What Are Probiotics and Should I Be Taking a Probiotic Supplement?

What Are Probiotics and Should I Be Taking a Probiotic Supplement?

What Are Probiotics and Should I Be Taking a Probiotic Supplement?

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are live microorganisms that provide health benefits when consumed, mainly by supporting the gut microbiome – that’s the community of trillions of microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, fungi and protozoa, that live in the gut. 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.

Do I need a probiotic supplement?

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.

Don’t take probiotics if…

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.

Too much of a good thing?

It is possible to overdo it on probiotics. Excessive levels of bacteria, whether ‘good’ bacteria or ‘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.

Probiotics & 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”.

Probiotic following a GI bug like traveller’s diarrhoea

Probiotics may help to restore the natural balance of bacteria in your gut when it’s been disrupted by a GI (gastrointestinal) illness, such as traveller’s diarrhoea – particularly when taking certain strains, including Bifidobacterium bifidum, Lactobacillus acidophilus and Saccharomyces boulardii.

How to get probiotics from food

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.


3 Tips When Choosing Probiotics

  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. There are so many different types of probiotic supplements, with different strains of bacteria and varying CFUs (Colony Forming Units) used to measure the amount of a particular bacteria), so it can be hard to know which one (if any) is right for you. Seeking personalised advice from a nutritionist can help clear things up and point you in the right direction.


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