Probiotics: What You Should Know!
Live microorganisms called "probiotics" are intended to improve one's health.
Although bacteria and microbes are perceived as "germs," many of them are actually beneficial. Some bacteria produce vitamins, others help break down disease-causing cells or aid in food digestion. To have a better understanding of probiotics, it is important to know how the digestive tract works.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are live microorganisms that are consumed in food sources or supplementally with the intention of helping improve health. You can find probiotics in foods like yogurt, raw unfiltered apple cider vinegar and fermented foods such as sauerkraut, miso, kombucha and pickles. A number of bacteria may be present in probiotics. Bacteria from the families Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are the most prevalent. As probiotics, other bacteria as well as yeasts such Saccharomyces boulardii may be employed.
Food enters the mouth and is broken down by enzymes released in your saliva. Food then travels to the stomach. The stomach is very acidic and has mechanisms that create a harsh environment to protect our bodies from infection. High quality probiotics have been developed with the ability to withstand the acid in order to make it to the small and large intestines where they can be utilized by the body.
You can increase the amount of good microbes in your body through foods, drinks and supplements. You may already have certain foods in your daily diet that contain probiotics. Fermented foods in particular (yogurt and pickles, for example) are home to a host of good bacteria that benefit your body. There are also fermented drinks like kombucha (fermented tea) or kefir (fermented dairy drink) that introduce extra probiotics into your diet. Apart from food, you can add probiotics to your diet through dietary supplements. These aren’t drugs, so they do not need to be approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA). It’s important that you always talk to your healthcare provider before starting any kind of supplement or major change to your diet.
What are Pre-biotics?
Prebiotics are nondigestible food components that selectively stimulate the growth or activity of desirable microorganisms. Probiotic supplements may be combined with a prebiotic. Prebiotics are complex carbohydrates that feed the microorganisms in your gut. Prebiotics serve as the "food source" for the beneficial microorganisms. They support the body's beneficial bacteria by providing food for it. Inulin, pectin, and resistant starches are examples of prebiotics.
What health issues can probiotics help with?
A study out of Harvard stated, “Some digestive disease specialists are recommending probiotic supplements for disorders that frustrate conventional medicine, such as irritable bowel syndrome. Since the mid-1990s, clinical studies suggest that probiotic therapy can help treat several gastrointestinal ills, delay the development of allergies in children, and treat and prevent vaginal and urinary infections in women.”
Probiotics have been shown to help with a variety of conditions including:
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
Vaginal and urinary tract infections
Eczema associated with pregnancy
Colic / Reflux in infants
Prevention of allergies in infants
Eczema in infants
Who should be taking daily probiotic supplementS?
Pregnant and nursing moms
Patients on antibiotics
Patient’s on hormonal birth control
Probiotics have been shown to help infants specifically with colic, reflux and digestive issues. It is important to note that when a baby is born via C-section they do not have the opportunity to go through the vaginal canal and get exposed to mom’s vaginal flora. This can cause their gut biome to be weaker to start and a probiotic can be a way to help prevent any issues. However, probiotics are still incredibly useful for all infants; especially those who are struggling with allergies, constipation, soft stools, colic or reflux.
Probiotics can be incredibly helpful to take during pregnancy to help maintain gut flora. Certain prenatal vitamins even contain probiotics already. During third trimester pregnancy it is important to note that there is a 40% decrease in testing positive for Group B Strep while taking probiotics.
Another important time to start introducing probiotics is from the third trimester (if you haven’t been taking them already) and throughout your breastfeeding journey. Breast tissue and breast milk has its own unique microbiome. By taking a probiotic preemptively you can help to maintain the natural microbiome and help to prevent mastitis. Mastitis is an infection of the breast and nipple tissue due to a variety of bacteria. Doctor’s will prescribe antibiotics to treat this issue however that can destroy the normal flora of the breast tissue. Taking a probiotic while on an antibiotic (as well as after) can be helpful in decreasing the likelihood of getting mastitis again.
Patients on Antibiotics:
When patients are prescribed any form of antibiotics to treat illness; the antibiotics destroy both the bad and good bacteria. When the gut microbiota is interrupted and becomes out of balance, it can lead to dysbiosis. This can create an imbalance in the person’s natural gut biome and result in additional GI issues, yeast infections or dysbiosis. It is important for patients of all ages to increase their probiotic intake while on an antibiotic as well as the week following in order to seek the optimal benefits.
“12-50% of women worldwide experience vaginal infections, which can be caused by bacterial imbalances.”
“50-75% experience vaginal infections due to yeast and 150 million people are affected by urinary tract infections each year.”
Women who are more prone to urinary tract infections, bacterial vaginosis or yeast infections may benefit from a daily probiotic. This ensures that the “good” bacteria can remain in the body and help to protect from an overgrowth of the “bad.” It is important to note that for women on hormonal birth control; taking contraceptives can lead to intestinal hyperpermeability aka leaky gut. By adding a probiotic into your diet while taking hormonal birth control you can help to avoid the issues listed above.
How to choose a good probiotic?
Multiple probiotic strains in one product does not necessarily provide a greater number of health benefits.
Probiotics are measured in colony forming units (CFU), which indicate the number of viable cells. 500 million to 50 billion CFU have been associated with various health benefits.
Probiotics are live microorganisms and should be alive when ingested.
Certain probiotic strains are intended to help with specific conditions; one probiotic doesn’t “fit all.”
What are some examples of probiotic strains to look for?
Bifidobacterium infantis: The Bifidobacterium infantis probiotic strain in combination with other well-documented probiotic infant strains, such as Bifidobacterium animalis subsp. Lactis or Lactobacillus rhamnosus, may be useful for supporting good infant development.
For women’s health:
Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Lactobacillus reuteri: These strains have been associated with maintenance of a healthy urogenital tract. These strains support a healthy vaginal and urinary microbiota, which has been shown to impact the development and clearance of bacterial vaginosis, vulvovaginal candidiasis and urinary tract infections.
Should I try probiotics?
Many providers may suggest giving them a try to see if they help with your general health. It is important to remember that not all probiotics behave the same way and have the same effects. Each has their own individual benefits. One easy way to start can be by simply introducing probiotic-rich foods into your diet, like yogurt. Before you start any supplements, make sure you talk to your healthcare provider. Your provider may be able to point you in the right direction, helping you figure out the best probiotic to take, how much to take and when to take it.
In conclusion, many people can utilize the benefits that probiotics have to offer. At ANH we have high quality supplement options that we can recommend and discuss with patients. If you want to learn more, ask your health care professionals about the benefits!
Chiropractor at ANH Wellness