Probiotics And Health

What exactly are Probiotics? 

The word probiotics comes from the Greek language, “pro” means promoting and “biotics” means life. Probiotics are helpful bacteria and yeast and are found naturally in our bodies, mostly in the digestive system, but are also naturally present in fermented foods and also available in dietary supplements.

How to identify a Probiotic? 

Probiotics are identified by their specific strain, whereby there are an estimated seven core strains most often used in probiotic products – Lactobacillus (LGG), Bifdobacterium, Saccharomyces, Streptococcus, Entercoccus, Escherichia and Bacillus. The gastrointestinal tract is colonised by many microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, fungi and protozoa. The composition and activity of these microorganisms – known as the gut microbiota – can affect health and disease.

Sources of Probiotics:

There are a variety of sources of probiotics – fermented foods; such as sauerkraut, sourdough bread, some yoghurts, pickles and dietary supplements. Fermented foods are made from the growth and metabolic activity of a variety of live microbial cultures. Many of these foods are excellent sources of live and potentially beneficial microbes.  While some fermented foods do not contain live cultures in the form in which they are consumed, many foods do contain probiotic microorganisms which survive in the intestinal transit and can have a profound impact on health. Some unfermented foods (juices, milks, smoothies, infant and toddler formulas, cereals) have added microorganisms. Whether these foods are truly probiotics depends on the microorganism levels they contain when they are eaten, whether they survive intestinal transit and whether their specific species and stains have proven health benefits.

Probiotics are measured in colony forming units, or CFU, which indicate the number of viable cells. It is important to recognised that higher CFU counts do not necessarily translate to improved health effects. Rather, the effectiveness of the probiotics needs to be specific to certain probiotic species and strains, bearing in mind that probiotics must be consumed alive to have health benefits, and that they can die during shelf life.

Health Benefits of Probiotics:

There has been a huge amount of research looking into the health benefits of probiotics. Specifically, the potential health benefits of probiotics include…

  • Improved gastrointestinal function & enhanced immune system
  • Support growth of intestinal microbiota by suppressing potentially harmful bacteria and reinforcing the body’s natural defence mechanisms
  • Reduction of atopic dermatitis (such as eczema) symptoms in infants and children when mothers or infants were supplemented with specific probiotic stains – lactobacillus rhamnosus or Lactobacillus paracasei.
  • Meta-analyses indicate that the use of any of a few species and strains of probiotics (specifically Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG and Saccharomyces boulardii) have been shown to reduce the risk of antibiotic associated diarrhoea.
  • A reduction in the symptoms associated with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), however more studies are needed to confirm the specific strain, dose and duration of treatment.
  • Research is promising, suggesting that the use of multiple probiotic strains may reduce total and LDL (“lousy”/bad) cholesterol levels.
  • A mother’s microbiome affects which bacterial species first colonise in her child’s body, contributing to the life-long health of her child
  • Possible positive impact of the effects of probiotics on body weight and obesity, however more research is needed to better understand this relationship

It is also worth mentioning that stress, chlorine and fluoride in drinking water, poor nutritional habits, excessive alcohol consumption, antibiotic use and many other aspects can alter your gut microbial balance. This in turn, can negatively impact many metabolic functions and increase your risk of various chronic diseases.

Where to from here?

Unfortunately, there is no one-size fits all approach when it comes to probiotic use and recommendations. The use of probiotics is very individual and needs to be tailored to you, your health condition(s) and your current dietary habits and lifestyle. Check in with your doctor, specialist and dietitian (me!) to find out how you can get started when it comes to probiotics.

Click ‘Make a Booking’ on the top, right hand corner of this page to book in with our resident dietitian, Emma today for a comprehensive dietary assessment. Alternatively, you could contact our friendly reception team on 9486 0512 (East Melbourne) or 9822 4999 (Armadale).

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