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Whilst generally speaking the healthcare world is there to help us all become as fit and healthy as possible, there is a business side to it all. In that case, how can you be sure whether a new kid on the block is there to help your wellbeing, or whether it’s a money making spin from a healthcare company?
Evidence is the only way to tell.
If you’ve heard of probiotics, you’ll know that they’ve been big news over the last few years. Supermarkets now have aisles of various yoghurt drinks, probiotic supplements, and probiotic-boosting foods. You might therefore be wondering whether you should be incorporating this new trend into your diet.
In that case, let’s explore probiotics pros and cons in a bit more detail, and help solve the mystery.
Article at a glance
- 1 Should You Be Taking a Probiotic Supplement?
- 2 Can You Get Probiotics From Your Diet?
- 3 What Are The Pros and Cons of Probiotics?
- 4 Pros of Probiotics
- 4.1 Probiotics help with digestive issues
- 4.2 Probiotics help to boost the immune system and lower the chances of colds or flu developing
- 4.3 Probiotics Can Help Boost Weight Loss, as Part of a Healthy Diet
- 4.4 Probiotics Can Boost Your Overall Oral Health
- 4.5 Probiotics Can Help to Reduce Blood Pressure and Cholesterol
- 4.6 Probiotics Can Help to Reduce Instances of Urinary Tract Infections
- 5 Cons of Probiotics
- 6 A Case of The Unknown
- 7 Are Probiotics Bad For Your Heart?
- 8 Summing It All Up
Should You Be Taking a Probiotic Supplement?
The answer to that question is a personal one.
Probiotics are the good bacteria which live in your gut, and help to maintain a good balance between the good bacteria and the bad bacteria that might make its way in there. You see, not all bacteria is something which needs to be wiped out, despite the connotations with the very word itself.
By having a healthy balance of good bacteria in your stomach, you will have a smoother running digestive system, and the hope is that you will suffer less from gastro-intestinal conditions, such as bloating, gas, or IBS, to name just one condition probiotics have been shown to help with.
From that explanation, you’re probably thinking that that yes, you need these in your life. That’s true to some degree, but not every supplement out there is suitable for every single person. The only way you can be sure that probiotics are safe for you is to chat with your doctor before you give them a try.
There are some instances whereby probiotics might not be suitable, e.g. if you have a low immune system, or you have a condition which could mean the bacteria is absorbed into your blood stream, rather than the stomach, e.g. leaky gut.
Your doctor will be able to advise you, but the good news is that there is very little in the way of evidence to suggest that probiotics are dangerous in any real way.
Can You Get Probiotics From Your Diet?
Yes, you can. There are certain foods which are rich in probiotics, and which can easily be incorporated into your daily routine. You will certainly have heard of yoghurt being a food you need to add, but there are many others too, such as:
- Cruciferous vegetables
- Pickled foods
These are just a few of the foods which are easily added to your diet.
Despite this, there is some debate into whether it’s easy to get your entire amount of required probiotics from diet alone. Most people would struggle to eat these above foods every single day, and that is why so many people opt for the supplementation route. This can be a tablet, a capsule, or it can be a yoghurt drink that you have once per day.
What Are The Pros and Cons of Probiotics?
We mentioned that there isn’t a huge amount of evidence to suggest many downsides to probiotics, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any. It’s important to weigh up the pros and cons of anything you’re considering adding into your daily routine, probiotics included.
The main probiotics pros and cons are:
Pros of Probiotics
The pros of taking probiotics, e.g. the benefits far outweigh the very short in supply downsides. The main ones to consider are:
Probiotics help with digestive issues
Probiotics have been shown to help reduce the instance of diarrhoea and constipation, help relieve diarrhoea if it occurs, and also helps with a wide range of gastrointestinal conditions, such as IBS, ulcerative colitis, general bloating, and gas. There is also evidence to suggest that probiotics help counteract any possible diarrhoea events due to antibiotics.
Probiotics help to boost the immune system and lower the chances of colds or flu developing
The bacteria which dwells within your stomach and colon has a direct association with your general immune system, and the bacteria in this area is helped by taking probiotics. This overall means that your immune system should be stronger as a result of using these supplements. The British Journal of Nutrition undertook a study in 2012 which could that certain strains of probiotics can help to avoid colds and flus.
Probiotics Can Help Boost Weight Loss, as Part of a Healthy Diet
There is little firm evidence to suggest that probiotics can actually boost weight loss overall, but some studies have shown that it can help to reduce accumulations of belly fat, which could result in loss of inches.
Probiotics Can Boost Your Overall Oral Health
The good bacteria which dwells in your intestines is actually also found in your mouth. It stands to reason therefore that if you increase the amount of good bacteria in your gut, by taking a supplement, you’re also increasing the amount in your mouth too, which boosts your oral health and wellbeing.
