IS YOUR PROBIOTIC ACTUALLY HELPING YOU?
Probiotics have become extremely mainstream in the past few years. It’s expected that you can simply pop a probiotic pill every day and feel right as rain!
But do you know exactly what you are taking, and what the specific bacteria in those probiotic pills are doing to your body?
No? Well you aren’t alone.
In all my years working in a pharmacy, health store and clinical practice, I stopped being amazed by how many people were on a probiotic “just ‘cause”. Customers’ would stare wide-eyed and shocked at what taking that probiotic supplement was doing to their body. Because for those 6 months of taking a probiotic to help with diarrhoea, the bacteria in that probiotic were known to speed up transit time and help with constipation. *face palm*
Now I have a question for you.
Hands up how many people have bought a probiotic off the shelf purely because of its claims to be “multi strain” and with super duper high “40, 50, even 60+ billion CFU (colony forming units)” on the label?
I bet you’re sitting there thinking: that’s me! Well don’t worry, that was me too.
But I’m sorry to say, there is a very high chance you just bought yourself really expensive poo.
So how the heck do you know if you need a probiotic and that you’re choosing one that’s right for you and for your body?
Well, let’s clear the air of some common misconceptions and highlight the truth behind probiotics and your friendly gut bacteria.
1. Probiotics don’t change your microbiome.
Holy moly, this is a big one! When you take a probiotic, the bacteria in the probiotic only stays in your gut on average 2-14 days. The bacteria generally won’t colonise your gut and stay there for life. What they do is exert a beneficial effect as they are floating through. They can produce chemicals, fight off against pathogenic microorganisms, interact with your immune cells, etc, which can all improve your health while taking the probiotic. But generally the symptom relief wears off a few days post taking the probiotic as those particular bacteria are then found in your poo and are no longer in your intestines.
2. Any old probiotic won’t help, you need a specific strain.
The bacteria or yeast found in probiotics don’t all do the same thing. Nor are they all beneficial to your health. Every bacterial strain is as unique as you are. The therapeutic action of a bacteria all comes down to its strain. For example, Lactobacillus acidophilus is a common bacteria found in probiotic supplements, but the different strains help you with different symptoms.
Lactobacillus acidophilus W37: helps with bacterial vaginosis.
Lactobacillus acidophilus DWM 24735: helps with constipation, IBS symptoms, ulcerative colitis achieving and maintaining remission, and viral gastroenteritis.
Lactobacillus acidophilus CL1285: supports diarrhoea prevention with antibiotic use and atopic eczema treatment.
Lactobacillus acidophilus La-1: helps with depression, migraines and liver cirrhosis.
Imagine if you suffered from diarrhoea and you grabbed one off the shelf that contains Lactobacillus acidophilus 24735. This guy helps with constipation, so you are unknowingly making your diarrhoea worse. Grabbing a ‘multi-strain’ probiotic won’t be effective if the strains in the probiotic aren’t right for you. I often opt for single or a probiotic with 3 bacterial strains because I can make sure every single bacterial strain is essential for my client and their health.
3. The CFU only matters for individual species, not overall.
Ignore when a probiotic states 40, 50 or 60 billion bacteria. In this case bigger does not mean better! The important number or CFU to pay attention to is per bacteria. You need enough of the little guy to be therapeutically effective. Take for example Lactobacillus reuteri DSM 17938. You only need 200 million CFU to be therapeutically beneficial for constipation. Whereas Lactobacillus helveticus Rosell-52 needs 1 billion CFU to be clinically effective for anxiety. The number of bacteria really depend on what they’re being used for.
So here’s the big question:
do you need to take a probiotic?
For the general population, my answer is no.
I only advise taking a probiotic for a specific health condition or symptom if it’s warranted, and generally not for long term use (eg. Constipation, diarrhoea, eczema, anxiety, depression, thrush, bacterial vaginosis, etc). I don’t advise taking one for everyday well-being because there are more effective strategies.
What do I recommend?
Your gut bacteria are uber important. They influence soooo much, so making sure you have the right bacteria and a great diversity are one of my biggest concerns with every client. To achieve this, I recommend prebiotics which are the food for the bacteria. Your bacteria need to eat in order to survive and proliferate.
I stand by the principle and evidence, why not feed the beneficial bacterial strains already in your gut rather than add in a probiotic that only floats through temporarily? Your beneficial bacteria need food to proliferate and carry out their tasks in your gut, so feeding them with select prebiotics is the most effective method.
I highly recommend speaking to a qualified health practitioner who will be able to really guide what probiotic and prebiotic is needed and will be beneficial for YOUR unique health. Choosing any old probiotic supplement for the sake of it, isn’t doing much for your health, well except increasing the price tag on your poop.