Your Probiotics Questions - Answered

Over the past few years there have been a lot of interest in the microorganisms that live in our gut and the role they play in our general wellbeing. More and more studies have been done to determine exactly how these organisms function and how we can use them to improve our health.

Although there is still a lot we need to learn, we do know that it is extremely important to look after your gut and maintaining a healthy microbiota is a key to ensure both good digestive and immune health.

We have answered some of the most common questions about probiotics to help you understand it better.

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are supplements containing living organisms (bacteria) that can have health benefits during certain situations when you consume adequate amounts of it.[1]

Why are the bacteria in your gut so important?

Gut bacteria have many functions in the body that ranges from playing a role in the immune system to affecting the gut-brain axis and helping to produce neurotransmitters such as serotonin. It continues to digest some materials that were not previously digested in the small intestine and it is also responsible for producing some nutrients like vitamin K, vitamin B12, thiamine and riboflavin.

What is the difference between probiotics and prebiotics?

The main difference is that probiotics are living organisms while prebiotics are certain types of fermentable fibers and thus not alive. Prebiotics are fermented by the gut bacteria and play an important role in maintaining good gut health.

Why are prebiotics necessary?

Prebiotics are just as important for maintaining good gut health than probiotics. As opposed to other nutrients that are usually digested and absorbed in the upper part of the gut, these fibers travel further down to the colon where they are fermented.[2] Prebiotics can change the composition of your gut bacteria and also stimulate growth and activity in the healthy bacteria, especially in the bifidobacteria and lactobacilli strains. In addition, prebiotics also provide energy for the cells in the colon and helps to keep the gut working effectively.

What are the benefits of probiotics?

Probiotics can have many benefits, depending on the strain and amount you consume. Just keep in mind that the effect of probiotics will vary from person to person.

Probiotics can improve the defense mechanisms in your gut to protect yourself against harmful microorganisms. It appears that probiotic supplementation in healthy adults can also improve the immune function and the immune response to common cold infections.1

Studies have shown that probiotics might also have the following beneficial effects:

  • Reduce symptoms caused by GI (gastrointestinal) disorders.[3]
  • Improving blood lipid profile, especially total cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol levels.[4]
  • Improving blood glucose tolerance.[5]
  • Enhance mental state and cognitive function.[6]
  • Help weight loss in those that are overweight or obese.[7]

Remember that probiotics need an ideal environment, with enough food, to colonize and thrive. Your diet can influence the environment in your gut and thus have an effect on how well the probiotics work for you.

How to choose a probiotic supplement?

The type of probiotic supplement you need will depend on the reason you are taking probiotics as well as the severity of your condition. For example, if you want a probiotic for general health reasons, you will require a different probiotic than someone with severe IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome).

It is important to look at the type of strains (different species of bacteria) in the probiotic as well as the number of bacteria it contains, usually measured in CFU (colony-forming unit). One capsule can contain a single strain of bacteria or multiple strains.

The gut bacteria of each person differ and continue to change. Therefore, the type of probiotics and the amount you need will also vary.

If you are unsure, rather consult a health care professional for advice.

Your gut bacteria can thus play a major role in your overall health and wellbeing. Probiotics can offer you many health benefits and are generally considered safe. It is worth exploring this option if you are looking to improve your overall health. 

[1] Khalesi, S., Bellissimo, N., Vandelanotte, C., Williams, S., Stanley, D. and Irwin, C., 2018. A review of probiotic supplementation in healthy adults: helpful or hype? European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 73(1), pp.24-37

[2] Slavin, J., 2013. Fiber and Prebiotics: Mechanisms and Health Benefits. Nutrients, 5(4), pp.1417-1435.

[3] Hungin, A., Mitchell, C., Whorwell, P., Mulligan, C., Cole, O., Agréus, L., Fracasso, P., Lionis, C., Mendive, J., Philippart de Foy, J., Seifert, B., Wensaas, K., Winchester, C. and de Wit, N., 2018. Systematic review: probiotics in the management of lower gastrointestinal symptoms

[4] Wu, Y., Zhang, Q., Ren, Y. and Ruan, Z., 2017. Effect of probiotic Lactobacillus on lipid profile: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized, controlled trials. PLOS ONE, 12(6), p.e0178868.

[5] Ruan, Y., Sun, J., He, J., Chen, F., Chen, R. and Chen, H., 2015. Effect of Probiotics on Glycemic Control: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized, Controlled Trials. PLOS ONE, 10(7), p.e0132121.

[6] Huang, R., Wang, K. and Hu, J., 2016. Effect of Probiotics on Depression: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Nutrients, 8(8), p.483.

[7] Borgeraas, H., Johnson, L., Skattebu, J., Hertel, J. and Hjelmesaeth, J., 2017. Effects of probiotics on body weight, body mass index, fat mass and fat percentage in subjects with overweight or obesity: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Obesity Reviews, 19(2), pp.219-232.

[8] Stenman, L., Lehtinen, M., Meland, N., Christensen, J., Yeung, N., Saarinen, M., Courtney, M., Burcelin, R., Lähdeaho, M., Linros, J., Apter, D., Scheinin, M., Kloster Smerud, H., Rissanen, A. and Lahtinen, S., 2016. Probiotic With or Without Fiber Controls Body Fat Mass, Associated With Serum Zonulin, in Overweight and Obese Adults—Randomized Controlled Trial. EBioMedicine, 13, pp.190-200.