Probiotics & Gut Health: Everything You Need To Know




People often assume that popping a probiotic supplement will resolve all your gut health issues, but there are many factors to consider when it comes to probiotics. We all have a microbiome inside our digestive tract – that’s the community of trillions of microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, fungi and protozoa, that live in the gut. Probiotics are live microorganisms that provide health benefits when consumed, mainly by supporting the gut microbiome.

Are probiotic supplements essential to health?

Probiotic supplements can be beneficial, particularly to some people who suffer with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), urinary tract infections and various gastrointestinal issues. However, probiotic supplements are not necessary for everyone.

Who should NOT take probiotics?

Probiotics should be completely avoided by certain groups of people including anyone who is severely immunocompromised (has a weakened immune system) or who has open wounds following major surgery, as well as those with pancreatitis.

Is it possible to overdo it on probiotics?

Yes, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. Excessive levels of bacteria, whether ‘good’ bacteria or pathogenic ‘bad’ bacteria, can cause problems. A common issue is small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) where bacteria multiply and colonise in the small intestine (rather than the large intestine, where we want them), which can result in uncomfortable bloating, nausea and abdominal pain.

Should you take a probiotic supplement while on antibiotics?

Some research has shown that probiotics during or after a course of antibiotics can have a positive effect on the gut. While everyone is different and more research is still needed, taking a probiotic supplement while on antibiotics may be helpful for supporting your gut, as antibiotics wipe out the good bacteria (as well as the bad ones!).
However, it’s important to wait a couple of hours after taking antibiotics before you take your probiotics, to avoid the two “cancelling each other out”.

Should you take a probiotic if you have had a GI (digestive) illness?

Probiotics may help to restore the natural balance of bacteria in your gut when it’s been disrupted by a GI illness. The issue is that there are so many different types of probiotics available, with varying strains of bacteria and all kinds of confusing terminology like CFUs (Colony Forming Unit used to measure the amount of a particular bacteria), so it can be hard to know which one is right for you, and which ones probably won’t make any difference.

Is it better to get probiotics from foods than from supplements? What are the best food sources?

Fermented foods are a great place to start when it comes to probiotics. These include foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, tempeh and live yoghurt, as well as drinks like kombucha and kefir. When incorporating these foods into your diet, start slowly and build up gradually to allow your gut to adjust and avoid symptoms like bloating and gas. Plain yoghurt is an easy option, just make sure it contains “live active cultures” as some manufacturing processes kill off the good bacteria.

If you take a probiotic should you also take a prebiotic and postbiotic supplement?

As with probiotics, taking prebiotic and postbiotic supplements are not necessary for everyone’s individual microbiomes – which are as unique as our fingerprints! Both probiotics and prebiotics can be obtained from the diet from the food sources below, and postbiotics will be produced naturally in our body when we eat these.

To summarise what these are:

Probiotic: Probiotics are foods or supplements that contain live microorganisms with beneficial bacteria for our microbiome.

Food sources: sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, tempeh, live yoghurt, kombucha, kefir

Prebiotic: Prebiotics are high-fibre foods that act as food for the good bacteria to feed off.

Food sources: onions, garlic, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, green bananas, whole grains and legumes

Postbiotic: When probiotics feed on prebiotics they naturally produce a healthy by-product called postbiotics. Postbiotics are formed through fermentation.

Food sources: Consume prebiotic and probiotic foods listed above, and your gut will produce postbiotics.

Can probiotics help with skin issues?

Research shows that probiotics can be helpful in both the prevention and the treatment of various skin conditions, including eczema, acne and dry skin. Some of the mechanisms by which probiotics work to support skin health include reducing inflammation, contributing to a healthy balance of gut bacteria (which affects our skin) and reducing oxidative stress.

I’m confused by the probiotic messages, any advice?

Navigating the world of probiotics can be tricky, and not all supplements are created equally – many of them won’t even survive the stomach acid and make it to your intestines, so it’s important to buy from brands that can prove their supplements can survive the journey through the gastrointestinal tract.

There are so many different types of probiotic supplements, with different strains of bacteria and varying CFUs (Colony Forming Unit used to measure the amount of a particular bacteria), so it can be hard to know which one (if any) is right for you.

Don’t just look for a high amount of bacteria – it’s not always a case of the more the merrier, but rather knowing which one is most suited to your unique needs. Seeking personalised advice from a nutritionist can help clear things up and point you in the right direction.

Probiotics aside, how do you eat to support gut health?

👉🏼 I eat a diverse range of plant-based fibre-rich foods that help to nourish the gut microbiome, such as vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, chickpeas and whole grains.

👉🏼 I aim to get as much colour on my plate as possible (think beetroot, carrots, spinach, blueberries) and limit the amount of ultra-processed foods that I consume.

👉🏼 I consume some fermented foods for the probiotic benefits, while also including prebiotic foods as these feed the probiotic bacteria and encourage it to multiply and thrive. Prebiotic foods include onions, garlic, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes and legumes.

👉🏼 Finally, I focus on stress management techniques like yoga and meditation as these have been proven to have a positive effect on gut health!



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