Studying probiotics—the good bacteria that live in your digestive tract—has grown quite popular lately. They’ve been tied to mood, weight, appetite, blood pressure and even a proclivity for (or resistance to) certain illnesses. There’s even a new procedure—fecal transplants—where a sick person (obesity, digestive trouble) is given a healthy person’s good bacteria, and amazing results are had.
Here’s another study making a strong link between the need for a healthy, robust probiotic colony: children given broad spectrum antibiotics in the first two years of life are at a much greater risk for childhood obesity.
Before you lay all the blame at doctors feet, it’s parents who often ask for antibiotics, because no one wants to see a child in pain (especially when they’re too young to grasp the temporary nature of it). But doctors definitely need to learn to say no, and help educate patients about the prevalence of viruses, which don’t react to antibiotics. A patient under the age of 2 can’t even get a placebo effect off of it!
Here’s another thing: there needs to be more of a push from doctors to get patients taking a daily probiotic (or eating a fermented food). In my experience, doctors who run an evidence based practice are great about pushing probiotics, but they’re still a minority.
Probiotics restore the healthy bacteria to the gut, especially when antibiotics kill them off.
Fermented foods are great—yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh, kefir—but they aren’t for everybody. Some people have intolerances to dairy, a common base for fermented foods, for instance. There’s also a certain level of risk to amateur preparation—most headlines have been about kefir—where a homebrew grows the wrong sort of bacteria and people get sick. People with weakened immune systems need to stick to the big brand names (and even then keep an eye out for recalls).
When buying a probiotic food, make sure you read the label—you want a wide range of active cultures.
Probiotic supplements are another option—you can make sure you’re getting a range of probiotics every day without thinking about it too much or planning it into your meals. They’re also an easy way to do things when you’re sick and taking probiotics—you just need to put them in the middle of your antibiotics intervals (for example, if you have to take an antibiotic with breakfast and dinner, take a probiotic at lunch—you don’t want them competing).
Bonus: supporting your probiotic colonies is a whole lot easier than dieting! (But of course you still have to eat well!).
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