What is a Probiotic?
You may by now have seen and heard all about needing a probiotic supplement on social media and the news. But are they necessary for a healthy digestion? Will they really solve all IBS and bloating issues? Or are they just another fitness trend?
The best place to start when it comes to deciding whether you need a probiotic, is to know exactly what they are and what they do.
In simple terms, a probiotic is a live microorganism and is often referred to as “good bacteria”. When we consume probiotics, they can improve or restore your gut flora and boost the good bacteria in your gut.
Why is this important?
Looking after our gut and digestion is important for many reasons. For example, getting optimum nutrient absorption from food, maintaining a healthy digestion and improving overall quality of life and mental health.
Good Bacteria & Digestive Health
Within the digestive process a key step in the gut is the breakdown and absorption of nutrients from food. A healthy gut can be considered as a gut with plenty of good bacteria that functions efficiently. The level of different probiotics and bacteria in the gut is just like your fingerprint - every individual has different amounts of good and bad bacteria.
So what makes for a healthy gut flora? The level of good bacteria and your gut function can be affected by tons of different things. For example, medication/antibiotics, diet, intake of artificial ingredients, illness and stress are all things that affect your gut. Pro and Pre biotics are important for aiding your digestive health to improve symptoms of IBS, bloating, bowel movements & more.
Good Bacteria & Mental Health
Your gut is sometimes referred to as your second brain. This is because we have what’s called a gut brain connection, linking emotion to intestinal function. So just like our mental health - we need to take care of it in order to be happy and healthy. Probiotics have therefore been shown to not just influence digestion, but also relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression.
How to Choose the Right Probiotic Supplement
When it comes to choosing the right supplement – it can be hard! Good quality probiotics consumed in food have been shown in many studies to positively influence the gut. But since every body’s guts are different, it is important to determine which probiotics will be helpful for you. There is no one size fits everybody supplement.
The best thing to do before choosing a probiotic is to look at your problems and symptoms. From here you can see which probiotics and bacteria have been specifically shown to help. Below is a handy guide that can help you find the best product for you!
What are the Different Types of Probiotic Bacteria?
There are many different types of probiotics and the amount you need is unique and depends on your "gut fingerprint". The main types include lactobacilli, bifidobacteria and streptococcus.
Lactobacillus – this is the most common probiotic. You can find these in common foods like natural yogurt and diary. They are best taken by people who struggle to digest lactose in milk.
Bifidobacterium – is naturally present in the large intestine and fights harmful bacteria to prevent constipation and aid the immune system. Like Lactobacillus we can find this in dairy products.
The Different Strains
Best for acne & diarrhea
Best for brain function
Best for skin & anti-aging
Best for brain function & mental health
Best for immunity by increasing antibodies
Best for GI support & Eczema
Best for constipation & brain function
Best for Inflammation
Best for Immunity & GI support
Which Probiotic strains can help me?
I Suffer from IBS, Bloating & Cramps
One of the main reasons people buy probiotic supplements is to help reduce and solve digestive issues. IBS is becoming more and more common in today’s world as stress increases and our diets suffer. If you’re looking to improve digestion you should look out for these bacteria strains in your prebiotic supplement.
- If you are taking antibiotics or are suffering from diarrhea:
L.Rhamnosus has been shown in studies to counteract the effects of antibiotics, illness and diarrhea.[i]
- If you suffer from IBS, bloating and abdominal pains:
L. Plantarum can in some cases reduce digestive inflammation and bloating/abdominal pain associated with IBS after just 4 weeks.[ii]
B. Lactis: May aid immunity by increasing antibodies and also in some studies has improved self-reported digestive comfort.[iii]
B.Bifidum: can aid Immunity and provide GI support. This bacterial strain is depleted by poor diet and stress, but when levels are improved, may help reduce IBS and improve quality of life after just 4 weeks.[iv]
I Suffer from Anxiety and Depression
- If you suffer from chronic fatigue:
L.Casei has been shown in some studies to improve chronic fatigue symptoms including anxiety and depression. For example, a 2009 study showed this strain to relieve emotional symptoms related to chronic fatigue in 39 patients, when consumed daily for 2 months.[v]
- If you Suffer from Anxiety, Depression & IBS:
B. Longum is thought to aid constipation and brain function and help reduce the depression score in those with moderate depression & anxiety after 6 weeks.[vi]
I Suffer from Skin & Acne
- If you Suffer From Acne:
L.Acidophilus is a good strain to look out for and has been suggested to reduce acne.
