Usually, we imagine bacteria as germs which cause disease. However, our bodies are full of bacteria, both good and bad. In fact, There are as many bacterial strains and microbes as there are human cells within each of us. Probiotics are beneficial, live bacteria that reside in the digestive system. They are considered positive or “helpful” bacteria because they keep our guts healthy and operating smoothly. These helpful gut flora protect bacteria from adhering to our gastrointestinal (gut) walls, assist in digesting fiber, and produce both vitamin K and biotin.
Our microbial composition can change overnight depending on our diet. As expected, a wholesome diet improves beneficial bacteria and vice versa. Acute stress caused by something as simple as lack of sleep or as serious as burns or surgery, can change your microbiome for the worse.
Gut flora and weight
High sugar diets selectively support bacteria that cause obesity. Sugar increases inflammation, which in turn provokes weight gain. Sugar decreases bifidobacterium – the positive bacterial strain known for supporting weight loss. Some microbiota even produce CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), which positively influences body composition. CLA prevents weight gain by regulating energy expenditure and lipolysis.
When the positive microbiota digest fiber, they produce butyrate. Butyrate increases both the levels of our satiety hormone leptin and insulin sensitivity. Naturally, these processes both cause increased fat loss over time.
When we kill off healthy bacteria in our guts by drinking diet sodas, taking antibiotics, smoking or failing to provide adequate foods to nourish these good bacteria, we can take over-the-counter probiotics to replace them. These supplemental probiotics ensure our bodies work as they should, without bloat, gassiness or intestinal issues.
Types of Probiotics
A great variety of bacteria are classified as probiotics, and each of these has various benefits, with most coming from one of two groups:
Lactobacillus. This is the most common probiotic. We find it in yogurt and other fermented foods. A variety of strains can help with diarrhea and the digestion of lactose, or milk sugars.
Bifidobacterium. These ease the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and, according to a number of studies, can aid in weight management.
Prebiotics are found within the fibrous membrane of some plants and grains, and provide food for probiotics, helping them grow in numbers. Examples of foods which offer prebiotics include: artichokes, asparagus, bananas, barley, berries, chicory, garlic, legumes, oats, onions and certain vegetables. Other prebiotic fibers include galactooligosaccharides, fructooligosaccharides, oligofructose, chicory fiber and inulin. Interestingly, babies receive prebiotics from their mom’s milk, thus improving the probiotic flora population in their guts.
Can I take prebiotics and probiotics together?
Yes, ideally you should take them together, as probiotics can’t survive without prebiotics. One should be careful not to overdo it, especially if they’re new to supplementation: too many prebiotics can lead to gas and/or bloating. It is recommended to start with half a dose so that your gut can adapt, and then increase after several days.
Do prebiotics and probiotics work?
Yes!!! Some common conditions improved by probiotics include irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), infectious diarrhea (diarrhea caused by parasites, viruses or bacteria) conditions caused by taking antibiotics (vaginal and urinary health), eczema, psoriasis, oral health and even emotional well-being.
How long do they take to work?
Probiotics work differently for everyone! It depends on one’s general health, existing bacteria, as well as the variety and wholesome nature of the foods they eat. Symptoms should improve within one to 14 days.
If a probiotic does not work, there may be several reasons:
- Too few CFUs. If the dose is too low, it may not work.
- You are taking the wrong strain, or only one strain, and it’s not the correct strain for your issue. Not every strain works for every issue, and so the strain must be matched to the symptom.
- The quality of the strain will matter. Low quality = lesser benefits.
- Improper storage. Some probiotics need refrigeration (Losers’ Chews do not require refrigeration). All can be affected by sunlight, heat and humidity.
- Survival. Probiotics are unfortunately quite fragile and can easily die in a short period of time after manufacture. Then, even if they do survive the manufacturing process, they must survive stomach acid to reach the gut - no small feat!
What to look for:
When searching for the right probiotic formula for you, be sure to look for the following:
- Choose a supplement that combines prebiotics with probiotics. If you take probiotics, but don’t also provide the food for those probiotics to survive, they’re less likely to yield significant benefits.
- Do your research and find the supplement that offers the specific strain you need OR, a wide spectrum of strains. There is no disadvantage in taking extra strains: they all do a body good!
- Check the dose in CFUs (this should be over 15 billion to be effective). Do not fall for probiotics foods which offer “1 billion CFUs for three servings”.
- Check the expiry date. This is important, as there is no point in taking probiotics that may already be dead.