Also known as microbiotics or probiotics, there are many brands of live bacteria supplements out there.
Their benefits are well established — the ‘good bacteria’ in probiotics has been shown to help restore natural balance in the gut (particularly after an infection), prevent diarrhoea and even help deal with symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
With so much choice and so many types on the market, choosing the right probiotic for you can be overwhelming at first. Before we break it down, firstly, what exactly are probiotics and how do they work?
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are a combination of ‘friendly’ live microorganisms that live naturally within your body. When consumed in optimal amounts, they can provide a range of health benefits.
Products and dietary supplements marketed as probiotic contain ‘good’ yeast and bacteria that is designed to have a beneficial effect on our bodies — particularly for gut health (stomach and intestines).
Although there are many types, two of the most common types of probiotic bacteria available in health products are bifidobacterium and lactobacillus; a common beneficial yeast is saccharomyces boulardii.
Probiotics and microbiotics are most commonly taken as a food supplement, added to yoghurts, or taken as a drink.
How do probiotics work?
In simple terms, when you consume a supplement or food containing probiotics, the good bacteria make their way to live in the stomach and intestines and begin to fight off bad bacteria.
The beneficial impact of probiotics relates to your microbiome — a community of diverse organisms within your gut that keeps your body healthy.
Within the microbiome are millions of microbes, which consist of bacteria, yeast, protozoa and viruses.
Microbes are classed as ‘probiotic’ if they benefit our bodies, are able to be isolated from humans, can live naturally in your intestine and are safe to eat.
What is gut health?
Often referred to as your gut microbiome, gut health generally refers to the function and balance of microorganisms that reside in your gastrointestinal tract. A normal, healthy gut will have a neutrality of good and bad microbes, facilitating good digestion.
Poor gut health can be the result of a number of things, including a poor diet. Often, a bodily infection can also cause an excess of bad bacteria within the gut. Signs of poor gut health include bloating, diarrhea, vomiting and stomach pain.
If these symptoms are alarming and/or persistent, consult a medical professional to discuss any possible underlying health issues.
How can probiotics improve your gut health?
As well as helping with digestion and the extraction of nutrients and vitamins from foods and medicines, studies have proven that good bacteria within probiotics can boost immune health and fight against inflammation within our bodies. They provide our stomach and intestines with more ‘good’ bacteria, helping to restore a natural balance.
Did you know that probiotics can even improve our mood? A recent double-blind, placebo-controlled study found that probiotics have a positive impact on mood state, improving psychological wellbeing, boosting sleep quality and reducing fatigue.
High-fibre foods that can help your gut health
Although a probiotic dietary supplement can help you to achieve optimal gut health by providing you with the necessary ‘good’ bacteria, there are many gut-friendly, fibre-rich foods including:
- Nuts: walnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios, macadamia
- Seeds: pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, quinoa, sunflower seeds, chia seeds
- Legumes: lentils, chickpeas, soybeans, kidney beans, lima beans.
It’s important to note that this bacteria balancing act occurs even if you don’t take probiotics — but they can lend a vital helping hand.
If you have an infection in your body, there will be an excess of bad bacteria; probiotics can be particularly useful for helping to counter this.
What is microbiota and gut flora?
The words microbiota (often referred to as gut flora) and microbiome are fairly interchangeable and their definitions overlap significantly. The key difference is that microbiota concerns itself with taxonomy and type of microorganisms in your gut; microbiome also refers to these microorganisms, but with the emphasis on their genes.
How to choose the right probiotics
1. Choose a complex probiotic
It is recommended to favour probiotic/microbiotic formulations composed of many strains; these complexes better reflect our natural intestinal flora composition — that is, what we already have in our body.
Since probiotic properties are different from one strain to another, each will have a specific inhibitive action against pathogenic, ‘bad’ microorganisms.
Multi-strain formulas can also work better as each human’s intestinal flora has a unique bacteria community — very similar to fingerprints — and is personalised to each individual.
Therefore, each person will react differently to the absorption of the same probiotic strain.
For some individuals, L. acidophilus might be the most efficient strain while for others L. rhamnosus or L. casei might adapt more easily to their intestinal flora.
This is why microbiotics complexes composed of a larger strain variety will likely be more effective than a single strain product.
What are the different types of probiotics?
The most researched and most important strains for a probiotic supplement are:
- L. acidophilus: this is the most prominent strain of the Lactobacillus species found in the small intestines — it readily colonises the intestinal walls. The strain inhibits yeast overgrowth, supports nutrient absorption, contains natural antibiotics which enhance the immune system and helps with lactose intolerance. It has also shown to decrease blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
- L. casei: best for gastrointestinal support and brain function. Found in the mouth and intestines, it is shown to reduce pH and improve digestion. It is also helpful for reducing lactose intolerance and improving the immune system.
- L. rhamnosus: best for eczema, vaginal health and traveller’s diarrhoea. This is one of the most important strains for the health of an adult’s digestive tract from the mouth to the small intestine. It is especially beneficial in inhibiting the bacteria involved in vaginal and urinary tract infections.
- L. fermentum: best for inflammation. This is a transient strain from dairy origin, also found in human breast milk — it has been shown to prevent colonic inflammation.
- B. longum: Like L. acidophilus, B. Longum is one of the most common bacteria found in the digestive tracts of adults, and it helps maintain the integrity of the gut wall. It helps synthesis B vitamins, stimulates the immune system and is an active scavenger of toxins.
- B. bifidum: This strain, found in both the small and large intestine, is critical for the healthy digestion of dairy products. This is especially important as you grow older and your natural ability to digest dairy declines. It also has the ability to break down complex carbohydrates, fat, and protein into small components that the body can use more efficiently. It produces SCFAs and B vitamins which helps the body in the completion of the digestive process, specifically in the absorption of calcium, iron and magnesium.
2. Choose a probiotic suited for your age
From infant to grandparent, your gut flora will change as you age. Many probiotics and microbiotics are age specific; it is best to choose a supplement that has been formulated to represent the gut flora at your particular age.
For older people, for example, a probiotic containing b. bifidum will provide a boost to declining dairy digestion abilities.
3. Check for the potency of your probiotic
Check expiration dates, make sure the bacteria is live, and look for ‘CFUs’ (colony forming units) in the billions. Anything less isn’t as potent. A good brand specifies the number of live organisms and will list the exact strains used in their formula.
Once the strains are selected, they then need to be tested under quality control for certain criteria. Their natural gastric resistance and bile tolerance are put to the test — it needs to be guaranteed the strains of bacteria pass through the stomach and reach the small and large intestines.
They also test for their antibiotic profile, enzymatic activities, colonising capabilities and their compatibility versus other strains. This last one is of special interest since most microbiotic supplements are composed of a variety of strains.
In that sense, each strain has been tested for its compatibility to live well with all other strains included in the supplement.
4. Ensure a good shelf life
Shelf life will vary from one product to another depending on the active cell concentration at time of manufacture and claimed concentration on the label.
When kept in appropriate conditions, probiotic and microbiotic supplements will lose between 1%–2% in concentration per month.
The label should specify the strength at manufacture and strength at expiry clearly to ensure the bacteria are still in the billions, active and able to reach your intestines.
Inspired Health: looking after your gut
We’re the UK home for a number of leading health brands. Their products help people to live their healthiest, happiest lives.
Our brands include Udo’s Choice, who offer a range of excellent microbiotics — meaning you’re sure to find the perfect solution for your long-term gut health.