Just a few years ago, probiotics seemed like a strange and alien concept. Now research on the microbiome has exploded – science tells us that a wide variety of microorganisms in the gut improve immunity, digestion, and other aspects of health – and these beneficial bacteria have become a hot commodity. Probiotic supplements are currently a US $ 1.7 billion industry, according to Euromonitor International, and New Hope Networks predicts they will grow to $ 2.5 billion by 2018. Kale chips, cereal, and even frozen burritos.
Do probiotics work?
But one big question remains: do these probiotic-fortified foods and drinks actually make us healthier? Can you really boost your immunity, eliminate digestive problems, and generally feel better just by chewing a bacteria-infused snack?
It’s complicated says Dr. Amy Burkhart, an integrative medicine physician in Napa, California. “Marketing and consumer demand for probiotics are definitely driving the upward trend in these products,” she says. “However, they can have some use – we just don’t know the details because the science isn’t there yet.” Much depends on the type of product you buy, as well as the exact type of probiotic. Certain strains, like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, have done more research than others, and some do better in food and beverage processing. “To be effective, probiotics must either be heat and storage stable or refrigerated and kept during processing and transport,” explains Burkhart. If not, a good part – if not all – of the probiotics in the product will be dead when you buy it.
Look for products with BC30
There is one particular probiotic that has been well studied, is heat stable, and often shows up in new products – a strain of Bacillus coagulans called Ganeden BC30. Have a meal or drink containing BC30 and the chances are the probiotic is alive and intact. However, many other probiotic strains added to products do not show this stability, says Jeremy Burton, deputy director of the Canadian Center for Human Microbiome and Probiotics.
Our pick: Best BC30 probiotic for men
- Include the BC30 probiotic which is good because it is a probiotic that, like other probiotics, stays alive and intact. Which means it works a lot better to cleanse your system and boost your immune system
- This is an incredibly popular choice for a reason, and the reason is that it works
- Take it once a day to relieve abdominal discomfort such as gas and diarrhea. It survives longer in stomach acid so you know it is holding and working. And your immune system will be as fresh as ever.
Probiotics vs. healthy eating
In addition, Burton says, one also needs to consider whether a probiotic-fortified food or drink is nutrient-dense at all. “Will adding a small amount of probiotics to a snack bar or candy bar do a lot for you? I’m not sure. If the food itself is inherently unhealthy, it is counterproductive to health. “
All of this begs the question of whether we need probiotics at all. Yes, they help repopulate good intestinal bacteria. We have seen it in studies of people with indigestion or when taking antibiotics that destroy the colon. And nutritionists now suspect that most of us have a less-than-healthy microbiome due to poor diet, so probiotics certainly could have the potential to help almost anyone. All these food and beverage companies hang their hats on that anyway.
But that also divides the doctors. Some, like Burkhart, see no real drawbacks to probiotic supplements or foods other than their high price. And since probiotics can aid immunity and digestion, they see no harm in seeking them out. Other doctors are not so convinced. “The evidential value is insufficient for healthy people with no medical or digestive problems to invest in daily probiotics,” says Dr. KT Park, gastroenterologist at Stanford University School of Medicine. “I’m saying that instead of looking for probiotics to find a quick and easy fix, you are spending the extra money each month on good nutrition.”
Other ways to improve gastrointestinal health
According to Park, the average man could improve his gastrointestinal health significantly by simply avoiding processed foods and eating a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, and seeds. “Plant fibers serve as fuel for our 100 trillion intestinal bacteria,” he says. “Strong evidence suggests that a plant-based diet can optimize your gut microbiota profile by increasing the diversity and abundance of good bacteria.”
Eat more fermented foods
Aside from charging plants, you can also use fermented foods to boost your microbiome, Park adds. That means plant-based products like sauerkraut and kimchi, as well as animal-based options like yogurt and kefir. Fermented foods not only provide probiotics, but they also provide prebiotics, which are basically nourishment for existing bacteria to feed on. This combination gives fermented foods real potential for keeping your microbiota healthy – and probably more so than some probiotic burritos.
The bottom line is that probiotic fortified foods and drinks that are healthy to start with probably don’t do much more harm than your wallet – and who knows, they could give your microbiome a boost. But if you can get more miles out of apples, spinach, sprouted grains, and Greek yogurt, why not save your money and just choose your diet instead.
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