Just a few years ago, probiotics seemed like a strange and bizarre concept. Research on the microbiome has now exploded — science tells us that having a variety of gut microorganisms boosts immunity, digestion, and other health aspects — and these beneficial bacteria are becoming a hot commodity. Probiotic supplementation is currently a $1.7 billion US industry, according to Euromonitor International, and New Hope Networks projects it will grow to $2.5 billion by 2018. Companies are taking that trend to the bank, too, adding probiotics to cold brew coffee, kale chips, granola and even frozen burritos.
Do probiotics work?
But the big question remains: Do these foods and drinks that contain probiotics make us healthier? Can you really boost your immunity, get rid of digestive issues, and generally feel better by eating a bacteria-boosted snack?
He says it’s complicated Dr. Amy Burkhart, an integrative medicine physician in Napa, California. “Marketing and consumer demand for probiotics are definitely driving the rise in these products,” she says. “However, they may have some benefits – we don’t know the details because the science isn’t there yet.” A lot depends on the type of product you buy and the exact strain of the probiotic as well. Certain strains, such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, have more research behind them than others, and some are better at processing foods and drinks. “For probiotics to be effective, they must be heat and shelf stable or refrigerated and kept during processing and transportation,” Burkhart explains. If you aren’t, a large portion – if not all – of the probiotics in the product will be dead by the time you buy it.
Look for products containing BC30
There is one particular well-studied probiotic that is heat-stable, and it shows up a lot in new products – a strain of Bacillus coagulans called Ganeden BC30. Eat or drink food or drink that contains BC30, and the probiotic is likely to be alive and well. However, many of the other probiotic strains that are added to products do not show this stability, says Jeremy Burton, M.D. Canadian Center for Human Microbiome and Probiotics.
Our pick: the best BC30 probiotic for men
- They contain BC30 probiotics, which is good because it’s a probiotic that stays alive and healthy like other probiotics. Which means it will do a much better job of cleansing your system and strengthening your immune system
- This is an incredibly popular option for a reason, and that’s why it works
- Take it once a day to reduce abdominal discomfort, such as bloating and diarrhea. It lives longer in stomach acid, so you know it will last and work. And your immune system will be as refreshed as ever.
Probiotics vs. a healthy diet
On top of that, says Burton, you also have to consider whether the food or drink fortified with probiotics is actually nutritious. “Would adding a small amount of probiotics to a snack bar or chocolate bar do too much for you? I’m not sure. If the food itself is inherently unhealthy, it is counterproductive to health.”
All of this begs the question of whether we need probiotics in the first place. Yes, it does help repopulate the good gut bacteria. We’ve seen it happen in studies of people with digestive disorders or taking gut-damaging antibiotics. Nutrition experts now suspect that most of us have a less than healthy microbiome thanks to poor diets, so probiotics sure have the potential to help just about anyone. That’s what all of these food and beverage companies are doing anyway.
But that’s also what doctors swear by. Some, like Burkhart, see no real downside to probiotic supplements or foods, except for their high price tag. And since probiotics can help with immunity and digestion, they see no harm in looking for them. Other doctors are not convinced of this. “The strength of evidence is not enough for healthy individuals without any medical or digestive issues to invest in daily probiotics,” says Dr. K.T. Park, a gastroenterologist at Stanford University School of Medicine. “I’d say spend the extra money per month on eating well rather than searching for probiotics for a quick and easy fix.”
Other ways to improve digestive health
According to Park, the average man can significantly improve digestive health simply by cutting out processed foods and eating a variety of vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, and seeds. “Plant fibers serve as fuel for the 100 trillion gut bacteria,” he says. “Strong evidence suggests that a plant-based diet can improve the gut microbiota profile by increasing the diversity and abundance of good bacteria.”
Eat more fermented foods
Besides loading up on plants, you can also support your microbiome with fermented foods, Park adds. That means plant-based items like sauerkraut and kimchi, as well as animal-based options like yogurt and kefir. Besides serving as a probiotic, fermented foods provide prebiotics, which are essentially food for the bacteria present to feed on. This combo gives fermented foods real potential to help keep microorganisms healthy — perhaps even more so than some burritos that contain probiotics.
The bottom line is that healthy foods and drinks that contain probiotics won’t do much more harm to your wallet — and who knows, they can give your microbiome a boost. But if you can get more miles from apples, spinach, sprouted grains, and Greek yogurt, why not save your money, and order your diet instead.
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