Are Probiotics Good For You?
Last Saturday, I spent over an hour studying the ingredient lists of the local health food store’s supplements, protein powders and meal replacements. When I reached the probiotics section, one thing stood out.
It was the word “billions” followed by “probiotics,” as in 25, 50, or even 150 billion probiotics per dose, depending on the product. Obviously a popular marketing tactic!
When we look at the microorganisms present in a healthy human gut, however, “billions” quickly become a vanishingly small figure. Our guts are naturally alive with an astounding amount of healthy bacteria.
From Harvard Health:
“An estimated 100 trillion microorganisms representing more than 500 different species inhabit every normal, healthy bowel… Gut-dwelling bacteria keep pathogens (harmful microorganisms) in check, aid digestion and nutrient absorption, and contribute to immune function.”
If each of us already hosts 100 trillion healthy microorganisms, what would be the point of adding billions more?
It’s true that NCCIH research shows probiotics may:
prevent antibiotic-associated diarrhea
prevent necrotizing enterocolitis and sepsis in premature infants
treat infant colic
treat periodontal disease
induce or maintain ulcerative colitis remission
But those benefits aren’t guaranteed. Why?
The NCCIH continues, “… in most instances, we still don’t know which probiotics are helpful and which are not.”
But there’s more. In this NutritionFacts video, Dr. Greger shines some light on a darker side of the probiotics craze. Conflicts of interest in probiotics research are very commonly found “not to be reported.”
More alarmingly, he warns that the industry has simply ignored much of the unflattering research — including some which resulted in the deaths of subjects given probiotics to treat acute pancreatitis!
“So, half the people with pancreatitis got probiotics, half got sugar pills, and, within ten days, the mortality rates shot up in the probiotics group, compared to placebo. More than twice as many people died on the probiotics.”
Rather than purchase off-the-shelf probiotics, Dr. Greger recommends replenishing our healthy gut bacteria in the produce aisle.
Environmental science researchers at the University of Colorado, he says, found the raw fruits and vegetables consumed on mostly plant-based or vegan diets supply both probiotics and prebiotics (types of fiber that feed the “pros.”):
“‘… the [probiotic] communities on each produce type were significantly distinct from one another. Tree fruits harbored different bacteria than veggies on the ground. Grapes and mushrooms seemed to be off in their own little world!”
He concludes, “If… these bugs turn out to be good for us, that would underscore the importance of eating not just a greater quantity, but greater variety, of fruits and veggies every day.”
So, with my own stash of prebiotic-loaded produce waiting at home, I left the health food store with nothing but the mellow white miso my wife had requested!
Wait, was that miso she asked for? I guess I’ll get my billions upon billions of probiotics one way or another.