Yogurt, supplements, kombucha, sauerkraut... probiotics are more widely available now than ever before. And for good reason: Reseach shows they can help regulate the good and bad bacteria in the gut, protecting it against inflammation and the digestive issues that go along with it. But now, researchers are realizing probiotics may be even more powerful. One recent study, for example, found that they could help to reduce negative thoughts and, though more research is needed, help combat depression.
“Friendly bacteria are vital to proper development of the immune system, to protect against microorganisms and toxins that could cause disease, to aid in the digestion and absorption of food and nutrients, improve colonic motility and even produce some vitamin,” says Gastroenterologist at NYU Langone Medical Center Lisa Ganjhu.
What's more, they may even help when it comes to your workout. Really. According to Gregor Reid, Ph.D., Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Western Ontario, probiotics can help reduce the duration of fatigue after intense exercise. “When you get really fatigued running a marathon [for example], your immune response goes down and probiotics can help correct that,” says Reid. And the faster you recover, the faster you can get back out there again.
With an abundance of products available, it can be easy to be swayed by labels touting "billions" of probiotics or those that include multiple strains of bacteria. But, that's not what's important, according to Reid. The key to snagging the right one is finding the manufacturer with a research-backed product, meaning ones with proven results. “What people really need to look at those with science behind them that can tell them what do they really do and why should I take them,” says Reid.
Reid recommends Dannon products DanActive and Activia because they’re backed by studies. When it comes to probiotic foods, though, he remains a bit skeptical. Not only do they taste bad, Reid says, but he also questions how much you'd have to eat in order to receive the benefits of probiotics.
“You could put bacteria into bread and call it a probiotic. My objection to that is – how many slices of bread do I need to take to get a benefit? People have never done these studies,” says Reid.
With more companies breaking into the probiotic market overcrowding the landscape of healthy drinks and foods, it's important to do your homework. Find out which strains work for your particular issue and reap the benefits.