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February 3, 2024 5 mins

Some claims make it sound like probiotics are a cure-all, but what has research found so far? Learn more about these supplements for your microbiome in this classic episode of BrainStuff, based on this article: https://health.howstuffworks.com/wellness/preventive-care/probiotic.htm

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Speaker 1 (00:01):
Welcome to Brainstuff, a production of iHeartRadio. Hey brain Stuff,
Lauren Vogel Bomb here with a classic episode from our
podcasts archives. In this one, we delve into the complicated
science and pseudoscience behind probiotics. This episode originally aired back
in December of twenty eighteen, but probiotics is still a

(00:23):
food and wellness industry buzzword. So what can they really do?
Hey brain Stuff, Lauren Vogel bomb here. What if you
could take a pill that would treat depression, constipation, diarrhea, exzema, urine,
airtract infections, and allergies, while also preventing cavities and strengthening
your overall immunity. And what if it promised to shield

(00:45):
you from the impurities of the world and re establish
a right and correct balance in your body's ecology. First
of all, everybody settled down, there is no such thing
as a pill that does all of that. But to
hear some people talk, probiotics might just come close. The
popularity of products containing friendly live microorganisms has exploded over

(01:05):
the past decade. At this point, you can walk into
almost any grocery store and find probiotics in capsules, lozenges, gum,
facial toner and yes even in pet products, in addition
to the more traditional delivery systems like culture dairy products, yogurt,
and fermented products like suakraut and kombucha. Some folks are
making a lot of money on these little bacterial helpers,

(01:26):
but what are they actually able to do for us
and are they safe? We spoke with doctor Chris Irwin,
a dietitian and lecturer in nutrition and dietetics at Griffith
University in Queensland, Australia. He said that unless you have
an extremely poor diet or drink alcohol to excess, there's
not a lot of evidence that a probiotic dietary supplement
will help your overall health. He said, if you're taking probiotics,

(01:50):
you'll likely need to take them every day, and it's
best to feed the healthy bacteria with prebiotics. The bottom
line is that healthy people are likely to get more
benefit from getting regular exercise, avoiding smoking or consuming too
much alcohol, and having a diet rich in foods that
increase fiber and natural prebiotics intake like vegetables, fruit and
whole grains, rather than consuming a probiotic supplement. However, probiotics

(02:14):
might be an effective treatment for specific cases or conditions.
While there's not a lot of evidence supporting the idea
that probiotics could help with your exima allergies or dental woes, sorry,
they might actually help people looking to avoid vaginal east
infections or upper respiratory infections picked up from a cold virus.
Other studies have found that probiotics can help with digestive
issues like irritable bell syndrome and may improve the frequency

(02:37):
and consistency of your poop. So, as a consumer, what
should you look for in a probiotic If you want
to get the most bang for your buck, Basically, you've
got some homework to do. Irwin said. Different probiotic strains
have different effects, so it's important to look for a
probiotic supplement that contains the strains of bacteria most likely
to match your condition. The dose of bacteria, called colon

(03:00):
many forming units or CFU, is also important and should
be high enough to meet benefits observed in clinical trials.
The short answer here is, if someone is looking for
a probiotic to take, go for something that provides the
greatest diversity in bacterial strains and the highest CFU. Irwin
also suggests getting advice from your doctor or dietitian for
the strains that might be right for you, and making

(03:22):
sure you're buying probiotic strains that are reputable and have
committed to transparency in scientific research. However, that latter is
more easily said than done. A study published in Jama
Internal Medicine in twenty eighteen pointed out that there is
very little government oversight of factories that manufacture probiotics, and
the US Boon and Drug Administration, or FDA, found that
about half of the six hundred and fifty factories that

(03:44):
manufacture probiotic supplements in the United States were cited for violations,
most having to do with the product not living up
to what was promised on the label. The study also
said the probiotics may lead to infections in people with
immune deficiencies. Another study published this year in the journal
Cell suggests some people may be resistant to supplemented probiotic bacteria,
and therefore we'll get no benefit from it at all.

(04:06):
The researchers also investigated whether probiotics can help the gut
microbiome bounce back after a round of antibiotics, and they
found that though probiotics might have helped with diarrhea related
to the antibiotic. They seem to have delayed the reconstitution
of gut bacteria. Of course, more research is needed to
understand just how helpful probiotics are to our overall health,

(04:27):
and it's important not to give them more credit than
their due. Irwin said, it's unlikely probiotic supplements are dangerous,
but I don't think that they're a magic bullet. Healthy
people are likely to get more benefit from having a
diet rich in vegetables, fruit, and whole grains. On the
other hand, if someone has a poor diet and doesn't
exercise regularly, their digestive bacteria may benefit from probiotic supplements,

(04:49):
but they'll likely need to keep taking them to get
lasting effects. Today's episode is based on the article Everyone
Be Taking Probiotics on hostiff works dot com, written by
Molly Edmunds and Jesslyn Shields. Brain Stuff is production of
by Heart Radio in partnership with hostuffworks dot Com, and
it's produced by Tyler Klang. For more podcasts from My

(05:12):
Heart Radio, visit the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, or wherever
you listen to your favorite shows.

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Lauren Vogelbaum

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