Probiotics are the naturally occurring “good” bacteria that live in your gut and play a significant role in your total wellness. When you are in good health, your intestinal tract hosts over 100 trillion friendly bacteria, approximately 10 times more than the number of cells in your body. These good germs spend their time assisting you with digestion, boosting your immunity and consuming bad bacteria. They manufacture key nutrients, curb the growth of yeast and unhealthy bacteria and in their spare time (you thought you were busy!) inhibit bouts of lactose intolerance, poor digestion and diarrhea.
We are slowly discovering more about the role of specific probiotic strains in their ability to boost immunity and protect against disease. Recently, faecal implants have even become an effective means of repopulating the bowel with good bacteria after infection.
Whilst faecal implants may not be on your menu, there is actually a vast selection of probiotics you can choose from: Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium lactis, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus plantarum and the list goes on. Some of the most popular probiotics on the market only contain two types of probiotics, which may not in fact be the strains that your body requires. Whilst I generally recommend a high dose multi-strained probiotic, there are instances where your body may be crying out for a specific strain.
Below I provide a cheat sheet for common ailments which we turn to probiotics for and which specific strains you should look out for when buying your probiotic. Please refer to the end of this article if you would like some probiotic jargon explained…
Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Lactobacillus plantarum has been clinically shown in several studies to be effective in relieving IBS symptoms including abdominal pain, bloating, flatulence, constipation and diarrhoea. The strains Bifidobacterium bifidum and Bifidobacterium infantis may also be of benefit in alleviating IBS symptoms.
Antibiotics: You need Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium lactis during and after a course of antibiotics. These strains assist in restoring healthy levels of bacteria in the colon and hence are great to replenish good gut flora after a course of probiotics or after a gut infection. Lactobacillus acidophilus has been well researched for its anti-microbial properties. Bifidobacterium lactis is known to reduce the incidence of gut disturbances after antibiotic use. Take the probiotics at least two hours apart from your medication and continue to supplement for at least a few weeks after you finish your antibiotic course.
Urinary Tract Infections: A lack of healthy gut bacteria can contribute to the growth of bad bacteria that migrates to the urethra and be the cause of recurrent urinary tract infections. Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus plantarum have been shown to have antimicrobial actions and to be effective in reducing the adherence of E.coli (the main bacteria responsible for UTIs) to the urinary tract lining.
Traveler’s Bug: Don’t let the bugs ruin your holiday. Research has found that when the Saccharomyces boulardii and various lactobacillus strains (e.g. Lactobacillus casei) are used before, during and after traveling, approximately 85% of traveler’s diarrhea cases can be avoided. Begin supplementation at least a week before departure, continue taking it everyday during travel and for several days after you return. This strain can also be helpful in fast-tracking recovery from diarrhea associated with a nasty gastro bug when not traveling.
Frequent Colds & Infections: The Lactobacillus strains have been shown most effective in boosting immunity with studies showing that supplementation with Lactobacillus plantarum and Lactobacillus acidophilus may reduce the incidence of colds and reduce the duration of a cold. Lactobacillus gasseri, Bifidobacterium longum and Bifidobacterium bifidum have also been shown to reduce the severity and incidence of the common cold. Go for a multi strain probiotic for general immune boosting action.
Skin Conditions & Allergies: Supplementation with the Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG strain has been shown to reduce the incidence of eczema and skin sensitivity whilst Bifidobacterium infantis has shown to be effective in treatment of psoriasis. Their mechanism of action is though to relate to bacterial effects on gut barrier function and on the immune system.
Pregnancy: Relatively new research shows that women who take probiotics during pregnancy reduce their child’s risk of developing allergies, eczema, psoriasis and even behavioural disorders. This is because babies receive an “inoculation” of gut flora from their mother’s birth canal during childbirth. If the flora is abnormal, the baby’s flora will also be abnormal. The specific strains that are recommended in this case are Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Bifidobacterium lactis and Bifidobacterium bifidus.
If you are having trouble finding a probiotic with the strains I have noted above, please do not hesitate to ask me about which products I recommend.
Genus, species, and strain: These are how bacteria are identified. The genus is the first word in a bacterium’s name; it’s the large group to which the bacteria belongs. The species is the type of individual bacteria. Some bacteria have several strains, or differentiations of the species, and this is identified by the last part of the name. For example, Lactobacillus rhamnosus – Lactobacillus is the genus, and rhamnosus is the species; Lactobacillus acidophilus DDS-1 – Lactobacillus is the genus, acidophilus is the species; and DDS-1 is the strain.
CFUs: This stands for colony-forming unit and is the way probiotics are measured. You want to take a supplement with as many CFUs as you can find — in the 5 to 10 billion range.
Prebiotic: Prebiotics are non-digestible food ingredients that stimulate the growth and activity of bacteria in the digestive system. I like to describe them as food for probiotics. They are found in high levels in foods such as Jerusalem artichoke, dandelion greens, bananas, asparagus, onions, garlic and leek.