Gut Feeling: Why Probiotics Might Not Be a Good Idea for Everyone

iStock
iStock

Before the advent of the probiotics market, the concept of spending money on bacteria and intentionally swallowing it probably puzzled a lot of people. Today, the practice has become normalized: Supplements, yogurts, and other probiotic dietary products tout the benefits of “good” bacteria in the gut flora, especially in terms of replenishing the digestive tract following the harsh effects of an oral antibiotic treatment, which can wipe out beneficial bacteria in the gut.

Now, two new studies are providing some evidence that use of probiotics is still not well-understood, and may not be as helpful to the body as many consumers have been led to believe. For some, they may have no effect at all. For others, the reaction could be potentially harmful.

For papers published in the journal Cell, researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science and the Tel Aviv Medical Center in Tel Aviv, Israel conducted two investigations that examined how the body responds to ingestion of probiotic supplements. In the first study, 15 subjects consented to two endoscopic procedures, with physicians performing an endoscopy (in which a device is fed to the stomach through the throat) and colonoscopy (the endoscope is inserted rectally and into the large intestine) to retrieve samples. The subjects were then split into two groups. One group of 10 took commercially available probiotics, while the remaining five took a placebo. After two months and two follow-ups, researchers found that four of the 10 study subjects simply expelled the probiotics. Dubbed “resisters,” they failed to hold on to the bacteria. The six others, dubbed “persisters,” successfully retained the bacteria and colonized it in their guts. This demonstrates that not everyone who takes a catch-all type of probiotic is able to assimilate the product in their digestive tract.

In the second study, researchers looked at whether probiotics could re-colonize intestinal flora that had been damaged by a course of antibiotics, which typically apply a scorched-earth approach to bacteria in the body. A total of 21 subjects were split into three groups, with one taking nothing after antibiotics, one taking conventional probiotics, and one receiving a fecal transplant to mimic the original bacterial make-up in the gut prior to antibiotic use. (In a fecal transplant, feces are inserted throughout the colon to repopulate beneficial bacteria. In this case, patients received their own stool collected prior to taking the antibiotics.)

The group that did nothing restored their normal flora in time. Those who received a fecal transplant returned to their baseline flora almost immediately. Those who took probiotics saw their systems populated by the new bacteria, but it hindered their normal flora from flourishing.

There are several caveats to this research that bear mentioning. First, the sample size for both studies was small. There’s also no clear answer as to the potential consequences of pre-formulated probiotics taking over “normal” gut flora and whether a failure to return to baseline carries any health consequences. While restoring normal flora is desirable, fecal transplants are not a widely used treatment and are typically reserved only for cases of severe complications from antibiotic use or certain other ailments. People with chronic digestive issues (such as inflammatory bowel disease or Crohn’s disease) were not included. Finally, the study did not examine the consequences of probiotic use in conjunction with antibiotic use and whether it may act as a preventative measure to maintain rather than restore bacteria during a course of treatment.

Importantly, researchers found a discernible difference between the so-called persisters and resisters, with a portion of subjects in the first study having no reaction to the administered probiotics. The findings demonstrate that one approach may not fit all—and before taking any probiotic supplements yourself, it's best to consult a physician.

10 Rad Gifts for Hikers

Greg Rosenke/Unsplash
Greg Rosenke/Unsplash

The popularity of bird-watching, camping, and hiking has skyrocketed this year. Whether your gift recipients are weekend warriors or seasoned dirtbags, they'll appreciate these tools and gear for getting most out of their hiking experience.

1. Stanley Nesting Two-Cup Cookset; $14

Amazon

Stanley’s compact and lightweight cookset includes a 20-ounce stainless steel pot with a locking handle, a vented lid, and two insulated 10-ounce tumblers. It’s the perfect size for brewing hot coffee, rehydrating soup, or boiling water while out on the trail with a buddy. And as some hardcore backpackers note in their Amazon reviews, your favorite hiker can take the tumblers out and stuff the pot with a camp stove, matches, and other necessities to make good use of space in their pack.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Osprey Sirrus and Stratos 24-Liter Hiking Packs; $140

Amazon

Osprey’s packs are designed with trail-tested details to maximize comfort and ease of use. The Sirrus pack (pictured) is sized for women, while the Stratos fits men’s proportions. Both include an internal sleeve for a hydration reservoir, exterior mesh and hipbelt pockets, an attachment for carrying trekking poles, and a built-in rain cover.

