Why & How To Take A Probiotic
In recent years, the importance of gut health has garnered significant attention. Within this realm, a class of microorganisms known as probiotics have emerged as a potential key to optimising our well-being.
Probiotics, the “friendly” bacteria residing in our gut, have been hailed for their numerous health benefits, extending beyond gut health to impact various aspects of our overall well-being.
From boosting our immune system to influencing our mental health, the potential of probiotics to revolutionise our approach to health and wellness is immense.
In this article, Clarissa delves into the captivating world of probiotics- the benefits of taking one, how to choose the best probiotic, how long it takes to see results, her top brands and common mistakes when taking a probiotic.
WHY TAKE A PROBIOTIC
While probiotics are widely known for their positive impact on gut health, their benefits
extend beyond that. Here are some other potential advantages of implementing a probiotic into your routine:
- Support Immune Function- 70% of our immune system is located in the gut! Probiotics may help stimulate the production of antibodies and enhance the activity of immune cells,which can help defend us against harmful pathogens.
- Mood and mental wellbeing- The gut and brain are closely connected through the gut-brain axis. Probiotics have shown promising results in supporting mental health by potentially reducing symptoms of anxiety, depression, and stress. They may also help regulate neurotransmitters involved in mood regulation.
- Improved Nutrients- Some strains of probiotics are capable of producing essential vitamins, such as B vitamins and vitamin K. By promoting the production and absorption of these nutrients, probiotics contribute to our overall nutritional status.
- Skin- Probiotics can influence skin health and may help manage certain skin conditions, including acne, eczema, and rosacea. Research suggests that certain strains, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus rhamnosus, may help reduce acne severity. Additionally, specific strains like Lactobacillus paracasei and Lactobacillus salivarius show potential in managing rosacea symptoms. Probiotics may work by reducing inflammation, improving the skin’s barrier function, and promoting a balanced skin microbiome.
- Heart Health- Certain strains of probiotics have been associated with reducing LDL cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and inflammation, all of which contribute to better cardiovascular health.
- Weight Management- Some research suggests that probiotics may play a role in weight management. They can potentially influence appetite regulation, fat absorption, and even the breakdown of dietary fats.
To note – the benefits and efficacy of probiotics vary depending on the specific strain and
strength of the probiotic.
WHAT TO PRIORITISE WHEN BUYING A PROBIOTIC
STRAINS- Look for a probiotic supplement that contains a variety of strains – as our
gut microbiome is made up of thousands of different bacterial strains, not just one!
Different strains have varying effects and benefits on the body, so a diverse blend is
desirable for optimal results.
Colony Forming Units (CFUs) – CFUs indicate the number of viable bacteria present in each dose. While there is no specific recommended dosage for all conditions, higher CFU counts are usually preferred, as some bacteria may not survive the digestive process. However, it’s important to note that higher CFUs do not always guarantee better efficacy! I usually recommend looking for more than 10 billion CFU in a probiotic product.
SHELF STABILITY & EXPIRY DATE – Check for shelf stability and the expiration date. Probiotics are live organisms, and their potency decreases over time.
PREBIOTICS OR SYNBIOTICS- You could look for a probiotic with prebiotics in. Prebiotics are non-digestible fibres that serve as food for probiotics, promoting their growth
and activity, and some probiotics may add prebiotics, which could potentially
enhance their effectiveness. Additionally, synbiotics are products that combine
probiotics and prebiotics for a synergistic effect. However, for those with IBS or
sensitive stomachs, adding in certain prebiotics such as FOS may trigger symptoms!
So trial and error is key.
CONSIDER SPORE BASED- Spore-based probiotics contain bacterial spores that are
highly resistant to environmental conditions, including stomach acid, which can help
them reach the intestines alive and viable, where they may exert their beneficial
effects. Spore-based probiotics have been shown to support the growth of beneficial
gut bacteria, promote a balanced gut microbiome, and enhance immune function.
TESTING – check for products that have undergone third-party testing for quality and
even better if the brand has done studies to prove their efficacy!
CAPSULES – If taking a probiotic in a pill format, look for probiotic capsules that are
delayed-release or enteric-coated, as these special coatings protect the probiotics
from stomach acid. Acid-resistant capsules and microencapsulated probiotics also
offer added protection.
The time it takes to see the results of taking a probiotic varies depending on factors such as the specific health condition, individual health, probiotic strain, dosage, and lifestyle.
Immediate effects, such as improved digestion, may be noticed right away, and short-term
benefits, like relief from temporary gastrointestinal issues, can occur within a few days.
Chronic or long-term benefits, such as improvements in conditions like IBS or skin issues,
may take weeks to months.
It’s also worth highlighting that some individuals may actually feel worse for a week or so
when first starting to take a probiotic, as your stomach may sometimes need time to adjust.
