Probiotics are everywhere, you can’t walk down an isle at the shops without some package saying probiotics!
You will find them added to bars, chews, cereals, drinks and more. But what exactly are they and should we be taking them?
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are living microbes, but they aren’t just any old strain of bacteria or fungus. They are specific strains that have been found to survive the passage all the way down into our upper and lower intestines, and when there, provide us with a health benefit (rather than sitting around doing nothing or causing us harm).
The more species of good bacteria we have in our gut the better! Each different strain of good bacteria or fungus can provide us with some sort of health benefit, so more variety will equal more health benefits.
Their proven benefits
Within the gut, probiotics help to maintain a healthy balance of helpful microbes. This healthy balance is essential to ensure harmful strains don’t overgrow and the gut lining is nourished, healthy, and stays intact.
Probiotics are known to help improve overall digestive health and comfort by minimising symptoms like diarrhoea and irritable bowel syndrome .
Their benefits can also extend beyond the gut to other parts of the body. There is evidence that shows their role in supporting immune system function, provide protection against infections, and some can help regulate cholesterol absorption and glucose metabolism [1, 3-5], just to name a few. Probiotics may even play a role in the prevention of inflammatory bowel disease, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.
Probiotics sound like a magic cure, but not one type of probiotic alone will provide you with all these benefits. Different strains will have differing effects, so it is important to consume several strains for an enhanced effect.
Should you be taking them?
If you’re someone who eats relatively healthy (i.e. not much processed food, alcohol, sugar, saturated fat, and are eating tonnes of fibre, grains, and veggies) then your gut garden will likely be flourishing with many different varieties of good gut bacteria; therefore, you won’t need to add in a probiotic.
On the other hand, if you don’t eat a variety of vegetables and wholegrains, and consume mostly packaged and processed foods or you have recently been taking a course of antibiotics then your garden will be lacking the varieties that are known to provide us with all those health benefits; therefore, it would be beneficial to add in a broad spectrum probiotic supplement.
When you start taking a probiotic supplement, you must ensure you eat as much healthy variety as possible to help feed the new strains you are putting in. If you don’t water and fertilise your gut garden the seeds you planted will not grow! Without this nourishment, the probiotics won’t establish themselves and flourish within your gut, which is a waste of money as probiotics can be expensive.
Tips for success
If taking a probiotic supplement, go broad: you want to find a probiotic supplement with as many strains as possible. In addition to this, the more the better. Choose double or even triple strength when you can afford to.
Give the seeds you plant a chance to thrive: Eat plenty of wholegrains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds daily. These foods are rich in fibre and plant phytochemicals which will feed all the different types of microbes in your gut allowing them to work at their best to keep you healthy.
Limit excessive amounts of alcohol, sugar, saturated fats, very high amounts of protein, and processed foods. These are known to decrease the diversity of good microbes in the gut which will lead to impaired gut function and other negative health effects.
Some suggested brands:
Life Space – 15 strains
Vivomaxx – 8 strains
Want to know more about your gut microbiome?
If you would like to find out more about the current state of your gut microbiome you can order the Microba Insight sampling kit using Nutrition In Mind’s reference code “REFKD4R3WQ6” to get a comprehensive gut microbiome analysis! The report can be interpreted by Nutrition In Mind’s resident dietitian who can help guide you to make dietary changes to help your gut flourish.
1. Markowiak, P. and K. Ślizewska, Effects of probiotics, prebiotics, and synbiotics on human health. Nutrients, 2017. 9(9).
2. Parvez, S., et al., Probiotics and their fermented food products are beneficial for health. Journal of applied microbiology, 2006. 100(6): p. 1171-1185.
3. Borchers, A.T., et al., Probiotics and immunity. Journal of Gastroenterology, 2009. 44(1): p. 26-46.
4. Collado, M.C., J. Meriluoto, and S. Salminen, Adhesion and aggregation properties of probiotic and pathogen strains. European Food Research and Technology, 2008. 226(5): p. 1065-1073.
5. Ruan, Y., et al., Effect of probiotics on glycemic control: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized, controlled trials. PLoS ONE, 2015. 10(7).
6. Ouwehand, A.C., S. Salminen, and E. Isolauri, Probiotics: An overview of beneficial effects. Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, International Journal of General and Molecular Microbiology, 2002. 82(1-4): p. 279-289.