Ask A Practitioner: What Are Probiotics & Do I Need Them?

Join every week for a Q&A session with one of Basmati’s practitioners, Melissa Hill (FDN-P)! We know that there is a lot of confusing information out there, which can make applying health advice overwhelming.  Sometimes, it’s best to ask a practitioner directly, so each week we’ll cover a common health question!

Do you have a health question you’d like to ask? Write to us at editors [at] basmati [dot] com and your question could be chosen and featured in a future column!

Q. What are the benefits of probiotics? Why do we need them?

A. The term probiotics refers to the beneficial bacteria that ‘should be’ populating our gut. These little microorganisms keep us healthy and are key for every system in our body to function well. I say ‘should be’ because in our modern world, most people have a significant lack of these good guys. This is because our modern practices like the processing of food, overuse of pesticides, antibiotics, and artificial ingredients have killed them off. A lack of ‘good’ bacteria in our guts sets us up for all kinds of health issues. There are trillions of bacteria in our gut, our inner microbiome, like a big community of these little guys responsible for doing all sorts of things. They help out in digesting our food, absorbing different nutrients from our food, and fueling our immune system to keep away infections and disease. There is a whole world of operations going on in there. You can imagine it like an inner city: lots of transactions taking place, doing business, setting up houses, living, thriving, trying to establish themselves and do their job. When our gut is healthy, this feels like a thriving, safe city and we are healthy. On the other hand, when the good bacteria in our gut get destroyed, it sets up a space where not-so-good bacteria can take up residence and interfere with normal operations. This is analogous to a city where a lot of criminals have taken over and no one is there to regulate or keep it clean. In this type of environment, regular business operations get taken over by criminal-like activity: hoarding of the incoming nutrients instead of passing them through to the body for use, disruption of our immune system and inner defenses. Consequently, the health of the body starts dwindling; the lack of good guys in there sets up the space for infections, leaky gut, yeast overgrowth, inefficient digestion, nutritional deficiencies, slow brain function, weight gain, sleep disturbances, and aches and pains in other places of your body.

So, you can see why keeping a healthy inner microbiome is so important. Without enough good guys in there, your health is at risk. This is why you have seen such an increase in the sale of probiotics and talk of eating more fermented foods. We all are in need of some microbiome replenishment and nourishment.  So yes, likely you need some probiotics in your daily routine (there are exceptions of course like in the case of SIBO, where good bacteria are taking up residence in areas they shouldn’t be, so feeding them more probiotics could aggravate your symptoms further). There are many ways to get probiotics in and start replenishing your gut. You can get probiotics in a capsule or powder form. Each brand and product will contain different strains and in different amounts. If you do a little research you can find what strains of bacteria might be most beneficial for you and the best delivery method to get them in your body. Another great option that I highly recommend is eating your probiotics in the form of fermented foods. Learn about some of the different kinds here and here. Just like probiotics, there are cases where certain fermented foods might not be the best choice for you (people with histamine intolerance might have trouble with sauerkraut and people with candida overgrowth might not do well with kombucha, for instance). So yes, probiotics are needed and can help keep you healthy -- it’s just important to tune into your body and your unique situation to figure out the best way to incorporate them.