Your colon or large intestine is home to about four pounds of bacteria that enter your system from food and the environment, many of which are “good” bacteria and yeasts that are vital to your health. Scientific evidence suggests that probiotics, meaning “for life,” can help improve digestion and absorption of foods and nutrients and can also activate your immune system and prevent the bad bacteria from taking over your body and making you sick. Other potential benefits of these healthy organisms include treatment or prevention of:
- irritable bowel syndrome
- ulcerative colitis
- Crohn’s disease
- vaginal infections
- urinary tract infections
- recurrence of bladder cancer
- eczema in children
When you lose “good” bacteria in your body — by taking antibiotics, for example— probiotics can help replace them and balance your “good” and “bad” bacteria to keep your body healthy. Eating a diverse diet of whole foods is the best way to ensure and increase healthy bacteria levels, but you can also increase the amount of healthy bacteria in your gut or GI tract by drinking probiotic beverages which are sold at most local supermarkets, Target, and natural food stores.
What should you look for in probiotic products?
Product packaging will list the types of bacteria. The more types of bacteria, the better. Lactobacillus, the most common probiotic found in yogurt and other fermented foods, can relieve diarrhea and help people digest lactose, the sugar in milk. Bifidobacterium, found in some dairy products, may help ease the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and other GI conditions. The packaging may also indicate the dose. According to the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics the best dose ranges from 100 million to one trillion CFUs per day. However, the highest dose may not always be the best. Look for words such as “live”, “active”, “raw” or “unpasteurized” on packaging to ensure that the manufacturing process hasn’t killed the probiotics.
What’s the difference between probiotic drinks?
Yogurt drinks in general, are one of the best sources of probiotics and contains a few types of probiotics. There are several probiotic yogurt drinks on the market to choose from. Siggis Swedish-Style Filmjolk, a non-fat yogurt drink contains billions of probiotics and eight grams of protein and about one-third of your calcium requirement for the day. Raspberry is my favorite flavor. Chobani’s Apple Veg Yogurt Drink, which contains a refreshing combination of fruits and vegetables, is also great tasting.
Kefir is similar to yogurt, but fermented in a different way, which allows for more types of healthy bacteria to grow. It is most commonly milk-based, but it can also be made with non-dairy alternatives. Water kefir is also gaining in popularity. You can make your own by purchasing water kefir grains or tibicos at a local natural food store or online. (https://nourishedkitchen.com/water-kefir/)
Kombucha, another common probiotic drink, is made by fermenting sweet tea with yeast and bacteria.
Try fruit juice and water-based probiotic drinks. At my local natural food store, I sampled Kevita sparkling probiotic drink (watermelon rose) and Farmhouse Gut shot (ginger beet) which were both light and refreshing and a perfect summer beverage.
Since all these drinks contain live, active cultures, it is necessary to refrigerate and consume them by the date on the label to get the most benefits.
Most probiotics are sold as dietary supplements, which do not undergo a testing or approval process. Before probiotic products can be sold to consumers, manufacturers are responsible for making sure they are safe and any claims made on the label are true. There is no guarantee that the types of bacteria listed on a label are effective for the condition you may be taking them for so it may be helpful to consult a practitioner familiar with probiotics to discuss your options. Most importantly, keep your primary health care provider informed if you decide to try probiotic products.