Probiotics: The Basics
Before we really dive in, I just want to say hello! I've dreamed of having tons of informative posts on herbalism and holistic health on the site here. While we do have a few helpful herbalist articles, this is the most in-depth so far. I hope you enjoy it! Be sure to let me know in the comments below if you want to see more like this.
So, the big deal with probiotics. Here goes!
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are live bacteria! But like, the "good" kind. Consuming certain probiotic bacteria strains can provide a variety of health benefits. Since they focus on gut health by improving the gut flora (the naturally existing good bacteria in the gut), most of the benefits associated with probiotics are related to digestive health. There are some studies linking gut health to brain health, and drawing a conclusion that probiotics may also be helpful for psychological health, but these studies definitely need some more work before we can draw any definitive conclusions on that particular claim. All I know is that a nice lavender kombucha in the morning just makes my whole day. *wink*
Who can take probiotics?
I'm not a medical doctor by any means, but studies have shown that probiotics are generally safe for healthy adults to consume. In all of my research the only contraindication I've seen is causing infection in immunodeficient adults in rare occasions. Definitely check with your physician before making any lifestyle changes, it's better to be safe than sorry! But according to NIH, side effects are extremely rare and are usually limited to a little upset stomach.
Probiotics might be something worth trying if you experience upset stomach frequently, are on antibiotics (Dr. Mercola shares more on this in the article linked below), or are just looking for ways to improve your gut health. Remember, natural treatments and supplements shouldn't replace going to a doctor when you have a health problem- the purpose of this article is not to blow off professional health care, but to share information about something that has the potential to benefit your health. If you have a serious problem, go to the doc! And while you're there, see what they have to say about probiotics for you.
What types of probiotics are there?
There are so many types! And you might be surprised to know that store-bought yogurt is generally not a good source of probiotics. In fact, most store-bought yogurts don't even have live cultures in them anymore, and the ones that do rarely have truly useful strains and amounts of a culture.
Home-made yogurt and kefir are good sources of probiotics. There are also drinks, such as kombucha, which contain live cultures. Kimchi is another source- if you're up for it!
You can also get probiotic supplements in pill form and in liquid forms- kind of like thick yogurt.
These are just a few ways to get probiotics. There are lots of probiotic strands to choose from as well. You can read about the different strains and what they do in this easy to read article from Global Healing Center.
What probiotic options are there for vegans?
Vegans don't have as many options in the world of probiotics because many probiotic supplements and strains come from animal sources, but there are still quite a few ways to sneak in some probiotics while maintaining a vegan lifestyle.
Probiotic food options for vegans include live-culture vegan yogurt, sauerkraut, kombucha, non-dairy kefir, sour dough bread, fermented vegetable and soy products (like tempeh), and vegan probiotic supplements.
How I take probiotics
I have to admit it took me a long time to warm up to it, but I've actually come to love kombucha! I love that it's not a super intense dose of probiotics, and the Lavender Love flavor by GT's is just phenomenal. It leaves me tasting flowers for hours after I've finished it! I like to drink about half a cup of kombucha in the morning before I've had breakfast, but after my tea. That's just how it's worked out in my routine. On the days that I don't have kombucha or when I'm feeling a little stomach upset, I have a few bites of cultured vegan yogurt.
A note about me: I have cystic fibrosis and I have pancreatic deficiency because of it, so when I eat a lot of oily foods or junk food, my stomach gets upset quickly. Kombucha and small doses of probiotics have really helped with that. Whenever I have junk food, I make sure to start the next morning with some probiotics- it always makes me feel so much better!
What do you think?
This is just my experience and you should speak with a doctor before making major lifestyle changes. (Yes, I'm going to keep saying this! Because while I do my best to provide accurate and complete information, I am an herbalist and a blogger, not a medical professional, and I want you to take care of yourself!! Listen to your body, seek professional help when you need it, and be kind to yourself. You're great and we'd like to keep you around!)
So there you have it! Let me know what you think and feel free to ask questions in the comments below!
Here are some of the resources used to create this post:
This article from Oxford Academic
This article from physician and best-selling author Dr. Joseph Mercola
This article from Harvard Medical
This article from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NIH)