Gut Instincts- thoughts on probiotics


Kim McCorquodale RD, CSO


Many of you have probably heard something about the benefits of probiotics. Are they as helpful as the media claims? As usual, in the world of nutrition, the answer is not always so easy to find.


First off- what are they? Probiotics are live microorganisms that provide health benefits by improving our intestinal microbial balance (a fancy way of saying they help keep our gut happy).


Why do we need them? Probiotics contribute to a healthy gut and a healthy gut helps protect our bodies from pathogens, boosts the immune system and extracts nutrients from food we eat. Taking certain drugs, such as antibiotics, can reduce the number of healthy gut bacteria sometimes resulting in diarrhea. Or maybe you’ve traveled to a new place and consumed food or drink that’s new to you. This may change your system, again resulting in diarrhea. So, we want to increase the number of good bacteria to help crowd out the bad guys.


How should we get them? Food is usually the safest way, but it’s sometimes difficult to know if you’re eating live bacteria due to pasteurization and other food safety measures. Look for a “Live Active Culture Seal” on food products that reports the quantity of probiotics in the food at the time of manufacture. The usual foods to look for include yogurt, kefir, sour cream, and some fermented vegetables.


Are supplements recommended?  How do I know they’re safe? There is no regulation or standardization of dietary supplements, which makes it difficult to find the answers.  Looking for a reputable company through a healthcare professional is one option.  Other options include: “Culturelle” and “Reuteri” – both contain probiotics effective with diarrhea or “VLS#3” –contains probiotics effective for ulcerative colitis and pouchitis.


How much should we consume? At this time, it is not possible to generalize on recommended doses as it varies for different strains and the specific health effect desired.  However, studies appear to indicate that we need to consume at least 109-1010 organisms per day to be effective.


And, please remember-

It is important to talk to you healthcare professional BEFORE starting any probiotic supplement.

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