Refrigerated or shelf-stable? Broad spectrum or single strain? Yoghurt or Kefir? Sauerkraut or Kimchi? When it comes to the topic of probiotics, it’s easy to get confused and feel overwhelmed.
What is a probiotic?
A probiotic can be either a fermented food such as yoghurt, kefir, miso, sauerkraut, or a specific supplement that contains friendly bacteria that are beneficial to our digestive tract.
The word ‘microbiome’ has been floating around the health world and media the last few years. The microbiome refers to the combined micro-organisms – bacteria, yeast, parasites – and their genes that live in and on us. That’s right, you even have bacteria on your skin. All for good reason, of course, to protect our skin from unfriendly bacteria entering our body.
Similarly to your unique fingerprint, you have your own unique microbiome. In fact, the human microbiome is made up of approximately 38 trillion organisms. Not billions, trillions, all over and throughout our body, with the majority residing in the colon, all playing different roles to keep our health in check. It is the balance of these micro-organisms that plays an important role in keeping us healthy.
How important is the strain?
As different probiotics have different actions in the body, it is important to use a strain that is specific for your individual needs. The right strain will help replenish and grow your own unique strains of bacteria that only you have. A good quality probiotic will always include the strain, just like a good clinical trial (a human study) will always state which strain has been tested.
What do they actually do?
For years, it was believed that probiotics assisted in ‘re-inoculating’ and ‘replacing’ our gut flora, especially after taking a course of antibiotics. We are continually understanding more and more about what probiotics really do in the gut. There has been a surge of research to better understand the complexities of different probiotics and their specific actions in disease treatment and prevention. What the research is explaining now is that there are some ‘super strains’ that are able to reorganise the quantity, diversity and the function of bacteria in the gut. This may explain why a broad-spectrum probiotic everyday hasn’t been successful for everyone.
Depending on the strain, probiotics can perform the following:
Reduce inflammation in the gut
Repair and strengthen the gut lining
Compete with potentially pathogenic bacteria and fungi for space in the gut
Bind to viruses and reduce their virulence
Speed up or slow down the time it takes for food to travel along the digestive tract in constipation and diarrhoea
Dampen immune hypersensitivity in conditions such as eczema and hay fever
More doesn’t always equal better
While it may deem common sense to reach for the probiotic with ’35 billion’ or ’60 billion’ units of bacteria, more does not necessarily equate to a healthier gut. Like anything in nature, too much of anything can overwhelm the gut and not be beneficial for gut function – this can lead to bloating and diarrhoea. Similarly, more strains in the one probiotic capsule does not impact the diversity of gut flora population. While it may seem logical to choose the probiotic with multiple strains, it is best to choose an evidence-based strain that is proven to treat a specific condition at the right dose. At the Health Lodge, we aim to use only the highest-quality clinically trialled strains, that are usually single-strained for individualised treatment.
When can they help?
Surprisingly, probiotics are not only used for treating gut conditions. As continuous research links gut health to most conditions, they also support non-gut related conditions such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular conditions, anxiety, endometriosis, auto-immune conditions and skin conditions such as acne and eczema.
Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM and Bifidobacterium lactis Bi-07 are suitable strains for an everyday probiotic to help maintain healthy gut function and restore gut flora after a course of antibiotics. These strains also reduce the symptoms and incidence of colds and flus – great to take during winter to boost your immune system.
Lactobacillus rhamnosus LGG is the world’s most extensively researched probiotic strain, backed by over 1,000 research papers. It is a restorative strain to the gut and is found to be beneficial for eczema and food allergies and the eradication of Helicobacter pylori, an infection that causes stomach ulcers.
Saccharomyces cerevisiae (boulardii) SB, a probiotic-acting yeast, is a protective strain suitable for the prevention and treatment of travellers’ diarrhoea – be sure to pack this one on your next holiday.
Lactobacillus plantarum 299v is an anti-inflammatory strain, found to significantly reduce the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease.
Bifidobacteria lactis HN019 and Lactobacillus reuterii DSM 17938 are useful in the treatment of Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO).
Diet controls your microbiome
While it’s easy to pop a capsule and think ‘I’ve made my gut happy today’ and do a little happy dance, your diet also plays a crucial role in keeping your current flora in harmony.
The composition of your gut microbiome is very sensitive to your diet – everything we eat encourages the growth of either the friendly or unfriendly bacteria in your gut. Eating fresh, and seasonal wholefoods, especially those high in dietary fibre, such as fruit, vegetables and whole grains, will feed the beneficial bacteria in your gut to help keep your gut in the best of health.
It is best to speak to your naturopath about which foods and beverages to consume as not all foods, even healthy ones, may be appropriate in certain conditions. For example, fermented foods such as kombucha and kimchi can exacerbate Candida or thrush symptoms.
Performing a comprehensive digestive stool analysis through your naturopath is a great tool to assess not only how you digest your food and the presence of opportunistic and pathogenic organisms, but also which strains of probiotics your digestive tract may be insufficient in – a key indicator for balancing the health of your gut.
Want to know more about which probiotic is best for you? Book in with one of our Naturopaths today to get your gut sorted.
Bec Farah is a Naturopath and Colon Hydrotherapist at The Health Lodge with a special interest in gut health. Book online for a consultation with Bec or contact our Client Support Team on 02 6685 6445 to learn more about how Naturopathy practices and Colon Hydrotherapy can assist you with your digestive health.