Buy them: Amazon, Amazon

3. Yeti Rambler 18-Ounce Bottle; $48

Amazon

Nothing beats ice-cold water after a summer hike or a sip of hot tea during a winter walk. The Yeti Rambler can serve up both: Beverages can stay hot or cold for hours thanks to its insulated construction, and its steel body (in a variety of colors) is basically indestructible. It will add weight to your hiker's pack, though—for a lighter-weight, non-insulated option, the tried-and-true Camelbak Chute water bottle is incredibly sturdy and leakproof.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Mappinners Greatest 100 Hikes of the National Parks Scratch-Off Poster; $30

Amazon

The perfect gift for park baggers in your life (or yourself), this 16-inch-by-20-inch poster features epic hikes like Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park and Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. Once the hike is complete, you can scratch off the gold foil to reveal an illustration of the park.

Buy it: Amazon

5. National Geographic Adventure Edition Road Atlas; $19

Amazon

Hikers can use this brand-new, updated road atlas to plan their next adventure. In addition to comprehensive maps of all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Canada, and Mexico, they'll get National Geographic’s top 100 outdoor destinations, useful details about the most popular national parks, and points on the maps noting off-the-beaten-path places to explore.  

Buy it: Amazon

6. Adventure Medical Kits Hiker First-Aid Kit; $25

Amazon

This handy 67-piece kit is stuffed with all the things you hope your hiker will never need in the wilderness. Not only does it contain supplies for pain, cuts and scrapes, burns, and blisters (every hiker’s nemesis!), the items are organized clearly in the bag to make it easy to find tweezers or an alcohol wipe in an emergency.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Hiker Hunger Ultralight Trekking Poles; $70

Amazon

Trekking poles will help increase your hiker's balance and stability and reduce strain on their lower body by distributing it to their arms and shoulders. This pair is made of carbon fiber, a super-strong and lightweight material. From the sweat-absorbing cork handles to the selection of pole tips for different terrain, these poles answer every need on the trail. 

Buy it: Amazon

8. Leatherman Signal Camping Multitool; $120

Amazon

What can’t this multitool do? This gadget contains 19 hiking-friendly tools in a 4.5-inch package, including pliers, screwdrivers, bottle opener, saw, knife, hammer, wire cutter, and even an emergency whistle.

Buy it: Amazon

9. RAVPower Power Bank; $24

Amazon

Don’t let your hiker get caught off the grid with a dead phone. They can charge RAVPower’s compact power bank before they head out on the trail, and then use it to quickly juice up a phone or tablet when the batteries get low. Its 3-inch-by-5-inch profile won’t take up much room in a pack or purse.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Pack of Four Indestructible Field Books; $14

Amazon

Neither rain, nor snow, nor hail will be a match for these waterproof, tearproof 3.5-inch-by-5.5-inch notebooks. Your hiker can stick one in their pocket along with a regular pen or pencil to record details of their hike or brainstorm their next viral Tweet.

Buy it: Amazon

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Warby Parker Created a Spray to Prevent Your Glasses From Fogging Up When You Wear a Face Mask

They're smiling under the masks (because their glasses aren't foggy).
They're smiling under the masks (because their glasses aren't foggy).
Julian Wan, Unsplash

A face mask won’t keep you from getting enough oxygen, but it might keep you from seeing clearly through your glasses. When you exhale, your warm breath usually dissipates into the air in front of you. When you’re wearing a face mask, on the other hand, it gets funneled through the gaps around your nose and turns into tiny water droplets after colliding with your much colder lenses. In other words, it fogs up your glasses.

To prevent this from happening, Warby Parker has created an anti-fog spray that absorbs those droplets as soon as they form on your lenses, before they can cloud your view. It’s not the only product like it on the market—Amazon alone has dozens—but Warby Parker’s version has the added benefit of cleaning your lenses, too.

The perfect solution.Warby Parker

As Prevention.com reports, the spray is part of the company’s “Clean My Lenses Kit,” which comes with a bottle of anti-fog spray, a microfiber cloth, and a pouch for your glasses (or for storing the other two products in the kit). All you do is spritz both sides of your lenses, wipe them down with the cloth, and venture out for your fog-free day.

The spray works with any type of lens, which makes it a useful innovation even for people who just wear regular sunglasses. It can also come in handy during plenty of other fog-inducing situations, like sipping a hot beverage or cooking over a hot stove.

You can order a kit online for $15, or look for one in your local Warby Parker store. In the meantime, here are a few DIY ways to keep your glasses from getting foggy.

[h/t Prevention.com]

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