Diet & Nutrition

7 myths about probiotics, busted

Unless you’ve been living under a rock these last few years, you’ll know gut health is imperative to overall wellbeing. Probiotics, i.e. the good kind of bacteria that supports a healthy digestive system, have been touted as a wonderful support to a healthy diet and exercise, but the information out there can be overwhelming. We enlisted the expertise of naturopath Fin MacKenzie to break them down for us.

It’s more important than ever to look after our gut health to support immunity and overall mental and physical wellbeing.

While a healthy, fibre-rich diet and exercise are the best place to start, probiotics can also be a useful tool in helping to maintain a balanced gut flora.

A probiotic is defined as a live organism, bacteria or yeast which promotes health.

You might know them by common names like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium and have probably seen or heard of them in capsule or powder form.

Probiotics have been shown to have an antimicrobial effect in the gut while also promoting immune modulation, can help to support gut barrier function and may help to reduce allergic and inflammatory responses while at the same time improving resistance to pathogens.

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Taking a probiotic is as easy as popping a pill but here are seven myths about these powerful micro organisms, debunked.

1. I should only use them when I have an upset stomach

Probiotics don’t permanently colonise the gut so when you stop taking them, the beneficial bacteria they have introduced to your gut will usually disappear within two weeks.

Their benefit lies in allowing your own flora to be supported, which can have a therapeutic effect while they’re being consumed, and they can also confer benefits by supporting the growth of beneficial microbes in the longer term.

2. They didn’t fix my issues, therefore they don’t work

If any symptoms you experienced before probiotics remain or get worse, it’s a sign you may have small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, which is the presence of excessive bacteria in the small intestine and can be the culprit of chronic diarrhea, malabsorption, weight loss, nutritional deficiencies, and even osteoporosis.

It’s best to get this checked out by a health practitioner.

3. They cancel out your antibiotics

At some point in your life, a health practitioner has probably suggested that you take probiotics following a course of antibiotics, but the best way to ensure that antibiotics don’t get the chance to wipe out your good gut flora is to take probiotics at the same time.

They don’t cancel each other out and probiotics don’t hinder the effects of antibiotics as long as you allow a few hours between each or take a strain such as Saccharomyces Boulardii (SB), which is shelf stable, and a yeast, which means it’s not affected by antibiotics.

4. All probiotics are created equal

There is a difference between the probiotics available at a chemist and those prescribed by a health practitioner.

Practitioner-only products available from a naturopath or nutritionist are high quality human strains that have evidence of transient colonisation of the gut, compared to many supermarket or chemist brands which may not be quality tested for colony forming units, may not be human strains or might be strains with no evidence of benefit.

In some cases, you might be better off consuming some yoghurt, sauerkraut or kombucha, than paying for a probiotic off the shelf.

5. Their benefits are just for the gut

Probiotics are just as beneficial for mental as physical health.

Certain strains such as Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Bifidobacterium bifidum and Lactobacillus acidophilus have been shown to signal the production of certain neurotransmitters that affect mood and have also been shown to signal the vagus nerve to impact the brain. Remember, 80 percent of serotonin is produced in the gut, so a healthy gut is vital for a healthy brain.

6. Numbers don’t matter

There is a difference between one billion and ten billion. As hard as it is to wrap your head around numbers of that size, it can be a good idea to do some research into the amount of colony-forming units needed to achieve a clinical effect.

7. They’re just for adults

Probiotics can help kids, too.

Certain types of probiotic strains have been shown to reduce sick days among children as well as the amount and frequency of infections and viruses. Studies have shown that children have less cold and flu symptoms like fever (53 percent), coughing (41 percent), ear infection (56 percent) and days off (32 percent less) school or day care with probiotic supplementation.

Other studies have shown a reduction in antibiotic use in the short and long term (19 percent) for respiratory tract infections and fewer days with symptoms.

Infection rates for common diseases such as gastro were also lower with the use of probiotic strains including Lactobacillus fermentum, Bifidobacterium lactis and Lactobacillus rhamnosus.

Fin MacKenzie is a gut health expert at Endeavour College of Natural Health and the founder of Green Door Health.