Over the past decade or so, scientific evidence has been mounting about the importance of the bacteria living in our intestines. Though most bacteria are invisible to the naked eye, the wrong mix in our bellies can lead to gastrointestinal disorders, obesity, depression, and more. Your gastrointestinal tract contains trillions of bacteria, and they’re estimated to outnumber your human cells 10 to one. It seems only natural that you’d want to host the good guys!
As these studies have been released, sales of probiotic supplements have skyrocketed. Probiotics are so-called “good” bacteria thought to have a beneficial effect on our health. The idea is that eating probiotics—through pills or certain foods like yogurt and sauerkraut—will help build the colonies of good bacteria in our tummies, crowd out the bad bacteria, and improve our health.
The thing is, evidence supporting the health benefits of taking probiotics is still somewhat scanty. Even those who agree that taking probiotics is a good idea often don’t agree on what type you should take or how much. To help you decide if these supplements are right for you, we rounded up recent research on some of the potential health benefits of probiotics:
1. Lowers blood pressure. Research published by the American Heart Association last summer found that regularly consuming probiotics—whether in food or supplements—modestly but significantly lowered blood pressure in people with hypertension. However, probiotics needed to be taken at for at least eight weeks and contain a minimum of 109 colony-forming units (CFUs) to have a significant effect. They also found that probiotics containing multiple bacteria had more impact than those containing a single type of bacteria.
2. Improves cognitive function. A study from CalTech gave the probiotic B. fragilis to mice that exhibited autistic behaviors and gastrointestinal problems. After probiotic therapy, researchers found that the mice were less anxious, more communicative with other mice, and less likely to engage in repetitive behaviors, a feature of autism spectrum disorders. The mice’s gastrointestinal problems also improved.
3. Supports weight loss. Another study found that women who took a certain probiotic supplement while dieting lost more weight than a control group. Note though that the study was funded by Nestle, which makes the particular probiotic strain used in the research.
4. Relieves IBS. Studies show that the probiotic strain Bifidobacterium infantis—patented and sold as a supplement called Align—relieves symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
So if you want to try a probiotic supplement, where should you start? First, check with your doctor. Although probiotics are generally considered safe, they may pose dangers for people with certain illnesses, or for the very young or old.
Next, make sure that you choose a quality product. In tests conducted by ConsumerLab, an independent evaluator of vitamins and supplements, five out of 19 probiotic supplements did not contain the amounts of probiotics listed on their labels, and/or were contaminated with mold or bad bacteria. Check out ConsumerLab’s reviews of widely available probiotics to learn more about the different probiotic strains and find a good choice for you.
Do you take probiotics—why or why not? Let us know on the Mango Health Facebook page!