Ask a Pro — Diane Stibbard
- Coach, Personal Trainer, and Two-Time Canadian Duathlete of the Year
A: These days probiotics—gut-friendly bacteria that not only improve digestion but boost health—are getting a lot of attention, not only from complementary health practitioners but from traditional doctors. Why? Because of the irrefutable evidence that a daily probiotic supplement can improve your health.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are live microorganisms similar to the beneficial bacteria already in your gut. These bacteria serve many vital functions in the body. They produce B-complex vitamins, as well as Vitamin K, folate, and some short-chain fatty acids. These all help to eliminate toxins by destroying bad bacteria and enhancing the body’s immune system.
What’s your first defence against illness?
If you guessed your gut, you’d be right. A healthy digestive system can wipe out many viruses and bad bacteria before they make you ill. In fact, 70% of your immune system is in your gut, where thousands of different species of bacteria thrive.
The two main species of beneficial bacteria are lactobacillus and bifidobacterium. These bacteria improve the health of your digestive system, which in turn improves the health of the rest of your body. When your digestive system is not functioning at its best, it can have many adverse effects on the rest of your body.
The enemies of beneficial gut bacteria
Keeping levels of good bacteria high ensures a strong and healthy immune system. Unfortunately, there may be times when you need to take an antibiotic to kill off bad bacteria, which destroys the beneficial bacteria too. Stress also kills the healthy flora and fauna in your digestive system.
Stress is a major player in many illnesses. Research shows that it increases the production of the hormone cortisol. In excess amounts, over prolonged periods of time, this hormone erodes the protective mucus layer in the gut, killing off colonies of beneficial bacteria and making you vulnerable to a host of digestive and health problems.
Taking a daily probiotic not only restores the balance of good bacteria, but reduces the possibility of becoming ill in the first place.
Improve your digestion
In addition to protecting your immune system, probiotics help keep your bowel movements regular, and reduce gas and bloating that occurs in the stomach from overeating and from poor food choices. They can also help treat ailments such as irritable bowel, and other digestive disorders.
How do you keep the beneficial bacteria in the gut at the optimal level? Take a good probiotic once a day after a large meal.
What probiotic should I take?
There are hundreds of different probiotics on the market today. Choosing the right product isn’t easy. These tips will help you to decide which one is good for you.
1. Probiotics come in many forms, from powders to capsules. One isn’t better than another. It really depends on how you would prefer to take your supplements.
2. Choose a probiotic with the highest levels of the two most important strains: lactobacillus and bifidobacterium.
3. In health food stores, some probiotics are refrigerated and others aren’t. The shelf variety have an enteric coating around them to protect the active ingredients and can be stored unrefrigerated. These are good options if you travel frequently. The refrigerated brands don’t have an enteric coating and need to be stored in the fridge to ensure the active ingredients are protected. Otherwise they’ll break down over time and become less effective.
4. Always check the “best before” date on the packaging, as these products are perishable.
5. Last, I recommend rotating between two or three different probiotics. Each supplement has varying amounts of different species of good bacteria. Rotating them ensures that you get a variety of beneficial bacteria. It also prevents you from building up a tolerance for one supplement, which could make it less effective over time.
Adding a daily probiotic to your diet is a simple way to improve your digestion, boost your immune system, and improve your health.
Diane provides training programs for recreational and competitive cyclists, duathletes and triathletes, including nutritional counseling and personal training. Does your company need a fitness consultant? Get in touch with Diane to discuss fitness seminars for corporations
Check out Diane’s e-programs: Keeping Fit in the Off-Season and Training For a Two-Day Charity Event For the Time-Starved Cyclist.