If you’ve ever looked into taking probiotics, you’ve probably come across a lot of conflicting information. Like many health supplements, there is loads of different ‘advice’ out there about probiotics – and not all of it is accurate!
There’s still a lot of confusion about what probiotics are, what they do in your body, and why you should take them. Here’s the truth behind some of the most common myths.
A large proportion of adults deal with gastrointestinal symptoms on a daily basis. This can include anything from IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), to chronic constipation, to recurring indigestion.
It’s these people who are often told to take probiotics, which could be why we often exclusively associate probiotics with digestive health. But this isn’t quite true.
Your whole body is connected to your gut. That’s why Hippocrates said, ‘All disease begins in the gut’! This interconnection means that your gut can influence every pathway, from your metabolism to your immune function, to the health of your cardiovascular system, urogenital system and even your dermatological system.
When your gut is healthy, all of these systems function properly. When your gut is unhealthy, they will be at a significant disadvantage. Probiotics will begin by improving your gut health, but these changes will be felt throughout your whole body, well beyond your stomach and bowels. (1)
There’s been a surge of trendy health foods lately that claim to contain probiotics. Some examples of these include the fizzy beverage kombucha, and various snack foods that say they are ‘probiotic’.
Unfortunately, while it’s nice to think we can get a good dose of probiotics from something as simple as a yogurt or a funky bottle, it’s probably not the case at all. Something that claims to be probiotic because it contains a few microorganisms is unlikely to actually provide enough of those organisms to be beneficial to your health!
Another consideration is that the bacteria in these foods are unlikely to survive the passage through your stomach acid. And the other ingredients included in many commercial probiotic foods are typically inflammatory and laden with sugar.
While some commercial probiotic snacks can be nutritious in their own way, they shouldn’t be relied upon as sources of beneficial, effective bacteria. In addition to your fermented foods, opt for a quality probiotic supplement that contains a variety of live bacteria.
One of the most common phrases used in the marketing of probiotics is ‘restoring your gut bacteria’. While this is true to an extent, the term ‘colonize’ isn’t quite right.
Probiotics don’t actually have to completely change the composition of your microbiome to provide health benefits. In fact, there’s little evidence that probiotics need to colonize your gut at all.
Even if they don’t colonize, they can travel through your gastrointestinal tract and interact with your immune cells, dendritic cells, the food you’ve eaten and also the existing bacteria in your gut. (2)
Some strains of probiotics will improve the function of your gut lining to help protect against intestinal permeability, while other will stimulate neurotransmitters that improve muscle contractions for better gut motility (more regular pooping!).
Research shows that they can achieve these results without actually having to create new colonies in the gut.
While it’s true that probiotic bacteria are sensitive to light, heat and moisture, not all strains have to be refrigerated.
During hot summer months, it’s a good idea to keep probiotics in the fridge in order to maintain their efficacy. However, advances in technology such as freeze-drying (known as lyophilisation) mean that probiotics can still function effectively without refrigeration.
Lyophilisation allows the bacteria to remain in an inert, shelf-stable state until they reach the digestive tract, where they are reactivated.
The key is to look for a product that has been designed to survive at room temperature. Special delivery systems such as delayed-release tablet technology mean that ‘live’ bacteria will stay alive until they are ready to be used. (3)
Look for a probiotic that uses BIO-tract time-release tablets. This means that the probiotic bacteria are held within tablets that form a protective gel coating as soon as they reach your stomach. After leaving your stomach, they release their bacteria over 8-10 hours.
This is certainly the biggest myth of them all! There are hundreds of different strains of bacteria, and each has a slightly different role.
Let’s begin with Lactobacillus. No doubt you’ve heard of Lactobacillus acidophilus – the main bacterial species in yogurt. Well, Lactobacillus is actually a ‘genus’, which means it’s a whole group of different species. The Lactobacillus genus alone includes species such as Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus plantarum and many more.
In fact, each species of bacteria may have thousands of strains.
For example, Lactobacillus plantarum is one of the most-studied species of probiotic bacteria. Strains of Lactobacillus plantarum have been found to show a variety of benefits, including reducing LDL cholesterol in the body.
Then there’s the Bifidobacterium genus, which has been found to provide benefits for irritable bowel syndrome. Bifidobacterium is found in some dairy products. Particular strains, such as Bifidobacterium longum, can help to improve lactose tolerance and also prevent diarrhea, food allergies, and the spread of pathogens. (4)
When researching your probiotic, look for a brand that contains multiple probiotic strains. This will give you a boost to your gut health that can translate into health benefits around all the systems of your body.