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Alyssa Simpson RD, CDE, CLT
Alyssa Simpson

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Sibo Doctor Approved
certified gastrointestinal nutritionist
Sibo Doctor Approved
certified gastrointestinal nutritionist

What’s the Big Deal With Probiotics? A Dietitian Weighs In.

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Have you ever stood in the supplement section of your local health food store and looked at the probiotics?

There are a lot to choose from. There are different strains, different strengths, and wildly different prices. Some of them even live in the refrigerated section.

This month we’re going to take a deep dive into probiotics. We’ll talk about what they are, why you might want to take them, and even how to pick good ones.

Probiotics are not regulated by the FDA, so you have to know what you’re looking for if you want to find the right ones for you. So let’s dive into the microscopic world of probiotics.

First, let’s start with some basics…

Last time you had a sinus infection or bronchitis, your doctor might have given you a course of antibiotics to kill the bad bacteria that were making you sick.


Anti = against

Biotic = Life

So antibiotics kill off the bad bacteria.


Pro = For

Life = Life

Probiotics add bacteria.

Why would I want to add bacteria to my body?

Not all bacteria is bad. Yes, some of it is. The bacteria that cause respiratory infections or food-born illness are bad for you. And you want to avoid them.

But there are also bacteria that can be considered “good”. Good bacteria help you in a variety of ways from boosting your immune system to producing some of the micro-nutrients your body needs.

Your body houses somewhere in the range of 39–300 trillion bacteria. Not all of them are good. But when things are in balance, the good bacteria keeps any bad bacteria that sneaks in from doing too much damage.

This community of bacteria is known as your microbiome. You can learn more about microbiome and How Does Stress Cause Digestive Problems? Let’s Dig Deep Into the Microbiome.

But basically, your microbiome consists of microscopic organisms that live on and inside your body. You can find these beneficial bacteria in a variety of places. But the biggest concentration is in your large intestines, or gut.

You’ve probably heard of “gut bacteria” before. That’s what most people are talking about when they say ‘microbiome’. And it’s no small thing. The cells themselves are very small, but they actually outnumber the cells that make up your body.

The microbiome is so important that some scientists consider it the “forgotten organ”.

Your microbiome does a lot for you including:

✔ Protects you from harmful bacteria.

✔ Strengthens your immune system.

✔ Breaks down certain types of carbohydrates during digestion.

✔ Assists your body in absorbing the nutrients from your food.

✔ Manufactures vitamins — including vitamin K and some B vitamins.

✔ Produces chemicals like GABA and serotonin that support your mental health and mood.

Having a healthy microbiome is a critical component to the health of your entire body.

What makes a microbiome healthy?

The microbiome is incredibly complex. A single person’s gut may contain thousands of unique strains of bacteria. Scientists and researchers are in the process of studying and mapping out these strains.

They’ve studied about 8,000 strains so far.

Scientists have discovered that different strains of bacteria seem to be beneficial for different symptoms and illnesses. For example:

? Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterium longum can reduce anxiety and depression symptoms.

? Lactobacillus paracasei, Lactobacillus casei, and Lactobacillus fermentum reduce the occurrence of respiratory infections and flu-like symptoms.

? Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus can improve a variety of mental health disorders including anxiety, depression, autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and memory issues.

? Lactobacillus rhamnosus increase weight loss over time.

But when it comes to your microbiome, getting it healthy isn’t about just matching your symptoms to a bacterial strain and then taking a bunch of that one strain.

When it comes to gut bacteria, you need a healthy population with a wide variety of bacteria.

What makes a microbiome unhealthy?

Your gut microbiome is cultivated over the course of your entire life. You get your first dose of bacteria from your mother during birth and breastfeeding. And then as you grow up, you are exposed to a variety of bacteria through things like the foods you eat, the pets that you interact with, and other environmental exposures.

But the microbiome is fragile. And the balance can be disrupted.

Remember those antibiotics we talked about? Well, they don’t kill only the bad bacteria. They can kill the good bacteria as well. Things like antibiotics and other medications, antibacterial soaps and cleaning products, or even illness can disrupt the delicate balance of your microbiome.

And when things get out of balance you can develop problems — including stomach and digestive issues like IBS.

We have studies that link unbalanced gut bacteria to many diseases including type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and depression.

It is possible to get your gut bacteria back in balance. That’s where probiotics come in.

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are beneficial bacteria. You can ingest them either through probiotic foods or probiotic supplements.

By taking a probiotic supplement, you are helping to colonize your microbiome with beneficial bacteria. When these good bacteria join the community already living in your gut, they can help bring things back into balance.

Probiotic support can help people who suffer with serious and life-altering diseases..

A probiotic supplement can help with things like:

✔ The diarrhea that sometimes goes hand-in-hand with taking antibiotics

✔ The uncomfortable symptoms that accompany Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

✔ Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis

✔ Fighting off Helicobacter pylori (H-pylori) infections that may cause ulcers and stomach cancer

But it’s not just people with serious symptoms or illnesses who can benefit from including probiotics in their diet and supplement routine. Probiotics have shown promise in helping balance the body by helping with a variety of factors that may show up before a serious illness strikes.

Some of the benefits of probiotic use include:

✔ Reduction in systemic inflammation — the precursor to many diseases

✔ Reduction in symptoms of anxiety and depression

✔ Reduction in LDL (bad) cholesterol

✔ Improvement in blood pressure

✔ Enhanced immune function reducing the risk of common infections

✔ Improved skin health with conditions like acne, eczema, and rosacea

Great! So I should order some probiotics on Amazon and dive in?

Not so fast my friend. Not all probiotic supplements are created equal. In fact, because the FDA doesn’t regulate the claims made on probiotic supplements, it is possible — maybe even likely — that the probiotic you order online or pick out at the store isn’t really helping you all that much.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll dig deeper into the world of probiotics so you can step into that vitamin aisle armed with the knowledge that will help you sort through the junk and find a probiotic supplement that works for you!

In the meantime, if you’re struggling with digestive issues, I’m here to help. People come to me all the time ready to take a natural root-cause approach to their GI diagnosis. But I also help people figure out what’s going on.

Many of my patients reach out to me after being told by their doctor that “nothing’s wrong” with them. If you’ve got unexplained digestive symptoms, or you just don’t feel right, let’s talk. I can help you get to the bottom of what’s really going on.

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