Probiotics: What are they and do we need them?

To understand probiotics it’s best to zoom out and talk about the microbiota that inhabit us. The microbiota is the diverse organisms that inhabit a particular area. In relation to us humans that means bacteria, viruses, archaea and other organisms that live both in and on us.

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Depending on whether you are talking about skin, the stomach or your small or large intestine there is a different microbiota that live there; AND what resides there contributes to either health or disease.

Here are a few examples:

  1. The presence of streptococcus species in your esophagus is associated with less disease in the area.
  2. The presence of a bacteria called Faecalibacterium prausnitzii is commonly found in the fecal microbiomes of healthy adults and deficiency of F. prausnitzii appears to be relatively specific for ileal Crohns disease.
  3. A healthy vaginal canal is associated with high presence of Lactobacillus species.

All 3 of the above examples give a sense of the diverse microbiota that are found in various parts of the body (and there are plenty more!).

How do probiotics fit in here? And what are they?

Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that confer many health benefits ranging from helping with diarrhea and constipation to making certain drugs work better in the body.

There are different categories of probiotics to choose from:

  1. Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species
  2. Yeast strains like S. Boulardii
  3. Spore forming strains or Soil Based organisms like Bacillus spp.
  4. Other diverse strains like Strep, E. coli, Faecalibacterium, etc.

The above probiotics help with various health conditions as mentioned above, so you can get pretty specific with the strains you want to use to help achieve certain therapeutic targets. It’s best to chat with your health care professional about which ones will work best for you.

Do probiotics that you supplement with actually stay in your system?

The short answer is not forever, you need to be continually taking probiotics to have them stick around, but that doesn’t undermine the many health benefits they have (as above). There are some studies that show if you take both a probiotic and prebiotic or fermented product then the odds are in your favour of the probiotics lasting longer in the body and conferring more benefit.

Prebiotics? What are those?

Prebiotics are foods or starches that feed the microbiota in the gut. You can get prebiotics in supplement form such as potato starch or inulin, etc. You can also easily eat your probiotics by including root veggies, asparagus, plantain, flax or chia seeds, and many more high fiber foods or complex starches.

For the best of both worlds, I would recommend both probiotics and prebiotics- on the advice of your health care practitioner of course! Your tummy, immune system and body will thank you!

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