5 Common Myths About Probiotics
With the rise in popularity (and research) in the field of gut health there has been one real winner - pharmaceutical companies, in particular those selling probiotics. It seems one easy solution to improve our gut health is to simply take a probiotic daily. With gut health being linked to many chronic diseases, depression, anxiety and even our weight is the answer as simple as taking a probiotic? In this article we will debunk some common myths around probiotics and provide you with the facts and answers you need before purchasing.
MYTH: Probiotics change your microbiome.
FACT: This is a big one (hence why it is the first point). Most of the time the bacteria found in a probiotic won’t actually take up residence or colonise in your gut, aka won’t actually change your naturally present microbiome. Does this mean it isn’t effective, not necessarily? As the bacteria from the probiotic pass through the gut they exert the benefits by interacting with immune cells, helping ferment indigestible carbohydrates and producing beneficial metabolites. So while the probiotic bacteria might not stick in our gut, we can still get transient benefits from taking them.
MYTH: Any probiotic will help.
FACT: Different bacterial strains have been research for different benefits. A probiotic supplement should be aligned with your specific condition e.g. antibiotics use, diarrhoea, constipation, poor immunity. It is important when taking a probiotic supplement that you take one that has been proven to be effective for the condition in which you require it, or to boost the strains you are lacking in.
MYTH: Probiotics must be refrigerated to be effective
FACT: Some probiotics certainly do need refrigeration but due to advancements in technology and processing companies are now able to create shelf stable probiotics. Shelf stable probiotics are sealed in capsules which protect them from external moisture. When these probiotics come into contact with moisture (in our bodies) the dormant bacteria come to life again. Many companies have had their probiotics independently tested to ensure the bacteria remains alive. To better understand whether your probiotic needs to be refrigerated or can be kept on the shelf read the label. The company will usually state if it is safe and can be kept alive on the shelf. Shelf stable probiotics are great for those who travel or those who tend to forget to take them, I find keeping a bottle at the office and at home increases the likelihood of consumption!
MYTH: The more strains and higher strength the better.
FACT: Companies are reaching for the bigger = better approach here. If we pack the pill with the most strains and the most bacteria CFU (colony forming units) then surely that means a better product, and more sales (or they can charge more for the product). However in this case, bigger isn’t always better. Some probiotic strains actually work best in isolation while others work best in combination, it all depends on the strains you are looking at. Similarly, some strains work best at lower doses with no improvements at higher strengths. It all comes down to the condition or symptoms and the strains which have proven efficacy for that condition.
MYTH: All fermented foods have live bacteria.
FACT: Now fermented foods are typically one you do want to go with the refrigerated variety, shelf stable here typically means pasteurised and heat treated (aka dead bugs). The amount of live bacteria in a fermented food comes down to the individual product and the fermentation environment. For example drinks like kombucha cannot be fermented for too long as they become alcoholic with fermentation, thus wouldn’t be able to be sold on store shelves in the same manner. Kimchi or sauerkraut is often pasteurised to increase shelf life and product stability and many yoghurt’s don’t contain live cultures at all. When looking for fermented foods firstly look to brands you know and trust, secondly, read the labels. Look for products that have live cultures in their ingredients list and even better brands that specify the strains they are adding. Some traditional fermented foods like kimchi won’t state live cultures because the product has been naturally fermented with time, again just make sure you trust the brand and that the products have had the adequate time for fermentation.
MYTH: Everyone should take a probiotic.
FACT: For a healthy individual a diet high in fibre, with a large variety of plant foods and fermented foods like kimchi, kombucha, yoghurt, kefir or tempeh, probiotics may not be required. A healthy gut is one with a diverse range of bacteria and our diet is one of the best ways we can increase the microbial diversity of our gut. Aim to consume at least 10-15 different plant foods each day to provide your gut with a variety of fibres to feed a variety of bugs plus add at least one source of fermented foods daily. Avoid smoking, manage stress levels, and include regular exercise and your gut health will likely flourish without the need for supplementation. Supplementation should be left for those who have symptoms and conditions which need treating and have proven strains of bacteria to support their treatment.
So how do you know if you need a probiotic and which one to take? Speak to a qualified health care professional who is current in research on probiotics and gut health. I am available at my clinic in Bondi, Sydney or alternatively I offer Skype consultations to those worldwide. A consultation will involve an assessment of your current symptoms, conditions, and diet. I am also able to include individualised microbiome testing so we can see what strains are suffering in your gut to further provide an individualised approach to gut health. For Skype consultations book online here or for Bondi consultations book online here.
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