The Health 'Fad' You Should Follow

Beware of health fads...

Over the years, we've discussed lots of new health fads that you shouldn't waste your money on, like drinking aloe vera juice, taking colloidal silver, and any diet that forces you to cut out entire food groups.

But there's a fad we've talked about for years that you should be following...

If you go to the grocery store, it's easy to find food packaging touting a product's probiotic content. There are shelves of pills and powders in the supplement section. And you'll find lots of fermented foods and dairy items pointing out how they're packed with probiotics. Now there are even "healthy" probiotic sodas. These companies are marketing their foods to health-conscious folks. In fact, the probiotics industry has grown nearly 6% a year for the past few years.

With so many probiotic options, you need to know what you're buying and what you actually need to be healthy.

So today, we're going to answer a few questions about probiotics, including why you should add probiotics to your diet and how to find the best probiotic products...

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are tiny living organisms – bacteria, really – that, when eaten, provide health benefits like improving irritable bowel syndrome, decreasing your risk of getting an infection, and increasing your gut's nutrient absorption. And good bacteria like probiotics help keep the bad bacteria in your gut manageable. Studies show they also help improve metabolic diseases and prevent upper respiratory tract infections.

And different strains of probiotic bacteria will serve different functions. For instance, Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria –the two most commonly found probiotics – help with things like gut health and fiber digestion, respectively. So you'll want to consume a strain that targets your specific needs.

How about prebiotics and postbiotics?

Prebiotics and postbiotics are beneficial molecules that support both your ingested probiotics and your gastrointestinal tract.

Prebiotics serve as food for the probiotics that you eat. And postbiotics are the byproduct of prebiotic fiber being eaten by the microbes in your gut.

How can these biotics benefit me?

Studies have shown that these three biotics can improve metabolic diseases (like obesity), aid sleep, and help with depressive symptoms.

Separately, they make their own contributions to your health as well...

Probiotics boost your immune system and help it break down indigestible foods. They can help treat diarrhea and will help your gut absorb important vitamins and nutrients. Probiotics can help reduce your risk of getting a low-grade infection – like a stomach bug, for example – and help balance out the harmful bacteria in your gut.

Prebiotics keep your digestive system healthy by increasing its level of good bacteria, which will ward off pathogens and boost your immune system. They help mineral absorption and blood-sugar regulation. They also improve immune and cardiovascular function.

You can find prebiotics in high-fiber foods like oats. A 2021 study found that eating one cup of oats for 45 days altered the gut microbiome such that it lowered total and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol.

Postbiotics are what is left over after your body uses the prebiotics and probiotics. Postbiotics help keep the bad bacteria out of your gut and the good bacteria in. They help protect the integrity of the gut barrier, bolster the immune system, and provide anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic properties. They also help with water and electrolyte absorption in the gut.

How can I incorporate more prebiotics and probiotics into my diet?

You can incorporate more probiotics into your diet by eating foods like yogurt, kefir, and kimchi. Fermented soybeans and kombucha also contain probiotics. Look for packaging that says "contains active cultures" when shopping for probiotic foods.

Prebiotics show up on label ingredient lists using words like:

  • Galactooligosaccharides
  • Fructooligosaccharides
  • Oligofructose
  • Beta-glucans
  • Chicory fiber
  • Inulin

They also occur naturally in foods like wheat, barley, oats, beans, artichokes, asparagus, onions, garlic, and chicory root.

What does Doc do?

I like to include probiotics and prebiotics in my diet by eating cheese, yogurt, sauerkraut, oats, beans, and tons of fresh vegetables. You can eat these things every day.

While there is no officially recommended daily amount of probiotics or prebiotics, Gregor Reid – a microbiologist and professor at Western University in Ontario, Canada – told National Geographic, "You probably need to consume five grams of prebiotics to stimulate beneficial microbes in your gut."

Just avoid taking your probiotics and prebiotics via supplement, unless your doctor has expressly recommended a particular one. Getting your nutrients from food is always preferable to getting them in supplement form.

What We're Reading...

Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
June 20, 2023