Gut health has taken off in the social media world, and with any new trend, there is good and not so good information promoted.
In my practice I find that there is a lot of confusion as to what the difference is between pre- and probiotics as well as what is the difference between a probiotic and a digestive enzyme.
I could write a novel and only scratch the surface of all of this, so in this blog I will try to cover probiotics in great detail.
I hope this helps!
Probiotics are a combination of live beneficial bacteria and/or yeasts that naturally live in and on the body. Since the advent of the ‘germ theory’ bacteria is usually viewed in a negative light as something that makes one sick. However, we have two kinds of bacteria constantly in and on the body — good bacteria and bad bacteria. Probiotics are made up of good bacteria that helps keep the body healthy and working well.
The most common place linked to beneficial microbes is the gut (mostly large intestines), but there are several other locations in and on the body that host good microbes. These locations are in contact with the “outside world" and include the:
- Urinary tract
Certain types of good bacteria can also:
- Help your body digest food.
- Keep bad bacteria from getting out of control and making you sick.
- Create vitamins.
- Help support the cells that line your gut to prevent bad bacteria that you may have consumed from entering your blood.
- Breakdown and absorb medications.
This balancing act is naturally happening in the body all of the time and good bacteria is just a natural part of a healthy body. Eating a well-balanced diet rich in fiber every day helps to keep the number of good bacteria at proper levels.
There are many types of bacteria that can be considered probiotics, but there are two specific types of bacteria that are common probiotics found in most supplements. These include:
Probiotics are also made up of good yeast. The most common type of yeast found in probiotics is:
- Saccharomyces boulardii
There is currently a huge amount of research happening in the area of probiotics and what they can do for the body and there are some medical conditions where probiotics may help.
Some of the conditions that might be helped by increasing the amount of probiotics in your body (through food or supplements) include:
- Inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s, Ulcerative colitis)
- Yeast infections
- Gum disease
- Acne, eczema
- Lactose intolerance
- Immune support and URT’s
It is possible to increase the amount of good microbes in the body through foods, drinks and supplements. Fermented foods in particular (yogurt and raw sauerkraut) are home to a host of good bacteria that are of benefit. There are also fermented drinks like kombucha (fermented tea) or kefir (fermented dairy drink) that introduce extra probiotics into the diet.
Apart from food, probiotics can be added to the diet through dietary supplements. These aren’t drugs, so they do not need to be approved by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). Therefore it is important to only choose high quality, 3rd party tested products.
Several probiotic strains are very fragile and need to be protected from heat, oxygen, light and humidity.. Because of this, many, but not all, probiotics need to be refrigerated. Refrigerating certain probiotic strains ensures that they’re still viable and will still provide the full benefit of the probiotic.
Probiotics can be beneficial for both adults and children and there are commercially available probiotic supplements specifically designed for infants and children that are available in gummies, chewable tablets or powders
One of the most important times to take a probiotic is after a round of antibiotics have been used. Antibiotic medications are often needed to fight an infection. However, while antibiotics are killing the bad bacteria, they are also knocking out the good bacteria in the body.
Some people develop conditions like diarrhea after taking an antibiotic. In other people, this may allow for really bad bacteria to take over and populate the gut, such as with C. diff. Some research has shown a positive connection between taking probiotics after an antibiotic and relief from diarrhea.
The thought behind adding probiotics back into your body after taking an antibiotic is that it can repopulate the good bacteria that was destroyed by the antibiotics and re-boot your system. The extra good bacteria helps repopulate your gut and fight off any remaining bad bacteria.