Bacteria can be good for you. True, this may be the opposite of what you've learned, but probiotics - an assortment of beneficial bacteria - may be just the thing to help keep you robust all year round.

Bacteria can be good for you. True, this may be the opposite of what you’ve learned, but probiotics – an assortment of beneficial bacteria – may be just the thing to help keep you robust all year round.

Probiotics are gut-friendly critters available from supplements and fermented foods and have shown to have a positive health effect. The trick is to figure out which probiotics work for you, which don’t, and how to know the difference.

How probiotics work
Your guy plays host to a delicate balance of good and bad bacteria. Call it a synergy of sorts. If the mix is right, you can have “bad” bacteria in your system and still be healthy. You get sick when the bad bacteria start to outweigh the good, and probiotics ensure that you have an abundant supply of the bacteria you need to stay healthy.

There’s evidence that probiotics are effective in treating diarrhea and supporting the immune system. In fact, many people first hear of probiotics in the context of replacing good bacteria when they use an antibitoic, which wipes out all of your bacteria and can result in diarrhea. Some health care practitioners believe that probiotics can help treat other conditions, such as yeat overgrowth, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), exzema, and lactose intolerance, and that they can protect against cancer.

How to select a probiotic
Not all probiotics are created equal, and this makes selecting one confusing. Different strains are used to treat different health conditions, so the results of studies using specific strains can’t be generalized to probiotics as a whole. What’s more, some supplement companies know hot to process probiotics to ensure their efficacy, while others don’t.

Probiotic does not have a legal definition. There is no third-party verification for probiotics, so the consumer has to figure out how effective a probiotic is, case by case. This is an emerging science. What we know today is only a piece, and we don’t necessarily understand fully who will benefit and how.

Start with logging on to probiotic manufacturer’s websites, where studies will often be posted that substantiate the companies’ probiotic claims. This will help you figure out which probiotics work, and for which condition. If you’re looking for a solution for IBS, go to the product that has been tested for that. This would be better than using a general probiotic that may contain strains that haven’t been tested for IBS. When in doubt, go for two strains that are tried and true: Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. The product label, whether for a supplement or a food, will tell you which type of probiotic the product contains.

There’s also confusion regarding whether a probiotic needs to be refrigerated or is shelf-stable. Both storage techniques can work depending on how the probiotic was made, so pay attention to the manufacturer’s directions on the label and store your probiotic accordingly. This applies to probiotics in food and in supplement form. The type of storage and the ways these are preserved has everything to do with the specific microbes and the type of stabilization used.

Best way to take probiotics
There are a number of ways to fit probiotics into your diet. They occur naturally in fermented foods and are added to foods and come in supplement form as a powder or pill. The supplements are easy to include in your daily vitamin routine, but many experts prefer to eat their probiotics. Ideally, if we had them naturally in our diet we wouldn’t need to take them as a supplement.

Look for probiotics in foods such as miso soup and sauerkraut. Many companies add probiotics to juice, granola, and other cereals. They’re commonly found in yogurt, but the downside in dairy consumption doesn’t outweigh the benefits. There’s no added nutritional value from a probiotic and it doesn’t change the way a food tastes, but the bacterial benefits can be huge.

by Jean Weiss, a regular contributor to

1 thought on “The good-for-you bacteria

  1. Comprehensive. I was writing about small intestinal bacterial overgrowth the other day, for my IBS website. It seems that “SIBO” as it’s called, can cause IBS symptoms.

    From the research I’ve found, probiotics are one of the 2 preferred treatments for it.

    It seems from studies that Lactobacillus salivarius or Bifidobacterium infantis are the best kinds to look for.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *