One of your New Year’s resolutions may be to improve your health. For many people, this pledge includes turning to probiotics, which are foods and dietary supplements containing live bacteria. These products promise to introduce good bacteria into your digestive system to improve the way you process food, keep you regular and boost your overall wellness.
But with the growing number of probiotic products available, it’s hard to know what really works and what steps you should take to keep your digestive system healthy.
Probiotics – what we know so far
“Most of the probiotic dietary supplements contain very small amounts of bacteria, and it is unclear whether they are effective. These products are not monitored by the Food and Drug Administration in the same way that medications are regulated. Therefore, there is no scientific evidence showing the effectiveness of these products. In fact, we are still learning about how probiotics work and how long they stay in the gut,” explains Nicholas Chia, Ph.D. , associate director of the Mayo Clinic Center for Individualized Medicine Microbiome Program.
Dr. Chia and his colleagues at Mayo Clinic Center for Individualized Medicine are at the forefront of exploring how the trillions of bacteria in your digestive system, known as your gut microbiome, influence your health and your susceptibility to disease. They are building on the knowledge that bacteria play an important role in maintaining health, and when this population of bacteria is disrupted, it can lead to serious health problems such as colon cancer, clostridium difficile infection and rheumatoid arthritis.
Probiotics and diet – one size does not fit all
“Every one of us has an individual gut microbiome that can change over time. So what might be a good probiotic therapy for one person may not be a good one for another. The same concept is true for diet,” says Dr. Chia.
Dr. Chia highlights current research efforts underway to address these individual differences and personalize treatments for patients to maintain gut health:
“We are making progress in understanding the microbiome – carrying our initial basic science research findings into further studies to define the role of each intervention strategy,” says Dr. Chia.
Steps you can take to maintain your digestive and overall health
There are simple steps that you can take to maintain a healthy digestive system, control your weight and improve your overall health. These steps may offer even more health benefits than taking probiotics, according to Dr. Chia.
First, eat a varied diet.
“Research shows that diversity of diet is linked with better health. So one of the best things you can do for your microbiome is to encourage diversity by eating a variety of foods that offer nutrients from many sources, including vegetables, grains, fruits and lean proteins,” says Dr. Chia.
Second, in addition to eating a healthy diet, you should also exercise regularly.
Dr. Chia and his colleagues conducted a study that showed how both diet and exercise impact the gut microbiome.
“Many people try to exercise and eat whatever they want, or they diet but do not exercise. Our study confirmed that while both diet and exercise have a positive impact on your gut microbiome, they each offer different benefits. So by eating well and exercising regularly, you get the biggest benefit for your overall digestive health and wellness,” explains Dr. Chia.
Learn more about how the microbiome impacts your health
You’ll want to save the date for next year’s Individualizing Medicine Conference. It is planned for Oct. 9-11, 2017.