Nowadays, the shelves of supermarkets or pharmacies are filled with PROBIOTIC SUPPLEMENTS due to their huge demand. So, what are they? Are they really game-changers for our health? Let me put the facts for you to decide after you read this.
What are probiotics?
We all have tiny micro-organisms i.e., bacteria and yeast, in our gut, estimated to be around 100 trillion with good and harmful. The good bacteria are called Probiotics which means “Good for Life”.
The good bacteria help our body to
- break down the food
- digest it
- absorb the nutrients
- produce vitamins like K and B12 required by the body.
They are usually transferred to the baby from the mother during birth, through the birth canal, and breastfeed. In a normal, healthy gut, there is a balance between good and bad bacteria. But various factors like age, genetics, stress, unbalanced diet, or lack of sleep, can disturb the balance and can cause many intestinal diseases and may also lead to more critical ailments like Diabetes and Obesity.
What are Probiotic Supplements?
Many brands in the market sell probiotic supplements in form of capsules, gummies, liquids, powders, etc, that are supposedly “useful” in increasing the numbers of good bacteria and improve the gut health and immune system, overall.
As per a study by market research experts, the global market for these supplements will increase to 3.3 billion by 2027.
While the idea behind these supplements may be good, it still is debatable whether the benefits outweigh the risks making the efficacy questionable.
But still, promising results were found while treating a few health ailments with probiotics.
- Research has shown that probiotics are significantly beneficial in treating diarrhea caused by using antibodies.
In 2010, a study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, patients who were given two capsules of probiotic, each containing 50 billion CFU, had fewer instances of antibiotic-induced diarrhea than patients who were given one capsule or no probiotic at all.
- Useful in Neonatal ICU for treating a condition called necrotizing enterocolitis, where the gut tissue is inflamed in the preterm babies whose gut is not completely developed. Most of them succumb to this. The use of probiotics was seen helping the babies fight against this condition.
- Useful in easing the complaints caused by irritable bowel syndrome where one experiences excruciating pain in the abdomen along with bloating and constipation.
- Probiotics help treat ailments like lactose intolerance, skin-related issues like acne and eczema, UTIs (Urinary Tract Infections), etc.
Though the above benefits seem lucrative, these supplements certainly come with risks or drawbacks if used they are used directly without consulting a medical practitioner.
- Safety is a concern in people who have a weak immune system because of medication or illness or having. It could hit them hard and may lead to serious complications by affecting the internal organs.
- Another risk involved is that probiotic supplements are considered as dietary supplements and not as drugs. As a result of which the procedures may not be stringent.
- Some brands do not mention some important information on their label like the different types of bacteria active in the supplement, the count of bacteria by the end of shelf life, the CFU (simply put is, Colony Forming Unit which means the number of micro-organisms in it)
- Usually, for a normal individual, the supplement’s ideal dose should be 1 to 10 billion CFUs in a day. But in some supplements, the numbers can go up to 50 billion CFUs too. The effective dosage is not scientifically determined and there isn’t much research on it.
- Authenticity cannot be guaranteed. They may or may not have been stored under ideal temperatures or conditions where the live bacteria survive and be useful to consume. Even if they survive, will they be potent enough to grow in the required number by the time they reach the intestines is doubtful?
- There are various types or strains of bacteria which are useful in treating various gut health-related problems. It’s not like no-one-size-fits-all for these problems.
So, in this case, what do we do? How can we help ourselves?
In such a situation, the best option is to opt for foods that are good probiotics.
- Fermented foods like Yogurt especially Greek yogurt, Kefir (a fermented drink usually made using milk or thin yogurt), fermented vegetables like pickles, fruits like bananas, buttermilk, Indian cheese or Paneer, Idli
- Also, if you would still like to give these supplements a try, start with the minimum dosage of 10 billion CFUs. Also, check for the minimum and viable CFUs at the level at which efficacy is claimed and at the end of the shelf- life too, their claim(s), serving size for efficiency, and the storage conditions.
- In case of any health ailments, consult a medical professional who will decide if you need one and if needed which type of bacteria will be helpful.
I have a 'gut' feeling that this article will be helpful in deciding what is beneficial for you and your 'gut'.