Just a few years ago, probiotics were considered to be an “alternative” thing that only hippies were into. Most “probiotics” were pills with only one or two bacterial species, and there was little concern about quality control. Most medical practitioners considered probiotics to be a rip-off, or a fad. And there was no evidence that probiotic bacteria can even live or form colonies in our guts, so it was assumed that they could not affect our health.
My how things have changed.
Technological advances, thanks to the Human Genome Project, have given us a much better idea of the microbes in our guts. Instead of relying on culture techniques (trying to take bacteria from our guts and grow them on an agar plate or in a tube- which they don’t like, because they only like to grow in our guts), we can now identify them using DNA/RNA sequencing of their genes. And wow! We discovered that thousands of different kinds of bacteria live in our guts, and some of them are the same as those found in probiotics.
Now there are so many different types of probiotics, including pills, dairy products such as yogurt and kefir, and other fermented products such as kimchi or kombucha. Which is really great, because we have so many choices. But it is really hard, because we have so many choices. How do we know what kind of probiotic would be best?
Right now, we really don’t know. People often ask me for recommendations on probiotics. Unfortunately, there isn’t any way yet to predict which probiotic will help any specific person. At this point it is still down to trial and error. We are all individuals, and our microbial “communities” are individual as well. Not too long from now it will be common to have our own personal microbes identified, and more studies on how exactly specific microbes interact with our immune systems and gut barrier will help us to make choices about which probiotics can helps us. But for now, we are on our own.
There are a few studies showing that commercially available probiotics can improve symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Inflammatory Bowel Disease, notably one called VSL3, which is a pill formulation. Also, a “rule of thumb” is that the more species a formula has the better. This increases the chances one or more will be good for you, and the bacteria seem to work together- they may be able to enhance each other’s actions.
But personally, I love Greek yogurt. I eat it nearly every day for breakfast. It’s smooth and tangy and there’s so much you can do with it.
Eat it with fresh fruit and granola for breakfast. Or smeared on waffles with fruit.
Make tzatziki with it. I have always loved eating tzatziki in Greek restaurants but now make it at home. Tzatziki goes well with cut-up vegetables or pita chips, and on grilled chicken. Or you can use greek yogurt as a substitute for sour cream.
It is also a good source of calcium and protein, AND it contains some of my favorite probiotic bacteria species:
Lactobacillus Bulgaricus, Acidophilus Casei
Streptococcus Thermophilus & Bifidobacteria
Although, as I just mentioned, we are still a long way from being able to say which probiotic bacteria we should take, recent studies have compared people with chronic diseases seem to have fewer Lactobacillus species than healthy people, which might mean that Lactobacillus helps keep us healthy, and taking probiotics with Lactobacillus might be a good idea.
That’s what I tell myself as I scoop a spoonful of tzatziki onto my pita bread. Just eating it for the Lactobacillus…
So- Bon Appetit and stay posted for more on probiotics and our microbial friends!