Probiotics Can Help to Reduce Blood Pressure and Cholesterol
Probiotics are often marketed as helping with blood pressure reduction and cholesterol, but there is very little evidence to suggest that they actually do that directly. What they do however is work within a healthy diet, encouraging you to eat foods which are lower in fat and more nutritious. This helps to lower your blood pressure and cholesterol, and therefore has that advantage to its name.
Probiotics Can Help to Reduce Instances of Urinary Tract Infections
Several studies have taken place into whether probiotics can help to reduce the amount of UTIs experienced, especially by women. Many of these studies involved the use of a probiotic supplement designed as a vaginal suppository, but there is evidence to suggest that restoring the natural balance between good and bacteria in the gut can make it harder for bacteria in the urinary tract to cause an infection too.
There are other suggested pros of taking probiotics, such as increased mental sharpness, better concentration and focus, etc, but there is very little solid evidence to suggest this to be the case. It is thought that the increase in overall health and wellbeing, as well as promoting a healthier diet, contributes to an increase in sharpness, focus, and concentration however, which probiotics play a part in.
Cons of Probiotics
Every good thing has a bad side too! There is little to really talk about in terms of solid disadvantages of taking probiotics, and ongoing studies have concluded so far that whilst there is no evidence to suggest a danger from these supplements, there isn’t any to suggest there isn’t danger either! Basically, more research needs to be done in order to give a solid answer, and a solid list of the possible side effects or dangers of probiotics for the general population. As it stands, it’s really an individual kind of deal.
The main cons associated with probiotics are associated with people who have a medical issue already, scubas a low immune system, a severe gut problem, such as leaky gut, or those who are pregnant or breastfeeding. In this case, discussing whether or not to take probiotics with your doctor before doing so, is vital. It may be the case that your doctor gives you the go-ahead, or it may be that he or she advises you not to go down this route. Whatever the answer, it is important that you listen and heed this advice, for your own health and safety.
A Case of The Unknown
Probiotics overall are considered to be safe for most of the general population, and whilst there might be the odd short-term side effect, such as excessive bloating or gas, for the first week or so, this should settle down as your body gets used to the supplement, and begins to take in the advantages.
For those who are considered to have low immunity, e.g. those who are immune compromised, such as due to chemotherapy, or those who are seriously ill overall, the use of probiotics should certainly be discussed first, and weighed up on a case by case basis. There is the risk of the bacteria which is supposed to live in the gut, being absorbed into the blood stream, rather than staying in the stomach where it belongs. In this case, serious issues can arise, although they are very rare indeed.
There isn’t any solid evidence to suggest that pregnant women can’t use probiotics, but this should be discussed with your doctor or midwife beforehand. The reason for this is that there are various different strains of probiotics, and you need to find the one which is going to cause less issues, and perhaps less risk to your pregnancy. It’s also worth discussing with your Health Visitor or doctor before you give probiotics to children, as these should be used carefully in young age, and certainly not for use with premature infants.
Are Probiotics Bad For Your Heart?
There is no evidence to suggest that taking probiotics could harm your heart; if anything, it’s likely to be the opposite! We mentioned earlier about the possible link between lowering blood pressure and cholesterol by using a probiotic on a daily basis, and these two conditions are directly linked with the health of your heart. When your blood pressure is controlled and you cholesterol is low, your heart is in a much healthier state than otherwise.
By eating foods which are high in probiotic content, generally consuming a healthier and varied diet, and getting a moderate amount of exercise, you’re doing a lot of good to your heart health overall. A probiotic can help in this regard, because it encourages you to eat more healthily, and focus on your overall wellbeing. So, whilst there is no direct evidence that the actual supplement gives you a healthier heart, it certainly contributes towards it. There is however nothing to suggest that it can be bad for your heart, so no worries on that score.
Summing It All Up
The pros and cons about probiotics are quite obviously in favour of the pros. This is partly because there is very little evidence to suggest much in the way of negative, but also because more studies really need to be done to ascertain just what level of benefit is associated with regular probiotic use.
The single best piece of advice to give is to check anything you’re not sure of with your doctor, especially if you have any particular ailments or conditions already. Only then can you be sure that probiotic use is safe and also beneficial, and you can also be helped in finding the best strain of probiotic on the market for you.
Currently, there is no solid dosage for probiotics, and no solid answer on which strain is best. Every single product will have its own dosage regimen, and this is where more research needs to be done.
At the moment however, there is more than enough evidence from studies to suggest that probiotic use is great for supporting a healthy digestive system, as well as having the potential to help with a variety of other ailments. By allowing a greater focus on overall health and wellbeing, taking a probiotic is also boosting general health, as well as possibly the health of the most important organ around – the heart.
If you were not sure before reading this whether you should be taking probiotics, hopefully you will now have a clearer opinion on it. Check things out with your doctor beforehand, but there is a wide range of evidence to suggest that you could gain serious health benefits by incorporating a probiotic into your daily routine, be it through diet alone, or with a supplement in general.