Dr Tan “DT” here talking about all things health and wellness related. Even though most of my time is spent being a regular ‘doc’ in the community and teaching medical students – I get asked a lot about various topics relating to mindfulness, exercise, nutrition and supplements.
Remember, wellness is not just the absence of illness and disease, it is the active participation in health optimisation and prevention.
What exactly is a probiotic and how is it used?
The use of probiotics are ‘good’ bacteria and yeasts used for health benefits and have evolved dramatically over the last 30 years, from an understanding and historic use of naturally occurring strains in yoghurts, kafir and fresh kimchi/sauerkraut (1) to now thousands of commercially available supplements.
Remember, probiotics are different to prebiotics which are the indigestible fibres (in various fruits, veggies, grains) that they feed off.
So, are probiotics ‘good’ for you?
Yes! I am always suggesting that it’s a great idea to include some fermented food products in your diet, according to your tastes and needs. Always make sure it’s a good source of natural ‘live probiotics – my personal fave is kimchi, which is tasty, spicy and great for digestive health(2).
But what about supplements?
Well, the range of health benefits from probiotic supplementation continues to be studied, from established roles in anti-biotic and infectious diarrhoea and respiratory infections (3) to emerging roles in digestive health (IBS and inflammation), weight loss, and immune function(4). Their role in anxiety and depression management (5) and lipid/cholesterol profiles (6) is something I have been recently looking into a lot with my patients.
Supplements can be beneficial over food choices as they can provide a more specific, ‘targeted’ choice of probiotic based on your needs as well as having multi-strain products which promote more diversity in your gut.
Good probiotic supplements will also mean you can avoid certain allergens, additives and sweeteners that can be in many probiotic foods.
With so many different products available, the next question is of course which one should I take?
This depends on your needs and what you are looking for. For me, the choice of probiotic always starts with getting a high-quality product from a brand that stands by its goods with links to independent research and testing. This ensures you can compare what you are buying with the specific research for your probiotic needs.
Most products you will find contain Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Saccharomyces boulardii strains which are the most researched types and a good starting point. Always ensure the product contains information on the specific species and the quantity per dose – this should be in the billions as high numbers are needed to be both effective and survive the stomach acid environment – the quality of manufacturing affects this last part greatly.
What about spore-based probiotics?
Recently, there has been a significant focus on using more specific, targeted probiotic strains for specific disease conditions and also the exploration and use of new and novel microbe groups(7).
Spore-based forms of Bacillus species have recently gained a lot of attention as probiotics which are hardy and resistant to many of the harsh conditions within the GI tract. They appear to provide significant health benefits via a number of pathways including the promotion of growth of other healthy microbes and the suppression of pathogens (and their induced inflammatory response) in the intestinal mucosa(8). Spore-based probiotic supplementation has also been shown to reduce symptoms of “leaky gut syndrome” via its positive effects on gut endotoxins(9).
To really get the most out of your probiotics, get advice from a qualified professional familiar with nutrition and probiotics – they can also help track and monitor your progress!
Wishing you all the best on your gut health journey!
Dr Leon Tan is a general practitioner with specialist interests in holistic health care and integrative medicine. He is also a lecturer and clinical tutor for Melbourne and Monash University medical schools.
He is an active member at 5th Element Wellness and will be contributing as a specialist consultant on topics related to health and wellbeing on a regular basis.
- Health benefits of kimchi (Korean fermented vegetables) as a probiotic food Kun-Young Park 1 , Ji-Kang Jeong, Young-Eun Lee, James W Daily 3rd
- Using probiotics in clinical practice: Where are we now? A review of existing meta-analyses. Mariangela Rondanelli, Milena Anna Faliva,Simone Perna ,Attilio Giacosa,Gabriella Peroni &Anna Maria Castellazzi
- Gut microbiota’s effect on mental health: The gut-brain axis. Megan Clapp, 1 Nadia Aurora, 1 Lindsey Herrera, 1 Manisha Bhatia, 1 Emily Wilen, 1 and Sarah Wakefield 2
- The effects of probiotics on total cholesterol A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials Wang, Lang MN a ; Guo, Mao-Juan PhD b ; Gao, Qing MM b ; Yang, Jin-Feng MM c ; Yang, Lin MM b ; Pang, Xiao-Li PhD a ; Jiang, Xi-Juan PhD b,*
- Shaping the Future of Probiotics and Prebiotics. Marla Cunningham, M. Andrea Azcarate-Peril, Alan Barnard et
- Bacillus As Potential Probiotics: Status, Concerns, and Future Perspectives. Fouad M. F. Elshaghabee, 1 Namita Rokana, 2,* Rohini D. Gulhane, 2 Chetan Sharma, 2 and Harsh Panwar 2,*
- Oral spore-based probiotic supplementation was associated with reduced incidence of post-prandial dietary endotoxin, triglycerides, and disease risk biomarkers Brian K McFarlin, Andrea L Henning, Erin M Bowman, Melody A Gary, and Kimberly M Carbajal