Does eating a healthy diet mean you should be eating probiotic foods?
Does a Healthy Diet Require Probiotic Foods?
Does a healthy diet mean you should be eating probiotic foods like kimchi, drinking kombucha or taking probiotic supplements? Probiotic foods are extremely popular and are touted for their supposed health benefits. Many of us don’t even know much about what they are, yet we buy kombucha because we’ve heard that it’s good for us.
What are Probiotics and Should They Be Included in a Healthy Diet?
Some research indicates that probiotics will enhance a healthy diet.
Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that many researchers believe are good for you, especially your digestive system. We usually think of germs like bacteria as disease causing. But your body is full of bacteria, both good and bad. Probiotics are often called “good” or “helpful” bacteria based on their purported ability to help keep your gut healthy.
You can find probiotics in supplements and some foods, like yogurt. Doctors often suggest them to help with digestive problems.
How Do They Work?
Researchers are trying to figure out exactly how probiotics work. Some of the ways they may keep you healthy:
• When you lose “good” bacteria in your body, for example after you take antibiotics, probiotics can help replace them.
• They can help balance your “good” and “bad” bacteria to keep your body working the way it should.
What Do They Do?
Among other things, probiotics help send food through your gut by affecting nerves that control gut movement. Researchers are still trying to figure out which are best for certain health problems. Some common conditions they treat are:
• Irritable bowel syndrome
• Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
• Infectious diarrhea (caused by viruses, bacteria, or parasites)
• Diarrhea caused by antibiotics
There is also some research that shows they’re useful for problems in other parts of your body. For example, some people say they have helped with:
• Skin conditions, like eczema
• Urinary and vaginal health
• Preventing allergies and colds
• Oral health
But that research is now being called into question.
Probiotics: Does the Evidence Match the Hype?
A new study investigating probiotics concludes that they do not benefit all people. In fact, the way different people process probiotics varies quite a bit. So perhaps the hype got ahead of the scientific evidence.
As this latest research demonstrates, in human biology, things are rarely so straightforward. Many researchers believe that to date, evidence to back up many of the health claims associated with probiotics is lacking.
In this new study, researchers from the Weizmann Institute and the Tel Aviv Medical Center designed a comprehensive investigation into the effectiveness of probiotics by taking a different approach.
Senior author Eran Elinav explains the goal of the research: “People have thrown a lot of support to probiotics, even though the literature underlying our understanding of them is very controversial. We wanted to determine whether probiotics, such as the ones you buy in the supermarket, do colonize the gastrointestinal tract like they’re supposed to, and then whether these probiotics are having any impact on the human host.”
New Study on Whether Probiotics are Part of a Healthy Diet
The researchers took a new approach to determining whether probiotics should be included in a healthy diet. While most previous studies investigating probiotics assessed the species of bacteria in participants’ guts by analyzing stool samples, this type of proxy measure is not ideal. So the decided to test gut bacteria directly.
Some People Don’t Benefit from Probiotics
The study showed that some people benefit from probiotics and others do not.
In the study, scientists measured the gut bacteria directly, using endoscopies and colonoscopies.
• In all, 25 people were sampled, but only 15 progressed to the next stage.
• The team split them into two groups: one took generic probiotics, while the other took a placebo.
• Shortly after, their gut bacteria were assessed again. It was measured again for a third time, 2 months after the intervention.
• They found that some individuals simply expelled the probiotics. The team referred to them as “resisters.”
• Other people’s guts welcomed the new microbes, and they successfully colonized their gut. They named them “persisters.”
• The researchers also learned that by analyzing an individual’s original microbiome and gut gene expression, they could correctly predict who would be a persister and who would be a resister.
• Next, they compared stool analysis with direct sampling and found that there was only a partial correlation. Stool samples, it seems, are not necessarily a reliable proxy to assess gut bacteria.
Study co-author Eran Segal explains the results:
• “Although all of our probiotic-consuming volunteers showed probiotics in their stool, only some of them showed them in their gut, which is where they need to be.
• Therefore the benefits of the standard probiotics we all take can’t be as universal as we once thought.
• These results highlight the role of the gut microbiome in driving very specific clinical differences between people.”
This study suggests that probiotics are not the “magic” to a healthy diet. While some people benefit, others do not. At this point we cannot predict who will benefit, outside of this controlled testing situation. The bottom line is that probiotics should not be universally recommended to everyone as a necessary addition to a healthy diet.
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