What is your gut instinct telling you about probiotics? Do you need more information? You're not alone. Over the past decade, dietitians and gastroenterologists have been discovering exciting new findings about probiotics, the gut and health. Here are my top five facts that will help you understand probiotics.
What are probiotics?
Not all good bacteria are probiotics. I'm surprised when I hear health professionals commenting that all yogurt has probiotics. It is important to note that all yogurts have bacteria to make (culture) it; however, not all contain strains (varieties) of probiotics. I believe the best place to start is to define it. According to the World Health Organization, probiotics are live micro-organisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host (you).
How are prebiotics different from probiotics?
When I'm online, often I see the term prebiotics interchanged with probiotics. Some of my clients mix up the two or think they are equal. Prebiotics and probiotics are not the same. Prebiotics are non-digestible ingredients (such as chicory root) in food and when consumed provide a beneficial environment in the gut for good bacteria including probiotics to thrive in.
Not all probiotics are the same
Probiotics, similar to antibiotics, have different structures and actions. For example, certain strains (varieties) of the probiotic Bifidobacerium lactis have been observed in clinical studies to benefit some people with irritable bowel syndrome, whereas stains of Lactobacillus casei have been observed in clinical studies to benefit children with infectious diarrhea and adults with antibiotic associated diarrhea. It is significant to understand that probiotics differ according to the strain, how they are prepared and the shelf-life of that preparation.
Probiotics and your gut
We have 10 times the number of bacterial cells inside of us as there are human cells and most are in the gut! Fifteen years ago, we called it gut flora, today it is referred to as gut microbiota. I like to think of it as the gut ecosystem. It is influenced by the foods and beverages we eat (and over eat), the amount of stress we encounter, the quantity of water we consume, how much activity and exercise we do and any toxins that enter our bodies. Research shows the gut does more than just process food and fluids and defend against infections.
After a disturbance (for example, an infection or extreme antibiotic use), the gut ecosystem stability is usually disrupted. This is where probiotics have shown a positive contribution to getting the system back on track. Current findings suggest our gut microbiota can explain critical features of our human biology. It plays a larger role in human health and diseases such as crohn's disease, heart disease and obesity than previously thought. More research and clinical trials will help identify how the gut communicates with bacteria to support and regulate major immune functions important for body and mental health.
Will you benefit from probiotics?
That is the big question. Remember for wellbeing, you need to have a balanced nutrition and fitness strategy in place. It is best to discuss probiotic use during your personalized nutrition plan with your dietitian. In general, probiotics such as Lactobacillus casei may promote a healthy balance in the gut microbiota, allowing it to assume its favourable functions in the digestive and overall health. So with these five facts in hand, follow your gut and make the decision.