Probiotics for the Elderly: Advice, Tips & More
By now, you’ve probably heard a whole lot about probiotics. Hailed as the “good bacteria”, probiotics populate the gut and help keep your body healthy and strong. Though they’re not visible to the naked eye, this naturally-occurring, microscopic wonders do a lot behind the scenes, including keeping the digestive tract happy and silently strengthening the immune system. Additionally, some research indicates that probiotics can improve mental health, keep your heart healthy and work to alleviate eczema and allergy symptoms.
Supplemental probiotics — taken in the form of pills, powders, gummies, foods and beverages — elicit little to no side effects in most people. They are a promising and remarkably gentle treatment option for more vulnerable demographics, including infants and seniors. Let’s take a moment to focus on the latter group to learn more about how these friendly bacterial strains can aid the aging population with their common concerns.
Are Probiotics Safe for Older Adults?
As interest in all things gut-related continues to skyrocket (thanks, Michael Pollan), researchers have spent time focusing on how gut bacteria affect certain age groups differently. To understand more, it helps to consult the current available research.
- Probiotics for Stronger Bones — Our bones become less dense as we age. Women are especially susceptible to bone loss due to hormonal changes and menopause. Probiotics may be able to help. A recent study from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden found that probiotic supplements can affect the human skeleton. In the study, bone loss was cut in half for older women who received probiotics compared with those who received a placebo.
- Probiotics for Constipation — Probiotics have been proven to aid in many different digestive functions, including both diarrhea and constipation. Last year, a study from Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics indicated that different strains of probiotics could provide beneficial effects to sufferers of chronic constipation. The study focused on several different strains of bacteria, with the most common being Bifidobacterium longum.
- Probiotics and the Immune System —Adults often have weakened immune systems for various reasons. According to an article published in Aging Well, “Studies have concluded that probiotics are beneficial, especially to aging adults who often suffer from suppressed immune systems due to the effects of aging and increased antibiotic use.”
- Probiotics for Malnutrition — Malnutrition, or the lack of nutrition absorbed into the body through food or supplements, is a surprisingly common cause of death and illness in older adults. Some studies suggest that probiotics may be able to help seniors better absorb nutrients and avoid malnutrition. They are especially helpful for those who suffer from malnutrition as a result of lactose intolerance.
Adding Probiotics to Your Diet: Foods vs. Supplements
So, is it better to eat high-probiotics foods or to supplement with a pill or powder? Both are excellent options, but there are some extra benefits and unique disadvantages with each. Age and weight are good indicators of where to start with your supplement strategy, as are your personal tastes. If you have a limited palate or a weak stomach, it may be hard to force down large amounts of dairy, making supplements a better choice.
If weight loss is a concern, it’s best to consume nutrient-rich, high-calorie foods — yogurt, whole milk, kefir, etc. — in addition to or instead of supplements. If weight gain is a concern, taking a probiotic supplement every day is the healthiest way to add probiotics to the diet without a high caloric intake. Those concerned with weight gain can also boost their probiotic intake through healthy fermented veggies, like kimchi, sauerkraut or miso.
Another strong benefit of taking probiotics in supplement form is that you know exactly what strain of bacteria you’re consuming. This can help you come up with a more tailored treatment that suits you and your specific concern. Supplements also typically feature powerful enzyme blends that you won’t get by eating or drinking your probiotics.
General Tips on How to Take Probiotics
While it’s clear that probiotics are a safe, gentle solution to conditions that plague all age groups, they are something that you ingest and therefore should be administered with care. Here are some quick tips:
- Talk to Your Doctor — As mentioned, taking probiotic supplements is generally considered safe. With that being said, it’s always a good idea to consult with your physician or nutritionist when you add any new supplement to your routine. There are some rare instances in which probiotics may not be a good choice, such as in immunocompromised people or those with severe chronic illnesses.
- Know Your Strains — While all probiotics seem to be beneficial, some are better for certain jobs than others. For example, Bifidobacterium longum lives in your digestive tract and helps break down carbs. Along with B. longum, the popular probiotic group Lactobacillus produces lactic acid, which helps inhibit pathogens in the intestinal tract. Supplements often contain the resilient, spore-forming species Bacili (Bacillus subtilis and Bacillus coagulans) because it remains viable for long periods of time.
- Start with Small Doses — Always make sure you closely follow the dosage information on the packaging of any supplement. If you have a particularly sensitive stomach or are prone to allergic reactions, it may be a good idea to start with a half dose the first week just to gauge your body’s immediate reaction.
With relatively few (and in some cases, zero) side effects or risks, probiotics offer an excellent natural treatment for many health concerns that impact the elderly. Whether consumed through probiotic-packed foods or specially formulated supplements, it’s easy to integrate these unseen miracle-workers into your routine, no matter your age.
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