Probiotic supplements claim to improve digestive and immune health, but how can you know if they really do what they say? I decided to do a 30-day probiotic experiment to test out these claims.
The facts about probiotics
Your gut contains more than 100 trillion live bacteria, known as probiotics. Although bacteria are generally regarded as a bad thing, probiotics are considered “good bacteria” and are essential for a healthy digestive tract and immune system function. The body does a good job of maintaining its own probiotic levels, but certain things like an unhealthy diet, undue stress or a harsh round of antibiotics, can cause imbalances or disturbances in your natural “good bacteria”. That’s where probiotic supplements come into play. In one small capsule, you can reintroduce billions of live cultures with diverse strains to your gut.
My 30-day test
Although I eat a pretty healthy diet and exercise regularly, I decided to take a probiotic for 30 days to see what all the hype was about. Specifically, I paid very close attention to changes in my digestive tract or immune system. Although I had seen the research on the benefits of probiotics, I was pretty skeptical about taking any type of supplement (since they are not regulated by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA)). Yet, I did my homework and found that there was little to no downside to taking a probiotic. Before we dive in, I want to note that my experience is completely anecdotal and may not be the same for everyone.
My digestive health
A recent survey conducted by Renew Life probiotics found that two in three women are not willing to talk about their digestive issues. Given that we all experience digestion on a daily basis, I thought it was important to open up the lines of communication about this taboo topic. As a healthy adult with a good diet, I didn’t have many digestive issues before starting a probiotic regimen. However, I do occasionally experience an upset stomach and heartburn after eating too much heavy or greasy food, like pizza. During my 30-day trial, I continued to stay regular without many digestive issues. Nevertheless, I still encountered an uncomfortable belly after indulging in too much pizza. It’s a common misconception that you can undo an unhealthy diet with supplements, but probiotics only provide health benefits when they supplement a healthy diet.
My immune health
I’m the type of person who gets a cold every time the seasons change or if I’m around a sick person. If I’m preparing for something really important—like a marathon—I take mega-doses of Vitamin C to ward off sickness. With 70% of the natural immune system found in the digestive tract, new research suggests that a probiotic may be more beneficial to the immune system than any vitamin. During my 30-day trial, the seasons changed from fall to winter, and I was around a sick baby at the holidays. I didn’t take any other supplements but the probiotics and miraculously, I didn’t catch a cold. I consider that an immune system success!
Will I recommend probiotics?
I had a great experience while taking probiotics, and I will definitely recommend that my clients add them into their daily routine. But for those who don’t want to pop a pill everyday, probiotic-rich foods, like kimchi, sauerkraut and kefir, can be added to the diet to provide the same benefits. The gut deserves just as much love as the rest of your body, so feed it accordingly.
Natalie Rizzo, M.S., R.D., is a media dietitian, food and nutrition writer, spokesperson and blogger at Nutrition à la Natalie.