Do you use a probiotic? Perhaps you have heard of them but you’re not really sure what they are or what they do? In this article we’ll have a (very) brief look at the world of probiotics, but first let’s start with talking about what’s going on in your gut.
Your gut microbiota is the term that is used to describe the tens of trillions of microorganisms living in your gut. Approximately 1/3 of our gut microbiota is common to the majority of people, however the remaining 2/3 are specific just to YOU. The estimated weight of our total microbiota is around 2kg. You also have microbiota living in other parts of your body for example your skin and your mouth. (Health, n.d.) Your gut microbiota play a role in digestion, maintaining and protecting the digestive tract, the production of some vitamins such as vitamin K and some components of vitamin B, and in immune function. It is important in not only helping to fight infections, but also in keeping the immune system in balance. (Jandhyala et al., 2015) It is so significant that some even classify it as an “acquired organ”.
I have touched on this in a previous article, however it is also important to reiterate that what we eat in our diet can drastically affect both the number and variety of microorganisms in our gut. Prebiotics can be found naturally or added to food products, as well as being available in supplements. (Health, n.d.) These are indigestible fibres which make their way down to the bowel to feed the bacteria that populate that area. One of the major issues with the western diet is that it has higher amounts of refined carbohydrates, animal meats and saturated fats, and less of the whole foods and fresh fruit and vegetables essential for gut microorganism diversity. Foods that are highly refined and too easily digestible don’t make their way down to the bowel for those microorganisms. (Thomas, 2017) It is very important to ensure that your diet contains plenty of prebiotic foods – examples include garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, tomatoes, apples, almonds and brans – and in fact in my opinion this is always the first thing to address if you are lacking these in your diet.
Probiotics are preparations that “contain viable, microbial agents that have been demonstrated to improve health” (Hawrelak, n.d) You will usually find them either on their own as tablets or powders, or incorporated into supplements or foods.
What is interesting (and really cool) about probiotics is that it’s not just a case of grabbing any probiotic off the shelf and off you go. Just like vitamins and minerals all have specific roles and therapeutic actions, so do the different strains of probiotics. More and more probiotic strains are being researched in order to be used therapeutically for many different health issues including digestive function and health, antibiotic use, immune function, mental health, autoimmune conditions, allergies and chronic congestion, asthma, and many other conditions. To read more detail about the importance of the difference in probiotic strains, here’s a great link: https://www.probioticadvisor.com/probiotic-essentials-1/the-importance-of-strain/ Some of the other benefits to particular probiotic strains is their ability to help the body rebuild its own native flora (which is particularly beneficial after antibiotic use), heal and repair the gut lining and suppress some pathogen growth. A point worth mentioning is that every single probiotic strain is unique, even if it is the same species. So the health benefits of one strain of Lactobacillus acidophilus could be different to another strain – and there are many many strains within each species.
Because of the variety in strains and therapeutic uses, it can be a bit daunting when you want to go and buy a probiotic from the chemist. There are some well known brands that do label their products according to the strains in the probiotic and what their researched therapeutic properties are. This is a great option for something along the lines of general immune and digestive wellbeing.
If you feel that you or your family are experiencing some of the more complex issues including some digestive complaints, allergies, eczema, recurring sickness or infections then it is definitely worth the time to come in for a consultation so that I can take a full case history and prescribe a probiotic that is suited to your own personal needs, with specific strains that are indicated for your symptoms. To book a Naturopathic appointment click the booking button below or call 9293 2999. To find out more about Naturopathy click here.
Hawrelak, J. (n.d). Probiotic Advisor. https://www.probioticadvisor.com/
Health, G. M. f. (n.d.). Gut microbiota info. Retrieved from Gut Microbiota for Health website: http://www.gutmicrobiotaforhealth.com/en/about-gut-microbiota-info/
Jandhyala, S. M., Talukdar, R., Subramanyam, C., Vuyyuru, H., Sasikala, M., & Reddy, D. N. (2015). Role of the normal gut microbiota. World journal of gastroenterology: WJG, 21(29), 8787.
Thomas, L. (2017). How Does the Diet Impact Microbiota? Retrieved from News Medical Life Sciences website: