Digestive health is becoming a hot topic in the world of nutrition! We are already aware that our gut bacteria help digest fibre, synthesize vitamin K and secrete antibacterial compounds. However, research is emerging that our intestinal microflora may do much more such as influence whether we become overweight or are susceptible to diabetes.

What can influence our gut health – probiotics! The issue is that choosing a probiotic isn’t straight forward as there many varieties and types on the market that have claims that promise to help with a variety of conditions. Let me help you sort through the confusion!

What are Probiotics?

Probiotics are bacteria (and a few yeasts) that can offer some health benefit when swallowed or applied to the body. Probiotics are identified by three names: their genus, species and strain. For example, Activia yogurt contains bifidobacterium (genus) lactis (species) DN-173 010 (strain). To know what a probiotic bacteria can do, you need to know its strain. You need to know the specifics of the strain as certain strains have been tested and shown to have an impact on certain symptoms.

Note: foods that contain probiotics “should” disclose the strain but don’t have to. However probiotic supplement “must” disclose the strain.

When a Probiotic Can Help

  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS): Symptoms such as chronic abdominal pain and discomfort, diarrhea, constipation that seem non-specific or random. The probiotic that may help with IBS is: Bifidobacterium infantis 35624. This probiotic can be found in Procter & Gambles Align. Research has demonstrated that this type of probiotic had some success in relieving IBS symptoms, although had less benefit among healthy people without IBS symptoms.
  • Vaginosis: The disturbance of the vaginal microflora with symptoms including g a thin white or grey discharge, odour, pain or itching. The probiotics that may help are Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1 and Lactobacillus reuteri RC-14. Antibiotics can deplete good bacteria that normally keep the vagina healthy, but these two strains can survive a trip through the intestinal tract and then migrate to the vagina. The probiotic RepHresh Pro-B contain these two strains.
  • Diarrhea from Antibiotics: Diarrhea can result from antibiotic usage ad they can disrupt the microbiome for several months before it recovers and returns to its previous state. Saccharomyces boulardii may help with this diarrhea as it’s a yeast and not a bacterium, so it isn’t killed by antibiotics. The evidence that other probiotics prevent diarrhea isn’t good. This yeast can be found in a supplement called Boulardii Max.

When Probiotics Don’t Help

  • Regular Yogurt: the bacteria added to yogurt (Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophiles) don’t survive passage through the GI tract and can’t have an effect in the large intestine. Of course the nutrition in yogurt still provides other health benefits, but don’t expect much from it’s probiotic content.
  • Travellers Diarrhea: Travellers can get hit by diarrhea after being exposed to bacteria their immune system hasn’t seen before, however the research has shown that probiotics haven’t been demonstrated to ward of this diarrhea.
  • Constipation: Research has shown that the strain Bifidobacterium lactis DN-173 010 (found in Activia yogurt) has little to no effect on constipation.

Bottom Line

Although more research is needed about  probiotics, thus far certain strains can help with conditions such as IBS, Vaginosis and Diarrhea from Antibiotics. Although they are unlikely to harm, you may not necessarily need to take a daily probiotic if you are a healthy individual without GI distress.

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