Before I start with all the formal information, I would like to state that I was a big believer in probiotics and used them regularly. However after reading up on probiotics and some of the results found from various studies, I am not so sure anymore, if they are worth the $$$ or the effort.
What are Probiotics?
Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are good for us – especially our digestive system. Our body is full of bacteria, both good and bad. Some research has shown that not having enough of the good bacteria can lead to many healthy issues; weight gain, skin issues, bowel irritability and more. As such, probiotics are often referred to as “good” or “helpful” bacteria as they work to help keep the balance in your gut by topping it up with good bacteria.
What Do They Do?
Probiotics can help send food through your gut by affecting the nerves that control your gut movements. Researchers are still trying to figure out which probiotics are the best for certain health problems, as they aren’t all the same.
Doctors often suggest probiotics to help with digestive problems, such as IBS, diarrhea and gut parasites.
Common conditions probiotics may help to treat are:
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- IBD (Inflammatory bowel disease)
- Infectious diarrhea
- Diarrhea caused by antibiotics
There is also research that shows probiotics are useful for problems in other parts of your body such as:
- Skin conditions, like eczema
- General inflammation
- Urinary and vaginal health
- Preventing allergies and colds
- Oral health
Types of Probiotics
Many types of good bacteria are classified as probiotics, they’re commonly called strains. Each strain has its own benefits but most come from three groups.
Lactobacillusis one of the the most common probiotics. You’ll find it in yogurt and other fermented foods. Lactobacillus bacteria can help with diarrhea, may help people who have lactose intolerant issues and general everyday gut maintenance..
Bifidobacterium Is a type of bacteria found in some dairy products. Bifidobacterium bacteria assists to ease the symptoms of IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and other irritating health conditions.
Saccharomyces boulardii appears to help fight symptoms of diarrhea and other digestive problems. Saccharomyces boulardii is not so much a probiotic itself, but better explained as a yeast found in probiotics.
An important thing to remember, in regards to probiotics, is that they need specific conditions to survive and that these microscopic bacterias have to be alive when you take them. In fact it’s uncertain whether the probiotics we buy, whether natural occuring or synthetic, contain any living organisms after being packed and shipped to stores.
A review on ‘Label claims on probiotic products’ shockingly reveals that out of fourteen probiotic products tested, only one actually contained the ingredients listed on the label.
I am not saying that probiotics, and the fermented foods that contain them, definitely won’t work for you. Instead, I’m trying to say, if you’re looking for a probiotic, for example, to help with a certain health issue, I suggest you do your research. Read studies around the specific bacterias that have been proven to help with the symptoms you are showing, and look for products containing those specific bacteria. They may be more expensive but there’s no point in buying something that won’t work.
Dietary Sources of Probiotics
Whilst some people opt to take probiotics as a supplement, they may use a powder or a drink, others try and get their intake of probiotics through the food that they eat.
- Some yogurts
- Some cheeses
Probiotics vs Prebiotics
While probiotics and prebiotics sound the same, these supplements are very different from one another and have very different roles in the digestive system and the gut. Check out our post explaining the differences here, Probiotics vs Prebiotics.