Debunked: Are probiotics any good?
The first time many of us became aware of probiotics was probably courtesy of those Yakult ads on TV. I’m not even sure if people knew what good bacteria and probiotics are—just the cool-sounding Lactobacillus paracasei Shirota seemed good enough.
Now, a lot of products on the market are touting the benefits of probiotics, but are they really that good? Should you start taking supplements? Ahead, all is revealed.
So, what are probiotics?
“Probiotics” basically refers to the live bacteria that are found in your gut. They are “good bacteria” because they help keep your gut healthy. Everyone has good bacteria in their gut, but when the balance is upset, “bad” bacteria can wreak havoc. Stress, illness, and antibiotics can alter the levels of good bacteria, so people often like to make up for it with supplements.
There are many different types of bacteria in your gut, classified into different strains. These strains target different things, and the two main strains you often see in supplements are:
1. Lactobacillus, often labeled as “L.” followed by a specific strain. You can find Lactobacillus in yogurt (go Yakult!). It lives in the human digestive, urinary, and genital tracts, and helps with digestive issues, acne, eczema, and lactose intolerance.
2. Bifidobacterium, labeled as “B.” followed by a specific strain. Kimchi, kombucha, sauerkraut, and dairy products all contain Bifidobacterium. It normally lives in the intestines as a form of lactic acid bacteria. Bifidobacterium digest dietary fiber, help prevent infection and produce vitamins.
Do they actually work?
A healthy gut isn’t all that probiotics can do. They have been shown to help your immune system function better, improve nutrition absorption, and decrease the risk of common infections, especially gut and respiratory-related ones. There are even promising studies that probiotics can contribute to better skin health, improving skin conditions like acne and rosacea.
Should I take probiotics?
Though probiotics are safe for most people, you should always discuss new supplements with your doctor. Meanwhile, if you’re looking to improve the balance of bacteria living in your body, you can try eating foods with natural bacteria, like yogurt, miso, tempeh, kefir… The list is quite extensive.
When should you take them?
There’s a simple trick to boosting the effectiveness of your favourite supplement: taking them at the correct timing. Aim to have them before or as you’re eating breakfast, or before bedtime.
When you eat, there are more digestive enzymes in your digestive system, preparing to digest your food. Those enzymes can kill the bacteria in your probiotics before they can get to your intestines. This is why you should have your supplements before a meal; to increase the chances of the bacteria surviving the journey.
You should also aim to take your supplements around the same time everyday. Probiotics are transient microbes, meaning that they will ultimately pass through your body. Constantly replenishing the supply in your body is important if you want your supplements to benefit your health.
Just like taking probiotics to boost your health, you can also incorporate probiotics into your skincare routine to boost your skin health.