Probiotics, we know we love them, we know our gut needs them, but what exactly are they? Here at This Wildling Life we are taking a deep dive with Naturopath Stephanie Hinton and Larah Loutati, founder of Vitable, into the role these essential elements play in our body and breaking down how to recognise a good quality product.
- What are probiotics?
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines probiotics as live microorganisms, or “good bacteria”, which, when administered in adequate amounts, provide a health benefit to the person taking them. Probiotics are good bacteria that are either the same as or very similar to the bacteria that are already in your body. Your lower digestive tract contains a complex and diverse community of these bacteria.
Before we dive into the benefits of probiotics, let’s touch on the microbiome, which plays an important role in human health. When we talk about the gut microbiome, we’re referring to the microorganisms or bacteria that live in the gastrointestinal tract. Many bacteria are helpful and work hard behind the scenes to support gut health, digestive health, and immune health.
But not all of the bacteria in your body are good for you. Some research suggests that having too many of the “bad” and not enough of the “good” bacteria — which could be caused in part by an unhealthy diet — can wreak all sorts of havoc on your body’s systems. This is because good bacteria thrive on things like fiber and plant foods, “bad” bacteria love processed foods and sugar.
This imbalance can lead to poor immunity, weight gain, skin conditions, constipation or diarrhea, and in time, even various chronic health conditions.
- What is the right probiotic for me?
Each of us has a unique gut microbiome or diversity of good and bad bacteria shaped by our environment, diet, and lifestyle. The daily disturbances of modern life—poor diets, stress, travel, and the use of certain medications (especially antibiotics), can all throw our gut microbiota off balance.
A probiotic dietary supplement can aid your health in a variety of ways. But what is important is which strain of probiotic bacteria can be helpful in which areas.
Lactobacillus, bifidobacteria, rhamnosus and Saccharomyces boulardii are the most common beneficial bacteria used in probiotic dietary supplement products.
Depending on your needs, the right type and amount of a probiotic can help you in several ways:
• Promote healthy immune support
• Support digestive system health
• Help restore good/beneficial/friendly gut flora
• Prevent occasional diarrhea or constipation
• Decrease bowel discomfort
- It can support general health and wellbeing
If you choose to take a probiotic supplement, a good place to start is with a combination that contains high-quality, well-scientifically researched strains (which means proven benefits!) from the lactobacillus family and bifidobacterium family, because these strains are normally found in the human GI tract.
Also important to consider, Probiotics are typically measured in colony forming units (CFU). Colony forming units represent the number of probiotic cells in a sample —so if we’re trying to support the gut, it’s easy to think that the higher the better. Harvard Health points out that most adults need somewhere between 5 billion and 10 billion colony-forming units, or CFUs, per day and that it’s best to take just one dosage, rather than splitting up your intake throughout the day.
- Different types of probiotics / what they can be targeted towards
Here are some examples of well-researched strains of probiotics and what their specific benefits are;
Lactobacillus acidophilus: L. acidophilus is a probiotic bacteria that naturally occurs in the human gut and other parts of the body. This bacteria helps the digestive system break down sugars, such as lactose, into lactic acid. When combined with Bifidobacterium lactis, L. acidophilus was found to alleviate bloating in individuals with functional bowel disorders such as IBS. Overall, L. acidophilus NCFM is a good allrounder to support heathy digestion, prevent pathogens in the gut and replenish levels of good bacteria for general wellbeing.
One of the most studied and supplemented strains of probiotics, L. rhamnosus has some amazing health benefits! Lactobacillus rhamnosus is one of the most widely used probiotic strains. Various health effects are well documented including the prevention and treatment of gastro-intestinal infections and diarrhea, and stimulation of immune responses.
Saccharomyces boulardii (cerevisiae)
The name is a bit of a mouthful, so this healthy yeast is usually abbreviated to SB. While not technically a bacterium, S.boulardii is a non-pathogenic yeast microbe that has been proven in multiple randomised clinical studies to be an effective probiotic, especially in the treatment of antibiotic induced diarrhea, traveler’s diarrhea, and other inflammatory bowel conditions. We love this superstar, because SB is not killed by antibiotics, and can be taken directly alongside a course of antibiotics.
- When should I take my probiotics?
The best time to take a probiotic depends on the brand. Some brands recommend taking their probiotic on an empty stomach, while others suggest taking it with food. With that in mind, choosing a probiotic that can be taken at any time of day, with or without food, no matter your schedule, may be the most advantageous way to go— especially if you want to remember to take your supplements consistently.
While the route you choose is ultimately up to you, it’s important to keep in mind that getting the full benefits of probiotic supplementation requires consistency. This is why at Vitable, we developed shelf-stable high-quality probiotics packed in daily personalised packs. So they can be kept in plain sight (not hidden in your fridge), be taken anywhere with you and so you can remember to take them daily!
- Is it safe to take daily?
Research shows that probiotics are usually safe in the amounts you normally find in food. In general, most healthy adults can safely add foods or dietary supplements that contain probiotics to their diets. Some individuals can experience gas (flatulence), but that generally passes after a few days.
However, probiotics from foods are not the same thing as proven probiotic microorganisms. According to the World Health Organization’s definition, fermented foods do not qualify as probiotics because: they often do not have proven health benefits, at least backed by strong scientific research. (Published research on the impact of fermented foods on gastrointestinal health is sorely lacking, and many of the studies that do exist are of subpar quality.), and the product may not include an adequate amount of strain to be considered probiotic.
Probiotic supplements are considered a low-risk way to boost your everyday healthy habits by the scientific literature. However, you should always consult with your doctor before taking any supplements, especially if you are pregnant, trying to get pregnant, breastfeeding or if you have a health condition and/or taking medication.
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