Dietitian coach explains probiotic benefits, when to take them

Mar. 17—There are many options for probiotics on store shelves, so it can be difficult for people to know what to choose.

Abby O'Malley, local dietitian coach and owner of Revive Nutrition Solutions, said everyone has both good and bad bacteria in their gut. Probiotic supplements contain live, beneficial bacteria and are a way to get good bacteria into the body. Benefits include being regular and decreasing gas and bloating.

Pam Nelson is a local resident who tries to stay healthy by working out and eating right. She recently began taking a probiotic after feeling like she was missing out on another important health benefit.

"The older I get, the more challenging it is to stay healthy without taking a pill for this or a pill for that," Nelson said. "I almost feel like with the probiotics or the prebiotics, it's another pill that people take, so I just tried to do everything naturally and through my diet and through exercise. As I watch the ads on TV, it's like, 'Am I missing out?'"

O'Malley would recommend a probiotic supplement for anyone dealing with gastrointestinal problems, such as constipation, diarrhea, gas or bloating. She would also recommend them for anyone getting off an antibiotic, as antibiotics tend to kill off both good and bad bacteria in the gut.

When recommending probiotics, O'Malley advises clients to take the supplement once daily for 4-8 weeks. But, she compares the supplements to a short-term, band-aid solution for gut health.

"You scrape your knee, you put a Band-Aid on it. It helps for a little while, but long term, your body's going to heal that up," O'Malley said. "A probiotic is like a Band-Aid in that yes, short-term it will shift, it will make you feel better and you will feel better as long as you're taking it. But, the ultimate goal is always to then shift away from the daily probiotic and instead add daily fermented foods."

These foods include sauerkraut, yogurt and kombucha tea. O'Malley said fermented foods contain millions more beneficial bacteria than a probiotic supplement could have, and are a natural, more affordable and long-term way for people to continue good gut health.

"We always want to focus on food first, if we can, just because nature has packaged it up for us in a way that's way more beneficial than we can ever replicate through science," O'Malley said.

If someone does not have any GI issues but is still concerned about gut health, O'Malley recommends eating fermented foods rather than taking probiotic supplements. However, she said if someone feels better about taking a probiotic supplement, there is no harm in doing so.

Fermented foods also contain prebiotics, such as vegetables and fiber, that the bacteria eat to continue to thrive. She recommends anyone taking a probiotic also take a prebiotic.

Whether someone has GI issues or not, O'Malley recommends everyone eat foods with beneficial bacteria, because a healthy gut equals a healthy person.

"Ultimately, this is something that everyone could and should be doing," O'Malley said. "So, even if you don't feel like you have GI complaints, if you just want to focus on gut health, which is a really key place to start when trying to impact anything in the body, it's just good practice for anyone to do every single day."

If someone is not used to having beneficial bacteria in their diet, O'Malley said starting probiotics can make someone irregular in the first week. If someone is immunocompromised, they should not take probiotics without talking to a doctor.

When it comes to picking the right probiotic supplement, O'Malley said to focus less on whether it's refrigerated or shelf-stable, but rather if it is a reputable, pharmaceutical-grade supplement company.

She said deciding on probiotics or eating fermented foods is something people can do on their own, but she recommends anyone experiencing serious GI problems to work with a dietitian to personalize a plan. O'Malley can be contacted by visiting

Morgan Doyle can be reached at