Probiotics and Prebiotics
Probiotics are living microorganisms made up of “good bacteria” and yeasts. They are beneficial for our bodies when present in adequate amounts because they help our gut perform the functions it needs to.
Prebiotics are foods intended to provide a good diet for the microorganisms in our gut. Prebiotics are not digested by us but are broken down (otherwise known as fermented) by the microorganisms in out gut
Examples of sources of probiotics and prebiotics include supplements, some cheeses, yoghurt with live cultures, kombucha, kimchi, kefir, miso and fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut.
What are probiotics used for?
It is claimed that probiotics can help with a number of conditions. Without evidence from clinical trials to support all these claims I will discuss the conditions where they have been proven to help and will look in to new uses for a future post.
- Traveller’s diarrhoea
- Antibiotic-associated diarrhoea
- Acute infectious diarrhoea
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Inflammatory bowel disease (Ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease)
For all uses of probiotics the particular type used is very important. The most common types are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium and there are many strains of each of these types. Ask your Pharmacist or Naturopath for a product containing the strains that are beneficial for what you want it for. Taking the wrong strain would be like asking your accountant to cut your hair. It just wouldn’t be helpful.
Strength is another important factor. Products like Yakult do not contain enough probiotic to be useful. Generally products need to contain at least 10 billion CFU’s to be helpful.
This usually clears up after a few days and is commonly caused by eat/drinking something dodgy. Good hygiene can often prevent this condition.
There is evidence that probiotics can prevent this condition more so than treat it once you have it. If you are travelling taking a room temperature stable probiotic could help prevent this.
Taking a probiotic when using an antibiotic is only really recommended in people who have suffered with diarrhoea with antibiotics in the past or in frail, elderly people and maybe children.
As antibiotics kill the bad bacteria that we want them to kill as well as our good bacteria it may prove to be a good idea for people who suffer with gastrointestinal issues to also take a probiotic when taking antibiotics.
Probiotics for this use should be taken three hours away from antibiotics so that they are not killed by the antibiotic.
Acute infectious diarrhoea
People at risk of developing this would be wise to take a probiotic to help prevent it. Those at risk include the elderly, those undergoing chemotherapy and those with many medical conditions.
IBS, Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease
These conditions need to be diagnosed by a Doctor. Probiotics are helpful for those who suffer more with diarrhoea predominant symptoms. Once again the right strains need to be used.
Probiotics for general health
The jury is still out on this however there is growing evidence showing that if our gut is healthy then other aspects of our overall health are improved. This is an area that I am keen to keep an eye on and will talk about more soon.