Probiotics are live bacteria ingested through foods that are fermented or taken as supplements. Though we think of bacteria as dirty and harmful, there is quickly growing strong scientific evidence that suggests that we benefit greatly from these particular strains of “healthy” bacteria!
If you have looked at the back of a probiotic bottle or container of yogurt, you may have wondered what these words such as Bacillus laterosporus or Lactobacillus acidophilus mean. These are the strain of different kinds of bacteria that are in the probiotic. Not all bacteria are the same and each strain supports your body in different ways. For example, while Bacillus laterosporus fights many harmful organisms including candida, Bifidobacterium breve is important for colon health, especially after taking antibiotics. Taking a look at the strains listed on your probiotic may help you or your doctor determine which supplement is most beneficial for you.
Many are under the assumption that probiotics are only used to ease digestive distress, but that is only scratching the surface of what these microorganisms are capable of! Research on probiotics has shown promising results in the treatment or prevention of, but not limited to, irritable bowel syndrome, H. pylori, vaginal infections, urinary tract infections, ulcerative colitis, and even cold and flu viruses!
Wait – something in my gut can keep me from getting a cold? Research points to yes. One double-blind study performed on 198 college students assessed the effect that a probiotic given to half of the group had on colds versus placebos given to the other students. Results showed that while all students caught colds at around the same time, those who took the probiotic had lower reported severity, recovered several days quicker, and missed 50% less days of school. So why does this work? When we have a higher count of probiotic bacteria in our gut (we have 100 trillion bacteria in our bodies, most of which live in our guts), the cold-causing pathogenic bacteria has a harder time making it through our intestinal tract without being met by good bacteria that keep the pathogens from entering into the bloodstream.
Clinically, I’ve found that people have varying responses to probiotics. For some, they are instantly life changing. For others, they don’t seem to make a dent in any symptom. Trying different brands and strains of probiotic supplements may yield different results, so try to keep that in mind if you buy a probiotic supplement. It may take some experimentation to find the one that’s best for you! In addition, loading up on kombucha for the probiotic benefits might not be the best strategy either. I’ve has a few cases where stopping the consumption of fermented foods caused a betterment of digestive symptoms. There’s no one-size-fits-all in naturopathic medicine and probiotic foods and supplements are the perfect example of that.
Authored by: Ellen Davenport and Kelly Simms