Are all probiotics the same? Dietitian’s tips on taking them for the first time

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Find out how probiotics work – Mar 25, 2022

Browse the shelves at your local pharmacy and you’ll find dozens of probiotic products. Add in various probiotic-touting foods, a variety of active strains and a slew of brands, and it can be difficult to determine which probiotics are for you.

But it doesn’t have to be.

“Probiotics act as a kind of therapeutic agent,” says Andrea Hardy, registered dietitian and owner of Ignite Nutrition in Calgary. “However, we want to make sure that we’re choosing the right one, because not all probiotics help all conditions.”

In partnership with Align Probiotics, we look at how to choose the right probiotic for you and how long you should take them to feel gut health benefits.

Align Probiotics.

Who needs probiotics

One of the main conditions probiotics can help with is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Hardy says. This common disorder affects the large intestine.

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While there is no test to definitively diagnose IBS, your doctor may suggest probiotics — live bacteria that help maintain your digestive system’s natural balance — to help with symptoms.

Hardy notes that it’s important to have that initial conversation with your doctor, though, especially to rule out other things that could be going on, like celiac disease, colorectal cancer or inflammatory bowel disease.

From there, identifying IBS symptoms and knowing which ones to treat is the best place to start when selecting a probiotic. “We always want to match the right strain of probiotic to the relief we’re seeking, like abdominal discomfort, gas and bloating,” Hardy says.

She often refers to the clinical guide to probiotic products in Canada, which, she says, “shows clinicians as well as the public which probiotics have evidence in helping particular conditions.”

Hardy also says that pharmacists have a wealth of knowledge when it comes to selecting the right product, although many people don’t typically consider asking them for help. “Definitely ask your pharmacist, because there’s so much choice out there, and it can be overwhelming to know which probiotic to choose,” she adds.

As for getting probiotics from foods, the dietitian adds that she often gets questions from patients who are confused about the difference between fermented foods and probiotics. She says that fermented foods are great, but they aren’t necessarily what a person needs to manage particular conditions, whereas probiotics are therapeutic and target specific gut needs like IBS symptom relief.

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READ MORE: Suffer from gas or bloating? How to reset your digestive system

Align Probiotics.

How to take probiotics

A common misconception about taking probiotics is that they should begin to work almost immediately or within a few days. When they don’t, users often assume they’re not working and they stop taking them.

That was the case for GTA-based blogger Tina Singh. The mother of three has suffered from IBS symptoms for more than 20 years now, but it wasn’t until she worked with Hardy on the Align Probiotics Healthy Gut Team Up, a challenge to try Align for a month, that Singh realized research shows you should take probiotics for at least four weeks in order to see real results.

Now, she says, she’s excited to start the journey again, this time with the right probiotics for her particular IBS symptoms, for the right amount of time.

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“I’m hoping that my IBS symptoms will no longer interfere with my day-to-day life,” Singh says, adding that she’ll be documenting her journey with Align Probiotics via biweekly updates on her popular social media channels. “I wanted to try Align because it is shown in research to relieve IBS symptoms like abdominal discomfort, gas and bloating. Sometimes, honestly, the bloating can be so bad, it’s hard to sit and work, it’s hard to get out and do anything. So I’m hoping that will no longer affect my daily life where I feel like I don’t have control.”

Not only is it important to give probiotics enough time to work, Hardy warns that simply stopping them after four weeks won’t help your body in the long run, either.

“To see continued benefit, a lot of times you need to continually take them,” she says. “However, I do often encourage patients to re-evaluate. So they might take it for a month, see benefits, continue to take it, and then maybe at some point in time, re-evaluate if they still need it. It really depends on the individual and what’s going on with their symptoms.”

She adds that it doesn’t matter what time of day a patient takes their probiotic, so long as it’s taken with food, and that not all probiotics need to be refrigerated. The label should indicate what to do.

“It all depends on the type of bacteria that’s in them,” Hardy says. “Some bacteria can survive at room temperature if they’re treated properly, and some can’t.”

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READ MORE: The best things to do when choosing a probiotic

For more information on probiotics and to receive a coupon to help you get started, join the Align Healthy Gut Team Up at Align Probiotics.

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