Probiotics are live microorganisms that work to maintain the balance of good and bad bacteria that live inside your digestive tract. Probiotics can naturally be found in foods such as yogurt, milk, and other dairy products, as well as in over-the-counter, concentrated supplements. It is becoming increasingly popular to include probiotics in our daily diets--but how necessary are they for being healthy? Here are some things to consider before jumping on the probiotic bandwagon.
They are expensive.
With one dose often costing more than $1 per day, probiotics are easily one of the most expensive dietary supplements. Additionally, it is hard to determine whether or not you are getting what you pay for—a higher price does not necessarily mean a higher quality, natural supplement. Since there are so many different strains of probiotics you could take, it is difficult to know if you are paying for a supplement that is even doing any good for your body at all.
They are not regulated by the FDA.
While prescription medications must be approved by the FDA before they can be marketed to the public, this is not necessarily true for all over-the-counter supplements. Probiotics do not go through the same rigorous tests for safety and effectiveness that drugs do before they are approved for human consumption. While it is believed by most experts that probiotics are generally safe to use, this does not necessarily mean that they are doing any good either. Since manufacturers are not required to have the FDA’s stamp of approval, this also means that there is no standardized amount of microbes that are required to be in the foods, beverages, or supplements that claim to contain probiotics or to boost your digestive health.
They can cause side effects.
Even though probiotics are meant to improve your digestive health, it is common for them to have the opposite effect when you first start taking them. Many people will experience gas, bloating, and sometimes even diarrhea during the first few days of taking the supplements. However, these symptoms will usually dissipate after two or three days of use.
All probiotics are not the same.
Dairy products and beverages tend to contain the highest levels of probiotics and live bacteria, especially yogurts with the label “live and active cultures.” Other foods that are naturally rich in probiotics include fermented probiotic drinks and aged cheeses such as cheddar, Gouda, Parmesan, and Swiss. However, there are other foods that do not naturally contain probiotics, but still claim to have the added supplement. These foods, such as juices, cereals, and snack bars, may not actually contain the live organisms at the time of consumption. This is because live cultures that are added could have decayed by the time you consume it, making it less active than dairy-based products and less able to offer the claimed health benefits.
Probiotics are not safe for everyone.
While most healthy individuals will not be harmed by taking probiotics, people who have certain conditions should definitely steer clear of taking supplements or fermented probiotic drinks. This would include people with weakened immune systems, including cancer patients who are receiving chemotherapy, people undergoing organ transplants, and people who have had parts of their gastrointestinal tract removed. Additionally, people who have central IV lines should avoid probiotics because there is a small risk of infection.