Probiotics and the microbiome
There's lots of buzz these days about the human "microbiome". But what exactly is it anyway? The microbiome is a collection of all the different microorganisms, like bacteria and fungi that live inside and on the human body. The gut microbiome is specifically all the microorganisms living in the gastrointestinal tract. You can "supplement" your gut microbiome with probiotics.
How do probiotics actually work?
Probiotics deliver "good" bacteria and other organisms to the gut where they may influence your gut and overall health. There are a number of theories on how probiotics work and affect the gut in a positive way. Probiotics line the intestine wall and may help stop harmful bacteria and other bugs from reaching it. They may have antibiotic effects and stop the growth of other organisms. Probiotics are also believed to have positive effects on the immune system.
There are many options available
Probiotic supplements are available in many different forms. This includes capsules, powders, liquids and even lozenges. Not only are there different forms, but different products themselves can vary greatly in terms of the types of bacteria and yeasts, as well as the amount. Talk about too many choices! If you're confused, a great resource is your health care provider. They can help recommend a specific product for you.
Confused about the numbers?
Specific combinations and quantities of microorganisms have been studied in different health conditions to determine their health benefits. Probiotics are measured in colony forming units (CFU), which tells you the number of active organisms in each dose. Many probiotic supplements contain 1 to 10 billion CFU. Some even contain up to 50 billion CFU or more. But keep in mind that more is not necessarily better! This is because specific doses were used in the studies looking at the benefits of probiotics, and higher counts do not necessarily mean they work better.
Be storage savvy!
Since probiotics are made up of live bacteria, depending on how they are manufactured, some products may be more sensitive to heat and moisture. Some products need to be stored in the refrigerator, while others are fine at room temperature. Always check the label for storage recommendations. Probiotics often have shorter shelf lives since they are made up of live bacteria. Always check the expiry date on your bottle, and discard it if it has expired.
Are probiotics safe for everyone?
Probiotics are generally safe and well tolerated in people who are healthy. Occasionally probiotics may cause side effects such as gas, bloating or constipation. People with weakened immune systems or severe illnesses may be at risk of side effects, such as infections. Check with your health care provider first if you have any concerns.
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