They’re hard to miss.
In specialty stores like Whole Foods nowadays, taking up huge refrigerator cases that are lit up like the Second Coming, are PROBIOTIC FOODS. Not just yogurts like Activia but also drinks, supplements, soy foods, pickles, jams, and more. They promise everything from better digestion to a better immune system to a better, healthier, happier life.
Is it all just hype? Is there any real need to purchase these products? And more fundamentally, what exactly are probiotics?
"Probiotics are nothing more than micro-organisms (bacteria) that are naturally occurring in our gastrointestinal tracts and that we benefit from," explains Dr. Gayl Canfield, Director of Nutrition at the Pritikin Longevity Center.
"The problem these days is that marketers have turned probiotics into a fad." Because of mega PR and advertising campaigns, we’ve been made to feel we’re deficient (even unable to have a good bowel movement!) unless we purchase these pricey probiotic products, and plenty of them.
Save your money. "There are really only two or three times in most of our lives that we need to consider buying probiotics," explains Dr. Canfield.
"There are really only two or three times in most of our lives that we need to consider buying probiotics," explains Dr. Canfield.
One is if we’re using a course of antibiotics. "Antibiotics kill bad bacteria, but they also kill good bacteria. So it’s a good idea to use probiotics during antibiotic therapy and usually one to two weeks after therapy in order to repopulate the good bacteria in our gastrointestinal tracts. Do we need them after that? Probably not," says Dr. Canfield.
Another reason for using probiotics is if you’ve had a severe illness like a flu or a food-borne illness in which you’re really sick with bad diarrhea and vomiting, which can sometimes affect the body’s bacterial flora. "A round of probiotics after a bad flu or food-borne illness is not a bad idea," counsels Dr. Canfield.
Intestinal diseases like Crohn’s disease and celiac disease can also affect bacterial flora.
"But for most of us," sums up Dr. Canfield, "short-term use of probiotic products is all we would ever need.
"If you’re eating probiotic yogurt – or any other probiotic product – every day, you’re paying a lot of money for stuff you probably don’t really need."