Are probiotic supplements really more beneficial for gut health than fermented foods? – UNF Spinnaker


Basic biology classes give the essential introduction to bacteria and teach us that microbes and microorganisms are everywhere. This knowledge stays with us for life, however, sometimes it is difficult to understand just how sophisticated the relationships within the body really are. The human body is host to trillions of microorganisms, and the intestine contains a plethora of them. The “gut microbiota” is the term for the complex and balanced composition of bacteria present in the gastrointestinal tract.1 The complex interplay of microbes in the gut provides the body with benefits such as enhancing the immune system, increasing the ability to efficiently absorb nutrients, reducing pathogens, and maintaining homeostasis.2 When the balance of the microbiota is disturbed or dysbiosis occurs, the body becomes more susceptible to chronic diseases.3 So it’s no surprise that probiotic supplements are frequently prescribed alongside antibiotics and are even available for purchase at drugstores and supermarkets. Probiotics are living microorganisms intended to fight harmful bacteria or balance the gut when consumed.4 Probiotics can also be found naturally in foods like yogurt, kombucha, sauerkraut, pickles, miso, tempeh, sourdough bread, and some types of cheese.5

Since probiotics can be consumed in supplement form or through natural foods, there are many ways to get them into the body. Which method is the safest and most effective? Probiotics in supplement form have been shown to reduce antibiotic-associated diarrhea (one of the most common reasons for prescribing), help manage ulcerative colitis, and prevent colic in infants.4 In such cases, probiotic supplements with a doctor’s approval are considered safe and effective. A health care provider can provide a recommended dosage as well as instructions on when and how supplements should be consumed. The downside to probiotic supplements is that, depending on how and where they are marketed, they are not always FDA approved.4 Additionally, there isn’t enough evidence to prove that probiotic supplements can resist stomach acids and bile salts. Poor tolerance to the acidic environment in the stomach can reduce their efficiency in digestion and can make it difficult to control the correct dosage.6 For these reasons, it is probably best to follow the advice of a doctor or health care professional when considering probiotic supplements and only consume them when prescribed and in the amount prescribed. Alternatively, consuming probiotics via fermented foods as part of a balanced diet is a safe way to add beneficial microbes to the gut without a doctor’s discretion. In addition to the potential to help with homeostasis in the gut microbiota, naturally fermented foods contain proteins, vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals that are beneficial for general health and not available in supplements. Consuming foods rich in antioxidants and vitamins is a good idea for any diet, and the additional benefits probiotics can have on the body make this method a safe and healthy way to manage gut health.

Reference list:

  1. Thursby E, Judge N. Introduction to the human gut microbiota. Biochem J. 2017; 474 (11): 1823-1836. do I: https://doi.org/10.1042/BCJ20160510
  2. Parvez S, Malik KA, Ah Kang S, Kim HY. Probiotics and their fermented food products are beneficial for health. J Appl Microbiol. 2006; 100 (6): 1171-1185. do I: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2672.2006.02963.x
  3. Belizário JE, Faintuch J. Microbiome and intestinal dysbiosis. Suppl exp.. 2018; 109: 459-476. do I: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-74932-7_13
  1. Probiotics: what you need to know. Website of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/probiotics-what-you-need-to-know. Updated August 2019. Accessed August 28, 2021.
  2. How to get more probiotics. Harvard Health Publishing website. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-to-get-more-probiotics. Posted August 24, 2020. Accessed August 28, 2021.
  3. Wang Y, Jiang Y, Deng Y et al. Probiotic Supplements: Hope or Hype? Microbiol before. 2020; 11: 160. do I: https://doi.org/10.3389/fmicb.2020.00160


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