Anyone who’s watched TV in the past 10 years has probably seen at least one commercial that features someone who appears to be absolutely ecstatic to be eating yogurt because, supposedly, the food’s probiotics are giving her the best gut health of her life. But are probiotics really that good for you, or is it just hyped-up in advertisements like that? While there are definitely benefits to including probiotics in your diet in general, the results of a new study suggest you may be much better off eating naturally probiotic foods instead of reaching for pills or supplements of the stuff.
The study, published in the medical journal Clinical and Translational Gastroenterology, looked at 30 adult patients between 20 and 81 years old, 22 of whom said they were taking probiotic supplements and, at the time, reported dealing with a few minor health problems, such as "confusion and difficulty concentrating," as well as issues with gas and bloating, according to a university press release on the research.
Ironically enough, while most people choose to take probiotic supplements to improve their digestive health, the study found that an oral probiotic could cause bloating, gas, and brain fogginess. More specifically, the researchers found that, in the patients who were taking probiotics, the supplement was causing an overgrowth of bacteria in their bodies that, in more moderate amounts, would typically be healthy for the digestive system, and wouldn’t cause any brain fog. According to the study’s press release, once these patients stopped taking the probiotic supplements and were treated with antibiotics, their negative health symptoms vanished.
"Probiotics should be treated as a drug, not as a food supplement," Dr. Satish S.C. Rao, a lead researcher on the study from the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University, said in a statement. He explained that some people may benefit from taking probiotic supplements, but typically, it’s only those who have a weak stomach from conditions like gastroenteritis or the flu, or those who are experiencing diarrhea and other digestive issues after taking antibiotics, which can "wipe out" your body’s natural gut bacteria, Rao said.
In other words, unless you already have a digestive health issue, and you and your doctor have discussed what the best options are for treating your symptoms, probiotic supplements likely aren’t for you. Instead, your best bet is to opt for natural sources of probiotics, meaning you should look for the stuff in your food, rather than in oral supplements or pills. Rao said in the study’s press release that "good food sources of probiotics include yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir and dark chocolate, which are generally safe because of the small amounts of bacteria present."
But besides the mouth-puckering deliciousness of some of these sour foods, there are some good gut health options that can cater to your other taste buds, too. For instance, if you’ve hopped on the kombucha trend, you’re in luck, because just like other fermented foods, the sweet fizzy drink is loaded with beneficial, probiotic bacteria, Wendy Bazilian, a registered dietitian and writer, told Health.
And if pickled veggies and fermented tea drinks aren’t really your cup of tea, no worries. You don’t have to go out of your way to fill your diet with stereotypical health foods for the sake of your stomach’s well-being. In fact, your go-to ham and Swiss on sourdough could be just the thing to give you a healthy boost of natural probiotics. Not only is sourdough bread rich in good fermentation, but a study published in the scientific journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology found that the delicious "souring" process that helps to create the bread’s signature bite also provides your digestive system with an abundance of good antioxidants.
Plus, turning your sourdough sandwich into a gooey grilled cheese will not only taste delicious, but it could also be great for your digestive system. According to Harvard Men’s Health Watch, aged cheeses like Swiss, provolone, gouda, cheddar, and that good-good Gruyère all contain natural probiotics that will make your small intestine and your heart happy.
So the next time you consider buying those super expensive probiotic pills at the grocery store, just buy an armful of cheese instead.
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