What are they even?
Probiotics are living micro organisms that have intended health benefits for us when we consume them.
They have been isolated from dairy products, some from fermenting fruits and plant and some from human faeces.
The most common bacteria in probiotics are lactobacillus and bifidobacteria however there is also a very popular yeast Sacchromyces Boullardii or SB for short. Products that have these bacteria in them are usually freeze dried or contain the live bacteria or yeast.
Lactobaccilus and bifidobacteria have been around for a long time there are newer strains coming on to the market more recently. Lactobacillus was discovered in the 1900’s through the work of Elie Metchnikoff he saw Bulgarians eating yoghurt and he thought they looked healthy and strong. He the went on to isolate the bacteria. He had a theory that the bacteria stopped protein from putrefying in our gut and this in turn made us healthier.
Bifidobacteria was first isolated in a poo from a healthy breastfed baby in France in 1899. So you can see they have both been around for a long time.
How are Probiotics named?
To talk about probiotics I need to talk about how they are named and when you are buying probiotics this point is really important.
All Probiotics start out with a Genus – which is the name if the bacteria for example: lactobacillus
Next is the species. This refers to the second name rhamnosus or acidophilus, etc
Strain is the third thing you need to consider.
Strain is the most specific. It helps to identify different members of the same species. To use my lactobacillus rhamnosus example. GG would be the strain. The strain is important as some strains from the same family have different capabilities, eg; some strains are strong and can make their way through our digestive tract, they can interact with our immune system and they can stop pathogenic bacteria. While other strains can’t make it through the upper GI tract and this makes them useless.
Many strains have specific qualities for example lactobacillus rhamnosus GG is used for allergies and eczema but will not help at all for IBS. My take away message is use the right strain for the right condition. I see some people buy probiotics that don’t have the strain listed.
Another example of this in non probiotic talk. If I was talking about literature, the Genus would be a printed book, the species would be a novel and the strain would be ‘The Lord of the Rings’.
A strain that works for one condition that has been studied will not necessarily work for another condition.
What do probiotics do?
Probiotics have lots of positive benefits to us.
They have anti-inflammatory activity, they modulate our immune system, they can help regulate our transit time so in constipation and diarrhoea, They take up spaces in the Gastrointestinal system and in the vagina wall that stops pathogens from sticking there. They strengthen our intestinal barriers they help repair our Gi Barrier and much much more.
Are fermented foods Probiotics?
If they are wild ferments which you do at home the organisms cannot be identified and defined. Strains change from batch to batch. Strains from foods may also lack the therapeutic dose of bacteria needed for treatment of a condition. They still offer loads of benefit to our body – they just can’t be classified as probiotics. You can read about my top 10 here.
What conditions can probiotics be used for?
These are some of the conditions that have been specific strains that work for them. This is not an all inclusive list this is a spectrum of conditions that have good scientific evidence for probiotic use.
Allergic rhinitis, abdominal pain, antibiotic use, anxiety, eczema, gastroenteritis, Bacterial vaginosis, bladder cancer, parasite infections, constipation, chronic fatigue syndrome, allergies, Crohn’s disease, diverticulitis, ulcerative colitis, reflux, giardia, high cholesterol, infants with colic, IBS, immune system function, diarrhoea, mastitis, liver disease.
Probiotics are always shown in CFU or colony forming units. More colony forming units is not better when it comes to probiotics.
Probiotics are best taken with a meal or just after a meal. That way they get to their destination better.
Probiotics are considered safe for most people. Check with your doctor if you are immuno-compromised before taking probiotics. Some side effects that people can experience with probiotics are bloating and farting.
Ask someone in a health food store for help with buying probiotics if you are braving this alone. You don’t want to spend money on them if it is not going to benefit your condition. Get the probiotic that has been studied for the specific condition you have, not a multi-strain one. Multi-strain probiotics can be helpful for general wellbeing.
That is the low down on probiotics I hope that has given you some information on how you can improve your health.
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