Gut health. No one wants to talk about it, but it’s VERY important. In fact, if you have poor gut health you can be miserable for hours, days, or weeks at a time. Trust me.. I know.
Over the past two years, I have been to my primary physician’s office a number of times complaining about various gastrointestinal issues. I’ve been told to wait it out because it was flu season (how long is flu season?!), that I may have acid reflux, and that it was probably due to seasonal allergies (WHAAAT?!). I’ve been prescribed to four separate medications with no luck. After a while, I gave up on being able to figure out what was going on. For the past few months, I have been going through phases. One week I cannot go to the bathroom, have extreme stomach pain, and LOTS of gas. The next week I am in the bathroom for over half of the work day.
I’ve been blaming my problems on undiagnosed diseases including lactose sensitivity and irritible bowl syndrome (IBS). Then it hit me. One day I was flipping through an old nutrition book and came to a section about probiotics. DUH! I’m a dietitian and I didn’t think about probiotics? My college professors would be so disappointed.
For those of you who don’t know, probiotics are live bacteria that can help improve gut health. There are two primary types: lactobacilli and bifidobacteria. These bacteria are most commonly known to keep a person “regular”, but research has found that probiotics can also reduce the duration of diarrhea, symptoms of lactose intolerance, and symptoms of IBS. Probiotics can be found in yogurt, other fermented dairy sources, tempeh, miso, and sauerkraut. I’m not the biggest fan of yogurt, and these other foods are not a realistic part of my diet. That is when I started looking into a probiotic supplement.
Supplements are an odd topic for most registered dietitians. The FDA does not regulate them the same way they regulate food, and manufacturers are not held accountable for what is inside their products. You can check out my guide for choosing nutrition supplements here. I wrote down a list of trusted probiotic supplements that contained both lactobacilli and bifidobacteria and put it in my phone until I could make it to the drug store.
Day 1. I must admit, day 1 of taking my probiotic was my “tipping point” when it came to my gut health. I knew that I wanted to start taking one, but I didn’t know when. After spending the majority of the day back and forth between the bathroom and my desk, I decided today was the day. I went to the drug store after work and all of my knowledge of choosing supplements went out the window and my old college habits came back. I chose the cheapest brand at the store. Ahhh!! My inner dietitian wants to scream just thinking about it. Anyway, I took my cheapo supplement with dinner and waited for results.
Week 1. I’ve taken 7 probiotic pills, and I truly can’t decide if I’m having a “good week” or if the supplement kicks in this quickly. I still get stomach aches after occasional meals, but my trips to the bathroom have been more consistent and I haven’t stunk up a room in days. (It’s truly the small wins that count.)
Week 2. It’s halfway through my “30-day challenge” and I’m sort of forgetting why I started in the first place. I feel GREAT.. all the time. Why have I not been taking this dang pill every morning for the past 2 years? Stay tuned, but I think this is the best thing that has ever happened to me!
Week 3. After feeling great for the first few days of the week, St. Patrick’s Day weekend hit (AKA my favorite holiday). I learned that no amount of supplementation can fix extensive alcohol consumption and poor eating habits. I suppose green beer, fried tacos, and pizza are items that are no longer on my weekend menu, no matter how delicious. Three days of drinking/eating crap and two recovery days later, my stomach and I are starting to feel good again.
Week 4. Another great week in the books! My stomach pain has become more and more infrequent and I have been Googling fewer home remedies for various GI issues.
Overall. While I can’t say the probiotic supplement has been a life-changer, I can say that it has made my days much more enjoyable. The frequency of stomach pain went from once or twice a day down to once or twice a week and my trips to the bathroom are more consistent. I still have to watch what and how much I eat (sorry Taco Bell), but small quantities of things like pizza and pasta no longer leave me laying on my stomach for an hour. I will definitely be returning to the drug store to restock my probiotics!
Disclaimer: You should always speak with your doctor before starting any type of supplementation. Never take more than the recommended dosage.