to aid digestive health by adding to the good microorganisms that are already living in the body.
But probiotics can contain a wide variety of microorganisms, and they don’t all work the same. And while research suggests certain health benefits, conclusive evidence is lacking that supplements provide the benefits they promise.
“There’s preliminary evidence that some probiotics are helpful in preventing diarrhea caused by infections and antibiotics and in improving symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, but more needs to be learned,” says the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. “We still don’t know which probiotics are helpful and which are not.
“We also don’t know how much of the probiotic people would have to take or who would most likely benefit from taking probiotics. Even for the conditions that have been studied the most, researchers are still working toward finding the answers to these questions.”
Jacob suggested asking your doctor about taking a probiotic, for instance, if you’re being prescribed one of the antibiotics that can have gastrointestinal side effects.
Side effects from the probiotics themselves can vary according to your own health.
For healthy people, there may be some initial bloating and gas. Among people with underlying health issues, some serious complications — such as infections — have occasionally been reported, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
Jacob favors trying probiotics in food products over taking them in supplement pills, she said.
“We don’t necessarily know how much survives the stomach acid, but they are nutrients as foods and are good choices, and they tend to have more of a variety of microorganisms,” she said.
Some good choice probiotic foods and beverages include yogurt, kimchi, tempeh, miso and kefir, according to Jacob.
Another way to promote better gut health is by eating the foods that are rich in prebiotics, which are different from probiotics.
Prebiotics are considered a fuel for the healthy good bacteria in the body, and as with probiotics, Jacob said she prefers seeing them consumed in food rather than taken as supplements.
Some good prebiotic-rich foods are bananas, onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, dandelion greens, spinach, barley, oats, flax and blueberries, she said.