LiveWell®

Wellness and prevention information from the experts at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing


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A primer on probiotics – what’s all the hype about?

78652423.womaneatingyogurt.probioticsBy Jeannie Paris, RD, LD

Probiotics is a term that we hear about much more often than we did even a couple of years ago. Pick up any magazine and you’re likely to see an ad for probiotics. So why all the hype? 

Research confirms that foods and supplements with probiotics may provide benefits for many digestive problems and may even help promote a healthy immune system. This is because probiotics are organisms, such as bacteria or yeast, that are likely to improve health.

I find it fascinating that our digestive system is home to more than 500 different types of bacteria. Digestive disorders can happen when the balance of friendly bacteria in the intestines becomes disturbed. This may occur after an infection or after taking antibiotics, especially if taken for a long period of time.

Probiotics come in many forms, such as powders, capsules and liquids, and even in numerous foods.

If you wish to increase your probiotic intake through food, here are some top sources:

  • yogurt with “live and active cultures”
  • unpasteurized sauerkraut and the Korean dish kimchi
  • miso (fermented soybeans)
  • some fermented soft cheeses, like Gouda
  • kefir, which is thick, creamy and like a drinkable yogurt
  • acidophilus milk or buttermilk
  • sour pickles naturally fermented without vinegar
  • tempeh, which is made from fermented soybeans.

Probiotics in a supplement form may be more convenient than food and may also allow for targeting more specific microbes, including bacteria and yeast. Although they don’t offer the nutrition that foods can provide, supplements may provide higher levels of probiotics.

Different strains of probiotics provide different benefits. When using probiotics for a specific cause, such as support of the immune system or for diarrhea associated with antibiotic use, it is important to get guidance from a health care provider.

For most people, probiotics are safe and cause few side effects. For hundreds of years, people world-wide have been eating foods containing live cultures.

Still, probiotics (supplements and foods) could be dangerous for people with weakened immune systems or serious illnesses. As with all nutritional supplements, probiotics should be taken according to the directions and with the guidance of a physician or health care provider.

Here’s to eating more “friendly bacteria!”

Jeannie Paris, RD, LD, is a Registered Dietician with the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing. To make an appointment with Paris, call the LiveWell Fitness Center at Abbott Northwestern Hospital at 612-863-5178 or the Penny George Institute – Unity Hospital at 763-236-5656.

For more information on digestive health, read LiveWell blog entry,“Can you trust your gut?” by Greg Plotnikoff, MD.


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Responding to health headlines on the value of multivitamins and supplements

Vitamins.162362665An editorial in the Annals of Internal Medicine last month suggested that multivitamins and supplements are a “waste of money.” The editorial bases its opinion on the results from three recent studies on the effects of these supplements.

The editorial was quickly picked up by national news organizations with headlines varying from “Studies say multivitamins don’t prevent disease” to “Research shows multivitamins provide some benefits.” Practitioners from the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing regularly recommend supplements to their patients and wanted to weigh in on the issue.

Two practitioners offered their opinions:

Bell_Debra_2013Debra Bell, MD, offers an integrative medicine, or holistic approach, to women’s health, fibromyalgia, fatigue, allergies, chronic disease and nutrition.

Bell questioned whether the original editorial really reflected the studies. Each study report cautioned against broad conclusions, while the editorial ended by stating the case was closed and that multivitamins should not be used for chronic disease prevention.

Bell says: “I believe it is the summary of the editorial that generated the media buzz. This final sentence is a reflection of an important issue – the frustration of the medical community with the multi-billion dollar dietary supplement industry.  The large majority of supplements are poorly manufactured with the primary intent of generating revenue.  This irresponsible behavior undermines the dedicated work of professionals researching and developing good quality supplements.”

She added, “The various articles ignore that there is a respected group of professionals in Integrative Medicine who apply the large database of evidence demonstrating the efficacy of many natural supplements and vitamins.  Most Integrative Medicine specialists would agree that the best way to obtain nutrients is from diet, but sometimes multivitamins or supplements are necessary or helpful.”

Blair_JenniferJennifer Blair, LAc, MaOM, is an integrative, holistic provider with clinical specialties in acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, dietary therapy and integrative health coaching. She is a licensed acupuncturist with a master’s degree in Oriental Medicine.

Blair agrees with Bell that the presence of poor quality supplements in the marketplace degrades a valuable asset to the health and well-being of patients.  “Appropriate nutritional supplementation, individualized to a patient’s unique needs and provided by companies who focus on quality, safety, efficacy and optimal absorption can benefit health and address nutritional deficiencies that contribute to diseased states and inhibit the body’s natural regenerative abilities. We miss the whole picture when we allow media sound bites to guide our beliefs and decisions.”

Additionally, Blair points out that multiple factors contribute to sub-optimal nutrition that may lead to the need for quality supplements.  These may include some industrialized agriculture practices, poor soil quality and over-processed foods. “Combine these factors with inhibited digestive function due to inflammation or an imbalance of intestinal flora, and it can be difficult to absorb the proper nutrition from food alone,” she said.

Debra Bell, MD, and Jennifer Blair, LAc, MaOM, see patients at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing – Abbott Northwestern outpatient clinic.