Our gut microbiome is a collection of bacteria that lives in the digestive tract. A healthy balance of gut bacteria is crucial our health and well-being. If an imbalance is present, individuals can be more susceptible to illness and disease. In order to achieve a healthy gut, there needs to be diversity in the types of gut microbes present.
Today, more and more people are deciding to take probiotics in an attempt to improve their gut microbiome, manage lower gastrointestinal symptoms and optimise overall health and well-being. Probiotics are defined as live microorganisms, which when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit to the host. They can be consumed in different forms such as capsules, sachets, drinks and fermented foods including sauerkraut, kefir and yoghurts.
The issue is, there are so many different types of probiotics to choose from. So what should we be looking for?
When it comes to probiotics, there are many factors determining the response a person will have to treatment. These include probiotic strain(s), dose and mode of administration (capsules, food and sachets), the health status of the person, their diet and medications.
Current research is looking into the role of specific probiotics in managing particular lower gastrointestinal symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating/distension and diarrhoea-predominant IBS. If you suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), it’s recommended you speak with your gastroenterologist or dietitian to determine if a specific strain(s) would be better suited to improving your gastrointestinal symptoms and quality of life.
Here are three handy tips to remember when deciding on a probiotic:
- VARIETY: Looks for a broad spectrum probiotic that has >10 different strains of microorganisms
- DOSE: Look for the Colony Forming Units (CFUs) – this will tell you how much bacteria you are receiving in each dose. Most doses will range from 1 million to 100 billion. It is always better to go for higher CFUs as not all bacteria survive when travelling through the gastrointestinal tract.
- FREQUENCY: Probiotics must be taken on a regular basis for a reasonable period of time (at least one month). Regular consumption is important because probiotic strains are transient and will generally be washed out within days.
Hungin AP, Mulligan C, Pot B, Whorwell P, Agréus L, Fracasso P, et al. Systematic review: probiotics in the management of lower gastrointestinal symptoms in clinical practice — an evidence-based international guide. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2013 Oct;38(8):864-86
FAO/WHO Working Group. Guidelines for the evaluation of probiotics in food. Report of a joint FAO/WHO working group on drafting guidelines from the evaluation of probiotics in food. London, Ontario, Canada 2001.