Updated: Feb 13, 2020
Probiotics...... where do I start? Well... in the gut I guess!
There are about as many probiotic products available as there are good bacteria in one capsule... OK maybe not quite that many but you catch my drift, there are LOTS of them to choose from.
Which one do I need? Do I choose a keep in the fridge or a fridge-free? Does price matter?
The answer is... it's complicated, but I'll break it down for you.
First of all, what is a probiotic and why do I need them?
A probiotic is any one of dozens of strains of good bacteria that we need to keep us healthy by either keeping the bad guys in check, helping us make or absorb some nutrients or by helping us build up our immune systems. Probiotics live in more than just our gut, they are found in every single part of our digestive system, mouth throat, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, as well as our noses and in the vagina. When babies are born via natural birth, they get a large dose of probiotics from Mum. Otherwise, there are lots of probiotic supplements for babies as well if born by cesarean.
Here is where it gets a little complicated...
Because different strains live in different areas of the body and do different things, it may not be suitable for you to take a general gut health probiotic if you are specifically trying to treat IBS, or thrush, or whatever you are treating. They won’t harm you, but they aren't going to act where you need them to, so you've just wasted your money and you may be unwilling to try something else because the first ones didn't work.
Have you ever collected a prescription of antibiotics only to be recommended a probiotic while you take them? This is because antibiotics destroy the probiotics (good guys) as well as the infection (bad guys). Taking Probiotics when you are taking antibiotics means fewer side effects from the antibiotics (diarrhea, and nausea) as well as reducing the impact of the antibiotics on the health of your gut. Without probiotics with our antibiotics, it can take up to 7 years to replenish a healthy gut environment and can make us more prone to future infections.
Are fridge only products better than fridge-free?
Not necessarily. Fridge free (or shelf-stable as they are also called) probiotics just means they are freeze-dried.... just like yeast. Once they reach the stomach, they are activated by stomach acid and they then make their way to the gut to live happily. Fridge free is great for traveling and most brands have products available to suit lots of different conditions; IBS, thrush, Children, general gut health, etc.... The extra high strength products are always kept in the fridge, these are used for people who are very run down in the short term, and chronic illnesses.
Does price matter?
Not really, there are inexpensive probiotics on the market that are great for general gut health, while they are generally lower in strength or number of strains as the more expensive brands, they are still good to use rather than having none at all. For more specific health issues then the probiotic you need will probably be a little more expensive.
What conditions can probiotics treat?
You might be very surprised (I know I was) to learn about the many and varied conditions that probiotics can help in treating. Just to name a few:
Irritable bowel syndrome
Coeliac disease (double-check gluten-free, NOT no added gluten)
Food intolerance and allergies of all kinds
Recurrence of bladder infections
Failure to thrive
Probiotics also help us make vitamin K, and most of the B vitamins, and improve absorption and circulation of Vitamin D.
How long should I take them for?
This is going to depend a lot on you as an individual and why you started taking them, as well as the severity and duration of symptoms.
For a healthy individual who is just a little run down or just wants a top-up, 1-3 months should be enough to rebuild healthy colonies of gut bacteria.
For people treating ongoing conditions or very severe symptoms; up to 6 months or more could be required. The idea of taking probiotics is to rebuild your own colonies rather than relying on supplements.
If you have any questions or would like to discuss how probiotics could help you or a member of your family, please call into the pharmacy and ask for me, Teresa.
Written by Theresa, Naturopath at Valley Road Pharmacy.