4 probiotic myths we all need to forget

Most of us know that good bacteria are essential for a healthy digestive system. One of the most common questions I’m asked is “What’s a good probiotic supplement?”. Go into any health food store or pharmacy and there’s at least 5-10 different probiotic supplement options available, not counting the hundreds and hundreds of different varieties you can get online or from your health practitioner.

They all claim to do something for your health – but have you just been sucked in by marketing dollars? If you’ve seen an ad for your probiotic on TV, I’d suggest there could be a more effective supplement out there for you. Here’s a few myths about probiotics that we all should know:

Myth #1 – You can’t use probiotics during an antibiotic treatment

If you’re taking antibiotics, this is the exact time YOU NEED TO be taking probiotics! People used to think that antibiotics would kill probiotics if taken together, so there was no use taking the two at the same time. However taking probiotics concurrently with antibiotics is actually quite important. Probiotics can reduce antibiotic side-effects such as diarrhoea, and can also soften the damaging effect antibiotics have on your digestive system in general.

Myth #2 – It’s best to take probiotics on an empty stomach

It’s a pretty tough journey from your mouth to your colon. It’s like a battlefield, and many probiotics don’t survive the trip through the stomach’s gastric juices, past the length of the small intestine to their eventual home in your large intestine. Our stomach acid is meant to be the first line of defense in killing pathogens, so it’s little wonder that good bacteria routinely come off second-best. This is why it’s actually been proven more beneficial to take probiotics with food – not on an empty stomach - as this reduces the full strength of our stomach acid on these helpful bacteria.

Myth #3 – Probiotic supplements are better than probiotic foods

Why not do both? Fermented foods are hugely beneficial to our gut, and it’s great to eat a variety of them every day. Things like tempeh, kombucha, miso, yoghurt, sauerkraut and kefir are full of beneficial microbes. Did you know that even as little as a tenth of a gram of sauerkraut can contain a therapeutic dose of probiotics? I definitely recommend taking a daily probiotic supplement while still eating the fermented foods that are so good for you.

Myth #4 – Probiotics permanently remain in the gut

If only life were that easy! It’s been proven that lactobacillus and bifidobacteria strains, when taken orally, cannot permanently colonise our digestive tract. To take advantage of their benefits we have to ingest them on a regular basis, not just a once-off. One round of probiotics may be beneficial but is not a “lifetime fix” because of their transient nature. So if you have IBS or any other gut disorder, probiotic supplements really need to be a part of your life going forward – in addition to helpful fermented foods.