Professional Opinion

Professional Opinion: Probiotics — take a pill or eat some yogurt?

Kim Edwards is a registered dietician at Beaufort Memorial’s LifeFit Wellness.
Kim Edwards is a registered dietician at Beaufort Memorial’s LifeFit Wellness. Submitted photo

This week, Kim Edwards, a registered dietician at Beaufort Memorial LifeFit Wellness Services, discusses probiotics.

Q. After suffering from a bad intestinal ailment, my physician put me on a probiotic regimen, among other medications. I’m feeling much better now but wondered, what is the difference between taking a pill that is a probiotic and having yogurt containing “good bacterial strains” once a day?

A. Probiotics are types of bacteria which are referred to as “friendly bacteria,” as they are very similar to the organisms that are found in the digestive tract.

They have been linked to health benefits which include aiding in normal digestion, boosting immune function, as well as helping fight against harmful bacteria.

Probiotics can be introduced into a healthy diet by consuming natural food sources such as yogurt. However, over-the-counter supplements have also become an option.

There are different reasons why a person would choose a natural food source over supplementation, and it is important to consider the pros and cons to help make the better choice.

Yogurt is a popular and the most common known source for probiotics and has been shown to have positive effects on digestion. Most yogurts typically contain the strain of lactobacillus. This is the most common strain of probiotic and is also found in fermented foods. There are yogurts that are specifically branded as special digestive yogurts; however any yogurt that lists “live and helpful cultures” can be just as effective as well as less expensive.

There are other foods gaining popularity for their probiotic qualities, including sauerkraut and a similar Korean dish, kimchi. It’s important to choose the unpasteurized kind as pasteurization will kill the active, good bacteria.

Other popular foods include miso, kefir, sourdough breads, tempeh and some soft cheeses such as Gouda. Not only do you get the benefit of adding probiotics in your diet by consuming these foods, but these foods can be a great addition to any healthy diet.

Probiotic supplementation is another viable option to add these healthy organisms, especially if someone is a picky eater or has issues with digesting these foods. These supplements contain high dosages of healthy microorganisms, and unlike the foods, they will list the specific strain they contain.

Probiotics are not all alike. Each strain can be very specific in terms of what it’s useful for. For example, one strain of lactobacillus may be beneficial in fighting off a particular illness that another strain would have no benefit against at all.

With supplements, the consumer is able to choose the particular strain that is specific to your health need. As with any supplement, it important to note that probiotic supplements do not require FDA approval before they are marketed.

Special considerations need to be met when introducing any probiotic into the diet. It is, for the most part, safe to add any of the foods that contain probiotics into a healthy individual’s diet, although there can be risks associated with taking a supplement for someone with a compromised immune system.

For critically ill patients or the elderly, these supplements could do more harm than good. It’s important to let your physician and health care providers know of your plans of adding any type of supplements.