Probiotics – 5 Things You Need To Know
Probiotics are live microorganisms (strains of bacteria), that in adequate amounts give you a health benefit. You can get probiotics from supplements (pills & powders), as well as foods that are prepared by bacterial fermentation (yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh & kimchi). Your gut flora consists of hundreds of different types of microorganisms, including bacteria, yeasts and viruses, with the majority found in the colon or large intestine. Probiotics help your gut flora perform optimally.
Probiotics aren’t just another wellness fad. Incorporating a good quality probiotic into your daily wellness regimen is essential to promote optimal physical and mental health. Brain function, skin health, immune function, digestion, mood regulation – probiotics help with it all! Today we share 5 things you need to know about probiotics…
1) Before you invest in a probiotic supplement or start eating/drinking large amounts of probiotic foods you MUST do this.
Nourish your gut microbiome with REAL FOOD! For probiotics to do their job, you must optimize the conditions where these “good” bacteria will live and flourish. Cutting out processed foods and eating a whole foods based diet (healthy fats, proteins, complex carbohydrates, and fiber-containing foods) will support the growth of your good, beneficial bacteria. Pathogenic bacteria love simple sugars. If you eat processed foods or foods with added sugars, they will do the opposite of what you want: nourishing the potentially pathogenic bacteria in your gut. It is also important to take in enough high-fiber foods, which help to keep good bacteria thriving and healthy. These foods are known as “prebiotics” and include things like garlic, onion, under-ripe bananas. You can also supplement with acacia or inulin fibre.
2) Probiotics can address multiple health issues.
Having the right bacteria in your gut has been linked to numerous health benefits including weight loss, improved digestion, enhanced immune function, better skin and a reduced risk of many diseases. You should especially be taking probiotics if you’re travelling, stressed, not sleeping or eating well to maintain strong immunity, and to lower your odds of catching a bug! Probiotics have been shown to be beneficial against irritable bowel syndrome, a very common digestive disorder. They can help reduce gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea and other symptoms. Some studies also show that probiotics may be beneficial against inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Newer research also suggests that probiotics also have the potential to help prevent or treat conditions such as high cholesterol, allergies, vaginal infections, reduce anxiety, decrease risk of respiratory infections (cold & flu), improve mood, and improve athletic performance (endurance).
3) There are many different probiotic species & strains.
It’s important to do your own research, or speak to your health care practitioner, naturopath or pharmacist, to properly evaluate which probiotic supplement will be best for you if you have a specific health issue. Research has shown that some strains seem to be more effective than others for treating certain conditions. See below for which strains you might need to look out for:
For General Health – Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus plantarum, Bifidobacterium lactis, Bifidobacterium longum, and Bifidobacterium bifidum.
Are Effective Against Diarrhea – Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus bulgaricus.
May Help Relieve Constipation – B. longum, S. cerevisiae and a combination of L. acidophilus, L. reuteri, L. plantarum, L. rhamnosus and B. animalis.
Boost Immunity – Lactobacillus GG, Lactobacillus crispatus, Lactobacillus gasseri, Bifidobacterium bifidum and Bifidobacterium longum.
Reduce Inflammation – Lactobacillus gasseri, Bifidobacterium bifidum and Bifidobacterium longum.
May Help To Reduce Cholesterol- Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium longum and Lactobacillus reuteri.
Support Mental Health – L. acidophilus, L. casei, B. bifidum, Bifidobacterium longum, Bifidobacterium breve, Bifidobacterium infantis, Lactobacillus helveticus and Lactobacillus rhamnosus.
May Help You Lose Weight – Lactobacillus gasseri, Lactobacillus rhamnosus and the combination of Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Bifidobacterium lactis.
4) Not all probiotic supplements are created equal.
Quality trumps everything and cheap supplements are typically not great quality. A product with 10 different strains isn’t necessarily superior to others with fewer. You want to be sure that the brand you are using conducts third-party testing on their probiotics to guarantee their viability once they hit the store shelf. Genestra and Cyto-Matrix are two reputable brands that consistently test their probiotic formulations. Also check expiration dates, and look for “CFUs” (colony forming units) in the billions. Good brands specify the amount of live organisms, and lists the exact strains used in their formula. Look for a CFU of 10-15 billion for general health, 25-50 CFU to repopulate after antibiotics or fix a health condition, and 50 CFU or higher for inflammatory conditions (Crohn’s, Acne, Psoriasis) or IBS.
On a side note, the same goes for probiotic foods. Commercial yogurt is not a probiotic supplement. Today’s commercially mass-produced yogurt is usually made from factory-farmed, pasteurized, homogenized milk – much different from yogurt made with cultured raw milk. Commercial yogurts also typically contain substantial amounts of sugar or other artificial sweeteners. Because sugar feeds pathogenic bacteria, eating this type of sweetened yogurt most likely cancels out any potential benefits from the small amount of probiotics it may contain. The healthiest yogurt is organic, unsweetened and made from raw 100% grass-fed milk. Yes it’s more expensive, but you get what you pay for!
5) If you’re taking an antibiotic you need to be taking a probiotic at the same time.
If you are taking an antibiotic, don’t wait until you finish the full course before starting probiotics. Although most antibiotics will kill both the good and bad guys, you can jump-start on replenishing your beneficial bacteria by taking your probiotic supplement during your course of treatment – just take it away from the antibiotic (take it at least 1 hour before, or 2 hours after). Clinical research indicates this may be a helpful strategy to rebuilding your good microbes. When healthy bacteria are killed off, the harmful bacteria flourish, often leading to diarrhea or other digestive troubles. Probiotics are especially helpful during this time.
A couple of last points…
- Always be sure to take your probiotic with food or just after eating (preferably not on an empty stomach). This helps keep the microbes protected from stomach acid.
- Keep your probiotic supplements in the fridge to extend their shelf life. Even if they are shelf stable, keeping your probiotics in a cooler climate will ensure more living microbes through to end of shelf life.
- The gut microbiota and inflammatory noncommunicable diseases: Associations and potentials for gut microbiota therapies. West, Christina E.MacKay, Charles et al. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology , Volume 135 , Issue 1 , 3 – 13.
- Systematic review: probiotics in the management of lower gastrointestinal symptoms – an updated evidence-based international consensus. Hungin APS, Mitchell CR, Whorwell P, Mulligan C, Cole O, Agréus L, Fracasso P, Lionis C, Mendive J, Philippart de Foy JM, et al.Aliment Pharmacol Ther, 47(8):1054-1070.