Should Seniors Take Probiotics?

Should Seniors Take Probiotics?

By 2030, the elderly population in America is expected to explode to 71 million seniors. That’s roughly 20% of the population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And by 2060, that number will reach 98 million, or 25% of the population.1And with age comes a variety of ailments, from chronic conditions that tend to appear with age, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, or a greater risk of falls, necessitating a button alert for the best possible safety.

As the population gets older and more individuals reach for pharmaceuticals to help them combat chronic conditions, there will also be an increase in more natural remedies and supplements. One of those remedies will be probiotics.

Why probiotics? Let’s look at what they are and why they matter.

What Are Probiotics?

According to the Cleveland Clinic, probiotics are the combination of beneficial yeast and bacteria that is naturally found in the body. These bacteria and yeast are part of a larger microbiome called microbes, that are all over and inside your body. To create the probiotic supplements we are familiar with these days, scientists isolate certain microbes and grow them in a lab. Microbes include bacteria, yeasts (or fungi), protozoa, and viruses.

For a microbe to be considered a probiotic, it must have four characteristics:

·        It must be able to survive when isolated from a human body

·        It must be able to survive in your intestines after you ingest it

·        It must have a scientifically proven benefit for humans

·        It must be safe to consume it2

These microbes, or probiotics, are used to help restore the body’s microbe balance. You might find them in certain foods, such as yogurt and fermented foods like sauerkraut (which have a wealth of natural probiotics), added to foods deliberately fortified with probiotics, or in pill form.

But Isn’t Bacteria Bad for You?

Probiotics have been used around the world for centuries. Many cultures make a point of eating fermented foods as a way to aid in digestion and keep the gut bacteria in balance. It’s only in the last few decades that the benefits of probiotics have become more accepted in the United States, perhaps because American culture tends to label all bacteria as “bad.” But that doesn’t take into account that our bodies are literally teeming with bacteria, and the vast majority of it actually helps us function!

Miguel Freitas, PhD, is the scientific affairs manager at The Dannon Company that makes the popular Dannon yogurt. Yogurt is full of beneficial probiotics!

“When people in the U.S. hear that products can have live bacteria, it scares them,” Freitas told Today’s Geriatric Medicine. “In the U.S., we’re trained to be antibacterial. People think of bad bacteria, not good. But there are specific strains of bacteria with specific benefits. It’s hard to educate people that good bacteria are there in fermented dairy products. It took a long time for America to pick up on the trend that Europe has known about for a long time.”3

Why Would You Need Probiotics?

Probiotics are entirely natural. They are continuously created by our bodies. But as we get older and certain conditions start to affect us, the balance of probiotics can be thrown off-kilter. That opens the door for bad bacteria to grow.

Some seniors find that they need probiotics to fight against the decreased gastrointestinal function that happens naturally as we age. Chronic conditions can also lead to problems with your stomach and intestinal tract, which means that you might suffer from a variety of ailments, including diarrhea or constipation. These problems can be even worse for those that have suppressed immune systems.

As we get older infections become more common, and the antibiotics or antivirals used to combat them can wreak havoc on the body. Probiotics can often reintroduce the good bacteria to the gut that was killed off by the antibiotics, thus restoring proper digestion.

But probiotics can do much more than that. They can:

·        Restore the balance in your intestinal tract, thus fighting against conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, or reducing the frequency and duration of diarrhea

·        Some strains of probiotics can help improve or maintain heart health

·        Ease the symptoms of some food and skin allergies

·        Relieve the symptoms of lactose intolerance

·        Reduce vaginal inflammation or yeast infections which are caused by an overgrowth of bacteria

Did you know that the right probiotics can even help reduce bad breath?

Getting More Probiotics in Food

Before you choose a supplement, you may want to try the most natural route to get more probiotics in your diet. Some foods bring quite a bit of healthy probiotics to the table, especially those that have “active cultures” or “live cultures” on the label. These might include:

·        Buttermilk or fermented milks like Kefir

·        Yogurt of all kinds

·        Sourdough bread, biscuits, and other goods

·        Cottage cheese

·        Green bananas

·        Kombucha

·        Fermented sauerkraut or pickles

·        Kimchi

·        Miso soup of any type or flavor

·        Dried beans and legumes

Some foods contain limited amounts of probiotics. These can enhance the probiotics you get from supplements or from other foods. They include garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, wheat, and some artichokes.

Choosing the Right Probiotic for You

What if you can’t get enough probiotics from food? Many people don’t, especially when dealing with something that brings trouble to your digestive system, such as strong antibiotics. In that case, you might need a supplement.

As with so many other things about health advice, it all starts with talking to your doctor. When they prescribe certain treatments, such as antibiotics, they might also recommend a probiotic to take during the course of medication to help maintain balance in your gut.

If you choose to take probiotics over the counter, you’ll find that some are formulated for certain conditions or illnesses. For instance, there are probiotics specifically for treating lactose intolerance, urinary tract infections, diarrhea, and more. You can also go with a broad-spectrum probiotic that doesn’t target any specific ailment but simply addresses whole body health.

Ask your doctor what amount of cultures is right for you; for instance, some probiotic supplements have one million cultures, while others have 50 million or more. It might take some time to figure out how much you really need. 

How you take your probiotic matters as well. Most people take them in capsule or pill form. But if you have trouble swallowing, taking them in liquid form works just as well. You can also choose to get them through specialty drinks or powders that you blend into smoothies.

Keep in mind that when you begin using probiotics, the most common side effect is gastrointestinal upset, bloating, or gas. These happen as your body works to adjust to the new level of microbes in your gut. But once it does – usually within a week – those side effects tend to vanish.

And remember, before you change anything about your diet, medication, or supplements, put your safety first with a PERS, or personal emergency alert for elderly adults. Wearing a medical alert pendant or wristband can give you the peace of mind that you always have a trained professional standing by to help you that you can access with the simple touch of a button. If you have any emergency whatsoever, or you have fallen and can’t get up, medical alerts can connect you to a live monitoring center, where your concerns are immediately addressed and you get the help you need right away.

Should You Talk to Your Doctor About Probiotics?

If you’re curious about probiotics, consult your doctor. They will be able to tell you which ones might work best for you or at least give you the green light to experiment with the over-the-counter versions.

Remember, since probiotics are filled with the microbes your body produces naturally, there is very little risk to taking these supplements. Alert1 wishes you the best of health!