Probiotics are defined as living non-pathogenic microorganisms that contribute to the microbiome of the body. These micro-organism have a mutually beneficial relationship in the digestive tract as well as other parts of the human body. The most common probiotics are Lactobacilli, Bifidobacterium and beneficial yeast such as Saccharomyces boulardii.
Probiotics create microbial balance in the digestive tract, especially after a disruption, which can be caused by the following:
- Anti-biotic use
- High Stress Levels
- Radiation (x-rays or radiation therapy)
- Pylori/Bacterial Infection
- Poor Diet (High alcohol, low fibre and high sugar)
- Hormonal medications (Contraceptives and steroids)
- Parasitic infections
When our bodies experience any of the above factors, the intestinal flora changes. It results in an imbalance between ‘good’ gut microbes and pathogenic or ‘bad’ gut microbes.
This intestinal imbalance can present differently for different people, however some common symptoms include:
- Excessive flatulence
- Food sensitivities
- Abdominal pain
- Excessive mucous
When you supplement or consume dietary probiotics, they rebalance the scales in the digestive system.
The beneficial bacteria crowd out the harmful bacteria, produce acids that help balance the pH and help the digestive system absorb nutrients.
When the balance in maintained in the gut, you can reap the following benefits:
- Improved immune response
- Reduced intestinal permeability
- Aids digestion of nutrients
- Aid production of vitamins (Vitamin K)
- Reduces oxidative stress (Antioxidant)
- Helps stabilize glucose and lipid metabolism which may assist metabolic disease.
- Reduces recurrence of vaginal infections
- Reduces recurrence of urinary tract infections.
- May assist in the management of Allergies and food intolerances.
- Reduces symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease.
With so many probiotics on the market how do you pick one?
Different strains of Probiotics yield different benefits, therefore, your healthcare provider will recommend one based on your needs.
If you are looking for a probiotic supplement for daily use consider the following:
- Combination products produce a synergistic effect on the gut, meaning they help each other function better.
- What form will ensure you take it every day, a capsule or a liquid, etc.?
- How many colony forming units are available at the end of the shelf-life? This will give you an accurate idea of how many units are actually active and able to adhere in the gut.
- Do they contain the correct strains? All probiotics do not result in the same health benefits, most companies have patented strains which have been clinically proven, look out for these.
Believe it or not, probiotics aren’t for everyone.
- If you are on immune suppressants or are severely immune compromised it is advised that you consult your physician before taking probiotics.
- If you suffer from a severe imbalance, it is best to consult your healthcare provider as you may need a targeted probiotic treatment plan.
- If you are taking a pharmaceutical anti-fungal consult your doctor before taking any probiotics.
- If you are taking Antibiotics, ensure that your take your probiotics 2 hours afterwards, at least.
- If you are unsure if probiotics would be a good fit to your daily wellness, speak to your healthcare provider.
How to incorporate cultured/fermented foods into the diet? Try the following foods:
- Yoghurt: Preferably that states that it contains live cultures and preferably unsweetened.
- Milk Kefir: The Probiotic colony (kefir grains) feed on the lactose in the milk, making it easier to digest and helps colonise the gut.
- Water Kefir: Made from a colony that feeds on glucose and fructose, a nice alternative to dairy products.
- Kombucha: A tea-based fermented beverage also made from a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast).
- Kimchi: A fermented Vegetable Food (Usually made from cabbage) which contains salt and Lactic Acid Bacteria, responsible for the fermentation process.
It is important to note that fermented food, should be high quality and probiotic strains and strengths can vary between batches.
There are plenty of ways to add probiotics to you wellness regimen. So speak to your healthcare provider and find the right fit for your needs. It also helps to include a variety of probiotic sources into your diet and to vary your probiotic supplement.