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Healthy Aging: A handy digest to understanding probiotic products

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There’s lots of talk about probiotics these days – probiotics in your yogurt, probiotics in your bread, even probiotics in your skin care products or household cleaners! But what are probiotics, and why would we need them in the first place?

A widely accepted description of probiotics defines them as “live micro-organisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.” In plain language, probiotics are “good bugs” or “good microbes” that are meant to help the person taking them.

These friendly microbes help us digest food, maintain health and fight disease. Many Canadians are hearing about how great probiotics are, and are looking to take them as supplements, or to add them to their diet or take them as needed to improve health. Seems like a pretty logical idea, right?

It’s important to note that if you are generally a healthy person (physically active, eat well, aren’t under a lot of stress) you likely do not need to add probiotics to your regimen.

Not everyone needs a probiotic to stay healthy. An important role for probiotics has been identified as being a treatment for specific conditions, offering symptom relief or resolving the issue entirely. I suggest that you talk with your pharmacist, physician or dietitian before taking probiotics to ensure you have a proper diagnosis, or know why you are taking it. Together, you can select an appropriate probiotic that is the most suitable for you.

With so many products available, and so much chatter around this hot topic, it’s no wonder that people are having trouble choosing the right probiotic. What often happens is that people will take something labelled “probiotic,” or that purports to have “live bacterial cultures,” but as these products often aren’t right for their diagnosis, they might not see any health difference and assume that probiotics just don’t work. But how wrong that is!

READ: HEALTHY AGING: THE REAL HEALTH THREAT IS HEART DISEASE

Research and patient experience support the great benefits of probiotics, but only if they are chosen appropriately. “One size fits all” does not apply to probiotics. You will need to know which one to take, for how long to take it and when you can expect benefits. Your health-care provider can help you select the correct probiotic strain and product.

We never walk into a pharmacy and say, “I would like to take some drugs.” Your pharmacist will need to know about your symptoms, past experiences, allergies and other factors before making any recommendations. The same applies to probiotics. Different strains of probiotics have very different effects.

This issue of selecting the appropriate probiotic strain has been addressed, and a solution provided, in the Clinical Guide to Probiotic Products, whose publishing and distribution is co-ordinated by the Alliance for Education on Probiotics (AEProbio). The guide is evidence-based, independently prepared and updated every year. It has been recognized as the only reliable resource providing health-care professionals and consumers with a list of probiotic formulations that have been specifically clinically tested – so you can select the appropriate product, dose and formulation for a specific indication.

Within the clinical guide, recommendations are tied to brand names, making it easier for consumer to select the recommended product when purchasing at a pharmacy. Probiotic strain names and doses are also listed. Favourable published clinical evidence for the particular strain(s) presented in each product are given and include numerous conditions.

To quote author Dragana Skokovic-Sunjic, “You need to use the right probiotic, for the right person, for the right reason.”

The clinical guide is available in English and French at probioticchart.ca, and on the App Store or Google Play by searching “Probiotic Guide.”

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