- If you Suffer from Eczema:
L.Rhamnosus is a type of lactobacillus that is suggested to help reduce this skin condition.
- If you are Looking to Combat Aging:
Look out for Streptococcus Thermophilus. This has been demonstrated in studies to increase skin ceramide levels, an anti-aging biomarker, after short term use. [vii]
Other Important Considerations:
So now you know what specific strains can help you its almost time to pick your probiotic supplement. But before you do look out for:
The Levels of Bacteria
The strains you are looking for need to be present in the billions. Anything less may lack quality, so always check the label!
What’s the Sell by & Expiry Date
Probiotics are meant to be alive – so buying a probiotic past it expiry date is wasting your money. Many stores may sell discounted supplements which are about to expire. In some cases, its fine to buy these supplements and they still work. But for probiotics always make sure it is well within the expiry date.
Keep Your Probiotic Alive. Prebiotics May Also Help
We know probiotics need to be alive in order to work. Some probiotics are easily destroyed in the stomach and by acidity, temperature and time. Buy your supplement from the fridge and keep refrigerated and in a dark dry place once bought. Prebiotics are not affected by temperature etc. so if you want to compliment your prebiotic supp – a prebiotic is a good idea.
How to Take
Probiotics are best taken on an empty stomach 30mins – 1 hour before food first thing in the morning.
Take Home Message
Probiotics may not be necessary for everyone but if you are struggling with digestion, stress & anxiety they may help you. Be sure to follow the guidelines to buy the best supplement for you. Other sources of natural prebiotics include dairy based products like natural yogurt and kefir and also fermented foods like kombucha and sauerkraut.
[i] Reid G. The scientific basis for probiotic strains of Lactobacillus. Appl Environ Microbiol. 1999;65(9):3763–3766.
[ii] Ducrotté P, Sawant P, Jayanthi V. Clinical trial: Lactobacillus plantarum 299v (DSM 9843) improves symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. World J Gastroenterol. 2012;18(30):4012–4018. doi:10.3748/wjg.v18.i30.4012 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3419998/
[iii] GUYONNET, D., WOODCOCK, A., STEFANI, B., TREVISAN, C. and HALL, C. (2009). Fermented milk containingBifidobacterium lactisDN-173 010 improved self-reported digestive comfort amongst a general population of adults. A randomized, open-label, controlled, pilot study. Journal of Digestive Diseases, 10(1), pp.61-70.
[iv] Guglielmetti, S., Mora, D., Gschwender, M. and Popp, K. (2011). Randomised clinical trial: Bifidobacterium bifidum MIMBb75 significantly alleviates irritable bowel syndrome and improves quality of life -- a double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 33(10), pp.1123-1132.
[v] Rao, A.V., Bested, A.C., Beaulne, T.M. et al. Gut Pathog (2009) 1: 6. https://doi.org/10.1186/1757-4749-1-6
[vi] Pinto-Sanchez, MI, Hall, GB, Ghajar, K et al. (19 more authors) (2017) Probiotic Bifidobacterium longum NCC3001 Reduces Depression Scores and Alters Brain Activity: a Pilot Study in Patients With Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Gastroenterology, 153 (2). 448-459.e8. ISSN 0016-5085 https://doi.org/10.1053/j.gastro.2017.05.003
[vii] Dimarzio, L., Cinque, B., Cupelli, F., De Simone, C., Cifone, M. and Giuliani, M. (2008). Increase of Skin-Ceramide Levels in Aged Subjects following a Short-Term Topical Application of Bacterial Sphingomyelinase from Streptococcus Thermophilus. International Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology, 21(1), pp.137-143.