We’re doing a deep dive into the world of fermented foods and what you should know about probiotics so you can start reaping the benefits from these microorganisms today!
Probiotics have the potential to improve your digestive, cardiovascular, immune, and mental health as well as your metabolism and skin. It almost sounds too good to be true, right? Fortunately for us, there’s enough research to prove it.
Adding probiotics into your routine can be an amazing way to improve your health and wellness. But before doing so, it’s important to know the who, what, where, when, and why.
Should I be taking a probiotic? How do I know if it’s working? Is there ever an indication for not taking probiotics? Here we’ll discuss it all!
What Are Probiotics?
The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics defines probiotics as, “live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host”(1). Now let’s discuss what that means.
The host is you or I – the human taking or consuming the probiotics.
Now those microorganisms mentioned are just live bacteria that we consume. This may be in the form of a food item or a supplement. While you might traditionally think of an infection or something bad when you hear the word bacteria, here we’re actually talking about good bacteria.
These good bacteria, or probiotics, work their magic in the colon. In order for them to have a positive impact on our health, they must first make it past the stomach. Next, through the small intestine before reaching the desired location.
We also need to make sure we’re consuming the probiotic in adequate amounts. Every strain must be studied in relation to its dose effectiveness (2).
Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Synbiotics
When discussing probiotics, it’s important to understand prebiotics and synbiotics as well.
In simple terms, prebiotics essentially feed the good bacteria in your gut. They are the non-digestible components of food that help desirable microorganisms grow and thrive (3). For example, inulin, fructooligosaccharides (FOS), galactooligosaccharides (GOS), beta-glucan, oligofructose, and xylooligosaccharides (XOS), are all examples of prebiotics. They can be found in fibrous fruits and vegetables such as asparagus, bananas, oats, onions, and apples as well as many others (4).
How To Interpret Probiotic Names
Before we really get down to specifics here, we need to know what exactly we’re referring to when we break down the components of probiotics. There are three parts to every probiotic – first comes the genus, followed by the species, and then the strain.
For example, there’s a probiotic called Lactobacillus plantarum SD-LPLDL-UK. Within this probiotic, Lactobacillus is the genus, plantarum is the species and SD-LPLDL-UK is the strain.
Top Probiotic Health Benefits
Now that we know what probiotics are, let’s discuss why we would even want to consume them in the first place.
While there are quite a few variations of microorganisms that can be considered probiotics, Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are two of the most common (6).
One of the most well-known species of Lactobacillus is the acidophilus species. This particular species has been associated with optimal immune, vaginal, gut, digestive, and immune health (7).
Other strains of Lactobacillus have also been shown to improve atopic dermatitis, pediatric acute infectious diarrhea, antibiotic-associated diarrhea, IBS, hypercholesterolemia, and even obesity (8).
Within the Bifidobacterium genus, a plethora of species have been identified for their potential health benefits as well (9).
Generally speaking, the main function of Bifidobacterium is to digest fiber and complex carbohydrates that we generally cannot digest on our own. Remember that prebiotics we mentioned earlier? That’s exactly what we’re referring to here!
Additionally, Bifidobacterium has been tied to quite a few health benefits. It’s been proven to aid cardiovascular health and digestive health. Plus, it has been shown to reduce weight gain and chances of developing type 2 diabetes mellitus in adults (10), (11), (12). It has even been shown to improve immune function in infants (13).
The particular genus we’re discussing has also been associated with reduced symptoms of IBS and reduced inflammation. This was particularly prevalent in those with chronic fatigue syndrome, IBD, ulcerative colitis, and psoriasis (14), (15), (16).
Lastly, it has been associated with improved symptoms of psychological distress (17). Now that we’ve got the basics of probiotics down, let’s switch gears and discuss fermentation!
What Does It Mean To Be Fermented?
The fermentation of food is one of the oldest techniques for food preservation. Fermented foods go through a process called lactofermentation. This is where natural bacteria feed on the sugar and starch present in the food item, which results in the creation of lactic acid.
The creation of lactic acid helps preserve the food item and produces various nutrients such as enzymes, B vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, and good bacteria.
Are Fermented Foods Probiotics?
The technical answer to this question is no.
Yes, various fermented food items do contain live microorganisms. And yes, they have been clinically proven to benefit your microbiota. But the difference here is that they do not necessarily fit the definition of a true probiotic (18), (19), (20).
In order for living microorganisms to be considered a probiotic, they need to be clinically proven to confer health benefits when consumed in a certain amount. Oftentimes, food products do not contain the exact strain or amount needed to provide such benefits.
So What’s The Deal With Probiotic Supplements?
There are quite a few indications for the use of probiotic supplements. This includes benefits for digestive, skin, and even heart health. Scientists have also been researching the potential of probiotics in preventing and treating disease!
What Probiotics Should I Take?
When contemplating a probiotic, there are quite a few components to consider. You need to consider the purpose of the probiotic, the bacteria strains included, the amount that is taken, and the frequency of supplementation in addition to any contraindications that may be present. The best way to navigate this process is to work with your Registered Dietitian or doctor. They’ll be able to consider your goals in the context of your health and point you in the right direction.
We recommend Seed’s Daily Synbiotic (probiotics + prebiotics) to many of our clients. They’ve been shown to support several markers for digestive health, cardiovascular health, and dermatological health in 23 strain-specific human clinical studies (published in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, Scientific Reports (Nature), and JAMA Dermatology. They’re all indexed in PubMed, the central database for life science journal literature at the National Institute of Health.
They have a patented algae microsphere delivery system that ensures the most sensitive strains make it through digestion and into the colon. In addition, the probiotic strains they use are unique to Seed and not found in yogurt, fermented foods, or “probiotic’ beverages. Plus, they’re free from the 12 classes of allergens.
I’ve personally enjoyed using Seed probiotics for about a year! In addition, we’ve used them as part of our routine plans for our clients at Nutrition Stripped Wellness. As you know, we only partner with brands we support and respect. Seed is one of those brands and I think you’ll enjoy their products as well!
Common Probiotic Myths
Probiotics have never been as popular as they are today. Unfortunately, with popularity comes rumors. New research is emerging, new probiotic products are popping up daily and more and more consumers are getting on board.
Because of this, there are quite a few probiotic myths circling around. So let’s tackle some of the most common ones.
The More, The Better
Often times people assume that in order to get the most out of their probiotics, they need to consume the largest amount possible. This isn’t necessarily the case.
Probiotics don’t need to colonize (take up permanent residence) in your gut to work. Seed probiotic strains are transient microbes. That means they journey through your colon (where the majority of your microbiome resides), to activate systemic benefits through programmed interactions with your existing bacteria and your body (their host). That’s why the continuous, daily intake is important.
Another reason why we love Seed is that their Daily Synbiotic consists of clinically-verified dosages of both probiotics (24 strains) and prebiotics. This means the dosage amount of each strain and the prebiotic compound is confirmed via clinically-validated data. And when you add it all together, your daily dose fills 2 capsules!
Probiotics Are Only Good For Digestion
Based on all of the research we just discussed, this one clearly isn’t true. Probiotics have various health benefits outside of improved digestion!
When nurturing our GI system, we undoubtedly nurture other parts of the body as well. From improved skin to cardiovascular health, probiotics have a wide variety of health benefits.
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I would love to hear about your experience with probiotics! What works for you? What have you tried that didn’t work so well?
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