Susan B. Sloane, BS, RPh, CDE, has been a registered pharmacist for more than 20 years and a Certified Diabetes Educator for more than 15 years. Her two sons were diagnosed with diabetes, and since then, she has been dedicated to promoting wellness and optimal outcomes as a patient advocate, information expert, educator, and corporate partner.

You’ve seen the words "probiotics" and "acidophilus" thrown around a million times; you see them in health food stores, in magazines, and even in some of the foods we eat. You have heard the term “probiotics” and you may have read they are good for you; but what exactly do they do and how do you know if you actually need to take them? The truth is that probiotics have been around for thousands of years; being used for intestinal ailments as far back as the 1500’s!

Healthy bacteria

Probiotics are by simple definition bacteria can confer a health benefit. You may find this a bit confusing; after all, aren’t bacteria bad for your health? It turns out that this is not the case. In fact, at any given time our bodies are teaming with bacteria. In the typical human gut there are nearly 100 trillion microorganisms! Don’t be afraid. They live in harmony with yeast and other cellular components to keep your body systems balanced.

Finding balance

Balance; now that’s a term people with diabetes are very familiar with. If anyone understands yin and yang, it’s someone with diabetes. Watching my boys grow up with diabetes I have been witness to their sense of how to balance not only their diabetes, but their life. In people with diabetes, it turns out that blood sugars are not the only thing that goes off balance. The immune system can be weakened by high blood sugars and healing time can be longer if injury or infection is present.

Stronger immune system

Several researchers believe that including probiotics in your diet can help strengthen the immune system. Probiotics are perhaps best known for their ability to help with digestive problems. You may have noticed that as you get older, you don’t tolerate certain foods as well as you used to. I noticed my ability to digest milk products has gotten weaker, and I therefore avoid foods like ice cream and many dairy products because of the cramping I get when I eat them. One bacteria that starts to decrease as we age is lactobacilius, which secretes an enzyme to help digest milk or dairy products. This is one of several areas where probiotic supplements may be helpful. 

Making the right choice

Choosing a probiotic can be confusing. If you are considering trying probiotics, always talk with your health care team first. There are cases where they are not recommended, such as in patients who may have compromised immune systems or patients with serious health problems such as pancreatitis. 

Once your healthcare provider gives you the green light, there are a few things to consider when choosing the product that may be right for you:

Probiotics come in capsules, tablets, powders, liquids, and are present in foods such as yogurt.

A probiotic supplement should contain around one billion live cells per gram.

More is not necessarily better. Always check current research on the company’s website to make sure you are not taking too much.

Multiple strains of bacteria are usually more desirable, as you have many strains of bacteria in your GI system that need to be in balance in a “perfect world.”

Choose a supplement from a reputable company; do your homework! Feel free to contact a company directly. You may want to ask if their product has been centrifuged. Uncentrifuged products are generally more active.

Yogurt

Yogurt is a very good food source of acidophilus. All yogurt products contain some acidophilus; look for a seal that says: Live and Active Cultures.” This seal was created by the National Yogurt Association and means that a product contains at least 100 million organisms per gram at the time of manufacture. Yogurt in the United States must be made with at least two types of bacteria, Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. There can also be a side benefit from eating foods with probiotics; many of them have a low-glycemic index.

Probiotics have been touted for their health benefits for years. They have been used to treat irritable bowel syndrome, lactose intolerance, and even urinary tract infections. If you do your research and take them responsibly, they may help you as well. A little knowledge goes a long way.

Stay healthy!