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Probiotics: Yay or Nay?

The word “probiotic” used to be reserved for offbeat health food shops and alternative holistic practitioners. Now you can barely walk down a supermarket aisle without seeing the term plastered on everything from yogurts to cereals.

On the surface, probiotics might seem like a strange trend. After all, probiotics are straight-up bacteria. No need to down a bottle of disinfectant, though: These are the kinds of bugs you want in your system. Probiotics are strains of beneficial bacteria that colonize our gastrointestinal tract and create a healthy gut.

The Case for Yay

You know what they say: happy gut, happy life! OK, maybe that’s not the saying, but gut health is a cornerstone of overall health and happiness.

Although probiotics are responsible for healthy digestion and the prevention of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), they aren’t just about moving food through your system. Everything from brain health to immune system vitality is strongly impacted by the health of your gut. People have reported probiotics helping with eczema, preventing allergies and colds, and boosting mood — which makes sense, since, 90 percent of the mood-boosting brain chemical serotonin lives in the gut. Decades of processed food, alcohol, and sugar can wreak havoc on your gut, so it’s important to help replenish your good bacteria by supplementing daily.

The Case for Nay

Here’s the thing. Many probiotics are sold as dietary supplements, which don’t require FDA approval before they hit the shelves. Since FDA regulation of probiotics is so lax, the word “probiotic” can be exploited by marketing managers looking to make a pretty penny off the trend. Just because something says you’re getting probiotics doesn’t mean you’re getting enough strains — or enough of the important strains — to make a difference.

Jury Says

Probiotics are definitely a yay, but the supplements you choose will make all the difference. We’re all for probiotics — if they’re the real deal. Make sure you read labels, looking for at least L. acidophilus, B. longum, or B. bifidum srains in particular. In addition, probiotics are delicate. If you’re buying a supplement in capsule or liquid form, read the label to find out how to properly store your probiotics (dead cells won’t do anything for your bod).

Photo: Ana Maria Tegzes

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