HOW TO TAKE A PROBIOTIC
This really depends on the product! To get the best out of your supplement, follow the
instructions on the product label or work with a nutritionist who can help advise.
There is no universally agreed-upon best time to take probiotics, but many find it
convenient to take them with a meal to buffer stomach acid. Some probiotics can be taken
with or without food but follow the specific instructions for the supplement you're taking.
A key thing is to avoid exposing probiotics to hot liquids as this can ruin the live bacteria,
and if taking antibiotics, separate probiotic intake by a few hours.
THE BEST STRAINS
Some of the most well researched strains of probiotics include:
- Lactobacillus acidophilus – This strain is one of the most well researched strains and has been studied for its potential benefits in many areas supporting digestion, immune function, and vaginal health in women.
- IBS Bifidobacterium infantis – This strain has been studied in the management of IBS symptoms. One study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology in 2006 found that B. infantis improved symptoms of IBS such as bloating, abdominal pain, and bowel movement difficulty. (1)
- Lactobacillus plantarum – This strain has shown promise in helping IBS symptoms. A study published in the European Journal of Gastroenterology & Hepatology in 2005 found that L. plantarum improved symptoms of IBS and quality of life in participants.(2)
- Bifidobacterium breve – This strain has shown beneficial effects in IBS. A study
published in Nutrients in 2021 found that B. breve Bif-07 reduced abdominal pain and improved bowel habits in IBS patients.
- One of my favourite probiotic supplements is Saccharomyces boulardii – a well-studied probiotic yeast strain that offers several proven benefits. It can help prevent and manage antibiotic-associated diarrhoea, treat infectious diarrhoea, and help in the management of Clostridium difficile infection. Saccharomyces boulardii has also shown promise in relieving symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and supporting individuals with inflammatory bowel disease.
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1 and Lactobacillus reuteri RC-14: These strains have been extensively studied for their potential benefits in maintaining vaginal health and preventing or managing conditions such as bacterial vaginosis and urinary tract infections. (3)
- Bifidobacterium longum has been studied for its potential effects on skin health, particularly in reducing symptoms of atopic dermatitis. Research suggests that supplementation with B. longum can help improve skin barrier function and reduce itching and inflammation. (4)
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG has been studied for its potential benefits in improving skin conditions such as atopic dermatitis (eczema) in both children and adults. Research has shown that supplementation with L. rhamnosus GG may help reduce the severity and incidence of eczema symptoms. (5)
- Bifidobacterium longum has shown promise in improving mood. Studies have indicated that B. longum supplementation can positively modulate brain activity related to emotional processing and stress response. (6)
- Bifidobacterium breve may have potential effects on anxiety and depressive symptoms. Research suggests that B. breve supplementation may help alleviate anxiety-like behaviours and improve mood-related parameters.
CLARISSA’S TOP BRANDS
- Designs for Health – Floramyces – Saccharomyces boulardii supplement
- MegasporeBiotic – this is a spore based probiotic
- Inessa Advanced Biotic Complex – this contains 50 billion CFUs and saccromyces boulardii
- VSL – I use this one with clients who have IBD or for post antibiotic use
COMMON ERRORS WHEN TAKING PROBIOTICS
When taking probiotics, people may make mistakes that can impact their effectiveness such as not choosing the right strain for their specific needs, taking insufficient dosages, not considering proper storage conditions, expecting immediate results, and neglecting overall lifestyle factors.
Whilst a probiotic can help in certain situations, good gut health is a combination of many factors, and diet and lifestyle need to also be considered.
1Whorwell PJ, et al. (2006). Efficacy of an encapsulated probiotic Bifidobacterium infantis 35624 in women with irritable bowel syndrome. American Journal of Gastroenterology, 101(7), 1581-1590. (1)
Niedzielin K, et al. (2001). A controlled, double-blind, randomized study on the efficacy of
Lactobacillus plantarum 299V in patients with irritable bowel syndrome. European Journal
of Gastroenterology & Hepatology, 13(10), 1143-1147.(2)
Hemalatha R, et al. (2012). Effectiveness of Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1 and
Lactobacillus reuteri RC-14 in the treatment and prevention of female urogenital infections:
A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Research,
Kim SO, et al. (2008). Effects of probiotics for the treatment of atopic dermatitis: A meta-
analysis of randomized controlled trials. Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, 103(6), 501-506.(4)
Wu KG, et al. (2012). Prevention of allergic disease in childhood: Clinical and
epidemiological aspects of primary and secondary allergy prevention. Pediatric Allergy and
Immunology, 23(6), 520-536.(5)
Messaoudi M, et al. (2011). Assessment of psychotropic-like properties of a probiotic
formulation (Lactobacillus helveticus R0052 and Bifidobacterium longum (6)