Photograph by Bruce Riley
Ask Gerda: Are Probiotics Worth Taking?
Are Probiotics Worth Taking?
Gerda Endemann, our senior director of science and research, has a BS in nutrition from UC Berkeley, a PhD in nutritional biochemistry from MIT, and a passion for cherry-picking from our wellness shop. She spends a lot of her time interpreting research—established and emerging. And our wellness routines thank her for this. (Yours will, too. Send us your own questions for Gerda: [email protected].)
Dear goop, I’d rather not discuss the reasons I think my digestion isn’t great, but I want to take a probiotic. And from the news these days, you’d think that bacteria are in control of my whole body, not just my gut. My question is: Are probiotics worth taking, and if so, how do I choose one? —Carmen S.
Hi Carmen, It used to be that people thought of taking probiotics only when they were traveling and had an unhappy stomach. Staying in a very luxurious cave home in Cappadocia, Turkey, I became careless and made the mistake of drinking some tap water. I was pretty much attached to the bathroom until a fellow traveler felt pity and gave me some of her precious probiotics.
So we know that probiotics, which are live bacteria, can help the body deal with unfriendly and strange microorganisms, but is there more to them? This would make sense given the incredible research lately about the role of gut bacteria in what seems like every aspect of our health, from food intolerance to depression. We want to harness this potential, not live at its mercy. The answer is yes, in addition to supporting healthy intestinal cells and elimination, probiotics have been shown to be worthwhile for all sorts of other reasons, including gut-immune function immunity and cardiovascular and skin health.
How can you tell whether your diet and your gut microbes are in balance? The most obvious readouts are the absence of gas or bloating and the absence of constipation or diarrhea. You can nurture a healthy intestinal microflora in several ways: Eat prebiotics (plant fibers) that nourish bacteria, eat fermented foods, and take probiotics. It’s also important to avoid foods that cause inflammation in the gut. For people with celiac disease, that means scrupulously avoiding any trace of gluten. Food intolerances—of wheat and other ingredients—are not well understood but are not uncommon, and they cause inflammation. These are not easy to identify—work with a dietitian so that you don’t do more harm than good.
When you choose a probiotic, the species and strain and number are all important. Daily Synbiotic from Seed contains twenty-four well-researched strains totaling a whopping 53 billion friendly live bacteria. Strains like Bifidobacterium breve BR3 and B. longum BB-536 have demonstrated benefits for regular elimination and can help with occasional constipation. And preliminary research suggests that strains in this product could help with healthy gut permeability.
What’s less obvious is that probiotics do all sorts of seemingly non-gut-related things. A strain of B. adolescentis in Seed’s Daily Synbiotic may help increase folate production in the GI tract, and other strains support dermatological health. A clinical study demonstrated that the strain of L. plantarum in Daily Synbiotic can help maintain healthy blood cholesterol levels. It’s not magic—bacteria are complex microorganisms with many enzymes and many capabilities.
Most probiotic bacteria don’t live very long once you’ve eaten them. As the name (Daily) states, take them regularly. Seed’s Daily Synbiotic also includes prebiotics—nutrients used by bacteria to help you thrive. Surrounding the live bacteria, an outer, vegan capsule contains pomegranate, chaga mushroom, and pine bark extract. You can also nourish your microflora by eating fruits and vegetables, most of which contain soluble fibers that bacteria like. Just be aware of your body’s responses—some fruits and veggies cause gas and bloating in certain people. Listen to your gut.
This article is for informational purposes only, even if and to the extent that it features the advice of physicians and medical practitioners. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. The views expressed in this article are the views of the expert and do not necessarily represent the views of goop.