06/06/2014 11:03 am ET Updated Aug 06, 2014

Probiotics: Separating the Hype From the Healthy


A five-year study headed up by the Human Microbiome Project that included 200 researchers form 80 universities found that the human body is made up of more microbes than human cells. That's right baby; we're all just sacks of seething bacteria! Now before you freak out, remember that the word "bacteria" has been given negative connotations by the Purell-fueled paranoia of the germ police. Bacteria come in good varieties too.

Healthy bacteria (probiotics) in our system fight bad bacteria, aid in the absorption of nutrients and help in the manufacturing of hormones. Bacteria are responsible for processing our food, for extracting vitamins and producing anti-inflammatories and ease the symptoms of diarrhea and other digestive disorders.

There are a number of different strains of probiotics, so consult your doctor on which supplements are best for you. Martin Floch, a leading gastroenterologist at Yale University, says: "Many different potentially useful probiotic organisms exist, including both bacteria and yeast. Their effects are very specific. Certain strains appear to be helpful only for certain conditions."

Of course we have been managing just fine with the probiotics from natural foods, but our propensity for processed foods and the widespread use of anti-bacterial soaps and hand sanitizes are causing a dearth in the amount of probiotics we have access to.

A wide range of products claim to be high in probiotics, but few of them are. Most may have had high probiotic levels during the manufacturing process, but fluctuations in temperature from transportation or excessive refrigeration will have significantly reduced the amount of probiotic bacteria.

A good place to start when choosing probiotic products or supplements is to read your labels. The label should state the specific strain of probiotic contained in the product as well as the number of microbes in a serving or dose as well as storage information.

Dairy products with live culture or supplements can provide you with the probiotcs you need or you can opt for naturally-fermented products. Traditionally-prepared miso, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, kefir and fermented vegetables are a great source of probiotics. Fermenting your own veggies is quite easy and you can find step-by-step recipes to make your own.