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Should You Take Probiotics?

Many people seem to agree that probiotics, in a supplemental form, are universally good for everybody and we should be taking them every single day. They’re so popular that they’re even showing up in places they don’t really need to be, like instant breakfast powders or your dog’s and cat’s food.

Millions of dollars are spent every year on marketing by supplement manufacturers trying to convince you that taking a simple probiotic will be the answer to all of your digestive woes.

The thing is, it doesn’t really work like that.

Few things are that simple, and if you’re one of the people who thought all of your digestive problems would easily be resolved with probiotics and was let down and no better (or perhaps worse) off than when you started, you’re not alone.

A study was published recently in the bi-monthly biology journal Cell Press foundmbthat some people may experience absolutely no benefit from taking probiotics, and others may actually be hurt by them.

The study found that for some people, supplemental probiotic strains were able to colonize and flourish in their digestive tracts. In others however, their bodies seemed resistant to the bacteria and the probiotics completely failed to colonize in the gut.

Researchers also found that taking probiotics following a round of antibiotics, a commonly prescribed post-antibiotic protocol, actually delayed some people’s gut bacteria returning to normal.

“Contrary to the current dogma that probiotics are harmless and benefit everyone, these results reveal a new potential adverse side effect of probiotic use with antibiotics.”, noted one of the researchers.

Everybody has different amounts and types of bacteria in their intestines that are influenced by their current state of health, lifestyle and genetic factors, and the types of foods they eat. It’s impossible to formulate a probiotic capsule that will perfectly suit everyone.

For some people, even the most common type of bacterial strain, Lactobacillus Acidophilus, the primary bacteria found in probiotic capsules, yogurt, and other fermented foods, can cause issues.

Severe gas, bloating, and other digestive disturbances can happen due to there already being an overgrowth of this bacteria in their guts, and taking probiotics or eating cultured foods only makes the situation worse.

That’s not to say that some people have not or won’t experience miraculous health benefits from supplementing with probiotics. They just simply aren’t the miracle supplement you may have heard they are, and many people haven’t experienced any benefit from taking them.

Thankfully, there are ways to foster healthy colonies of bacteria in your digestive tract that don’t involve spending upwards of $60/month on probiotic pills.

Taking antibiotics certainly can damage to your digestive tract and your intestinal bacteria. Only taking antibiotics when it truly is the best option or is absolutely necessary is a good place to start.

Considering that most doctors will happily write you a prescription for amoxicillin at the first sign of a runny nose, it’s good to show a little restraint and only use them when you truly need to.

Your body isn’t exclusively reliant on getting beneficial gut bacteria from external sources. It naturally produces the exact types of bacteria in the specific amounts that your unique microbiome requires all on it’s own.

Gut bacteria are just like you and me: they need food to go on living. When they’re given the right kinds of food they thrive, and when they’re given the wrong kind they become sick and unbalanced.

A diet consisting of mostly processed, or even restaurant food full of refined oils is the opposite of what your gut bacteria truly need. Processed foods don’t provide the right nutrients to act as healthy bacterial fuel, and excess refined sugars fuel the wrong types of bacteria.

Fiber, and the right kinds of it, is your stomach bacteria’s best friend. Fiber by definition is indigestible, but the right kinds of stomach bacteria are actually able to break down some of it to use as food for themselves.

The best kind of fiber is the soluble and insoluble fiber found in raw or cooked fruits and vegetables or cooked beans and legumes. These tend to be easier on the gut than harsher fibers like the kind found in bran while still providing all the food your stomach bugs need to be happy.

Worth special mention is a unique substance that acts very much like fiber called resistant starch.

Resistant starch is just like it sounds, a type of starch that resists digestion in your stomach and is like rocket fuel for the healthy bacteria in your digestive tract.

It also allows those healthy bacteria to produce butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid that has anti-inflammatory properties, further balances intestinal bacteria, and repairs the lining of the intestines.

Resistant starch is found in foods like oats, beans/legumes, and cooked and cooled rice, potatoes, pasta and other grains.

Many people trying to increase their resistant starch intake will cook big batches of rice or potatoes at the beginning of the week, store them in the fridge, and then reheat and eat them throughout the week.

This simple diet trick is cheaper, easier, and likely more effective than even the best probiotic capsules.

If you’ve found benefit from taking a probiotic or enjoy eating fermented foods like kimchi or sauerkraut, there’s no need to stop.

However, if you’ve been struggling with your digestive health and been wondering if those probiotic capsules you’ve been taking really are helping, consider taking a break from them and trying something else.

For thousands of years people have relied almost exclusively on eating a variety of healthy foods while avoiding unhealthy ones in order to cultivate healthy intestinal bacteria. No capsules were required. There’s no reason you can’t try and do the same.

Frederic Patenaude
Frederic Patenaude
Frederic Patenaude has been an important influence in the raw food and natural health movement since he started writing and publishing in 1998, first by being the editor of Just Eat an Apple magazine. He is the author of over 20 books, including The Raw Secrets, the Sunfood Cuisine and Raw Food Controversies. Since 2013 he’s been the Editor-in-Chief of Renegade Health.

Frederic loves to relentlessly debunk nutritional myths. He advocates a low-fat, plant-based diet and has had over 10 years of experience with raw vegan diets. He lives in Montreal, Canada.