Probiotics have been named the future of preventive medicine and disease treatment. Over 100 trillion microbes live in your intestines right now and they are responsible for so many beneficial processes within our bodies, from proper digestion to boosting our immune system.
What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics are non-disease causing bacteria that live in our intestines. They produce vitamins (B6, B12 and K2), short chain fatty acids, aid in digestion and absorption of our food (including minerals magnesium, calcium and iron) and help prevent inflammation and infection (fighting off bad bacteria like Salmonella and E. coli).
The more strains (types) of bacteria you have in your gut, the better.
In our intestines there is a constant battle between the good and bad gut bacteria and the key is for the good bacteria to always outnumber the bad bacteria. When there are more bad bacteria than good bacteria in our intestines we have something called gut dysbiosis. Gut dysbiosis can lead to many issues, which we will discuss later.
Two major known benefits of probiotics are digestive health and immune support but research is emerging in the area of probiotics and obesity. We will cover digestive health separately in the next couple of weeks so for today we will just focus on immunity and obesity.
Over 70% of our immune system is housed in our gut. This immune system is called GALT, which stands for gut-associated lymphoid tissue and it works by helping to protect the body from invasion of bad bacteria.
If you’re prone to developing urinary tract infections, eczema or allergies, a good quality probiotic can help. The good gut bacteria form a sort of shield that prevents pathogens from adhering to the intestinal wall, which helps to keep us healthy.
Let’s look at some of the data:
- The Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport found that New Zealand athletes had about 40% fewer colds and gastrointestinal infections when they took a probiotic compared to when they took a placebo.
- In a Swedish study of 262 workers, those who took probiotics for 80 days were 42% less likely to take a sick day for gastrointestinal disease or an upper respiratory infection.
- Probiotic supplements may greatly lower the risk of an antibiotic-resistant superbug, Clostridium difficile. In people taking an antibiotic and also taking a probiotic, their risk of developing C. difficile was reduced by 2/3 – the two probiotics that were found to be helpful were Saccharomyces boulardii and Lactobacillus acidophilus.
Bugs and Obesity
Studies have already demonstrated that the intestinal flora of obese individuals differs from that of thin people. One hypothesis for this relationship is linked to consumption of dietary fibre, suggesting that thin individuals consume more fibre than overweight individuals. Foods containing large amounts of fibre (prebiotics) act as food for good gut bacteria so naturally, if we consume more prebiotics we are going to be able to better support a robust population of good gut bacteria and in turn, starve off the bad. As we discussed last week, a diet high in sugar feeds bad bacteria and starves the good.
Another hypothesis is linked to the relationship between an imbalance of good and bad gut bacteria and inflammation. As we discussed last week, inflammation often causes a halt in weight loss and can even promote weight gain through insulin resistance.
A third hypothesis is that our gut bacteria can influence glucose and fat metabolism, which directly impacts our weight and likelihood of becoming obese (1).
“According to Angelo Tremblay, probiotics may act by altering the permeability of the intestinal wall. By keeping certain proinflammatory molecules from entering the bloodstream, they might help prevent the chain reaction that leads to glucose intolerance, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.” (2)
The number of human studies linking probiotic intake to obesity is limited at this time, however it is a promising area of research and the relationship will only continue to get clearer.
What Do I Need To Look For?
Remember – not all probiotics are created equal. Probiotics can contain many different strains and number of colony forming units (CFUs). There is no magic number for amounts of CFUs in a probiotic but some researchers believe you need a minimum of 2 billion CFUs for at least a 2 week period in order to get maximum benefits.
On the label you will want to look for
- Genus (ex. Bifidobacterium)
- Species (ex. longum)
- Strain designation (often a combination of letters or numbers)
If there are just two words (ex. Bifidobacterium longum) with no strain designation afterwards, it could be any one type of hundreds of bacteria. This is often a red flag when choosing a probiotic because it demonstrates that the company is either unaware of which particular strains exist in the supplement or they do not realize the importance of distinguishing the strain.
You’re going to want to choose a probiotic that is multi-strain. Some of the most popular probiotics in supplements today are:
Lactobacillis acidophilus (this bacteria readily colonizes on the intestinal wall and supports nutrient absorption and assists with digestion)
Bifidobacterium longum (this bacteria helps maintain the integrity of the gut lining – remember, inflammation occurs when foreign particles crosses the gut barrier and enter the bloodstream) *Fun Fact: This is one of the first strains of bacteria to colonize after birth.
Bifidobacterium bifidum (this bacteria is essential for the proper breakdown of carbohydrates, fats and protein)
*Tip: For all you travellers out there – look for a probiotic containing Lactobacillis rhamnosus to help prevent travellers diarrhea.
What Your Physician Hasn’t Told You
This is an unfair generalization however when my clients have been on antibiotics, I would estimate that 95% of them had no idea that it would be beneficial to take a probiotic following their course of antibiotics. With the frequency of antibiotic use in the world today, a probiotic protocol following a course of antibiotics has GOT to be put into place.
Recommendation: Consume a serving of fermented foods daily for a good maintenance dose of probiotics. After a course of antibiotics consume a good quality, multi-strain probiotic for at least two weeks after finishing the treatment.
Caution: Probiotics should not be taken by anyone who is immunocompromised. Please consult your physician before taking a probiotic.
Want To Know How You’re Doing?
Believe it or not, you can actually send a sample to the American Gut Project for a full analysis of your gut microbes through stool analysis. With the population of your gut bacteria playing such a huge role in our health, why not see what’s actually going on in there?
Hope you found today’s post informative. Keep checking back – over the next few weeks we will go over everything you need to know about housing a robust population of beneficial bacteria!
Yours in Health,