What are Probiotics?
We digest our food through many processes. Once food reaches the intestines, bacteria assist in breaking down nutrients to a molecular level so our bodies can absorb them. They also help synthesis some B vitamins and vitamin K. Healthy gut bacteria in the appropriate number and type ensure not only good nutrition but also a healthy immune system and efficient elimination. Lactobacillius and Bifidobacteria strains are the most common supplemented probiotics.
Prebiotics are indigestible plant fibres that feed probiotic bacteria and keep them healthy. Having lots of good bacteria in the intestines means they crowd out bad bacteria and our digestion remains regular. Oligosaccarides in the form of FOS and GOS are their favourite foods. Inulin is a common fibre additive to foods that is a prebiotic. It is usually refined from chicory root but you can eat Jerusalem artichoke, jimaca, onions, asparagus and raw unrefined oats, wheat and barley to get dietary inulin as well. Consuming sufficient prebiotics when taking probiotics ensures the bacterial cultures you consume will do their job.
Who needs Probiotics?
If you have bloating, abdominal pain or diarrhea you might benefit from probiotics. If you have taken antibiotics or are suffering with the “stomach flu” you could benefit from probiotics. If you have food allergies or sensitivities you could benefit from probiotics. If you are going on vacation or a business trip and are afraid of getting traveler’s diarrhea you could benefit from probiotics. Normally gut flora is in balance and everything is fine, but stress, allergies or an influx of bad bacteria can knock digestion out of balance allowing bad bacteria to increase. Adding a probiotic supplement and prebiotics to support bacterial growth is an easy way to regain that balance.
Unless directed by a health care practitioner, probiotic supplementation should happen as needed or on a pulse schedule with some breaks in supplementing to allow gut flora to maintain its own balance without added bacteria.
Can’t I just eat yogurt?
Yogurt is a really great food if you eat it plain without added sugar or chemicals. However, stomach acid kills most of the bacterial cultures before they reach your gut. Yogurt alone isn’t enough to boost intestinal gut flora. The biggest benefit from yogurt is that it allows easier digestion of dairy foods because the bacterial cultures in the yogurt have broken down the milk sugars. Just beware sweetened yogurt products as the sugar in these products promotes the growth of bad gut organisms which can make digestive problems worse.
What to look for in Probiotics?
Probiotics are live organisms so products should always be purchased from the fridge. Transport of probiotic products should be done with an ice pack. Although they are stable for a time at room temperature, fluctuations of temperatureand heat in particular, will kill some or all of the cultures in your supplement. Supplements should be free of additives or allergens but it is helpful if a supplement includes prebiotics.
Supplements need to be enteric coated so that stomach acid doesn’t destroy them. This coating allows the supplement to pass into the intestines where the coating then dissolves and releases the bacteria where it will thrive. Cheaper supplements don’t have this coating so most bacteria will die in the stomach when exposed to hydrochloric acid.
Number of organisms in the supplement is also important. The count of bacteria should be in the billions, or even 10s of billions to ensure optimum colonization. Only purchase from trusted companies so you know there isn’t contamination of your supplement with anything that could be harmful to you. Cornerstone Naturopathic in Upper Tantallon stocks Cytomatrix Multistrain 11 and Multistrain 50 which feature multiple strains of bacteria, populated in the billions. The capsules are enteric coated; transport and storage has been in controlled conditions to ensure that you are getting the most active product available. We also stock NFH brand Probio SAP and Children’s Probio SAP as well as Metagenics Children’s Ultraflora. These products come from companies we trust to supply a superior professional grade product so you get the best value for your supplement dollar.
What else can I do?
Fermented foods, eaten every day help to maintain good digestion and absorption of nutrients. Uncooked, unpasteurizedsauerkraut, kimchi, miso, kefir and yogurt all support the growth of good bacteria in the intestines. Adding these foods to your diet can help keep everything happy and moving regularly.
If you feel you need a probiotic supplement feel free to stop by and purchase one of these products from us at any time. If you aren’t sure if you need a probiotic, or if you feel your tummy troubles might be something more then just a flora imbalance, please give us a call to book an appointment. One of our capable naturopaths can steer you to the best possible supplements to help you regain or maintain optimum digestion, immunity and vitality.
Theresa RolletMcWilliams, DiHom
(student of Natural Nutrition)