Probiotics – something beyond gut health?
Simply implying ‘earlier than life’, probiotics technically refer to the good bacteria found in your gut.
Fun fact: Probiotics are not just in your gut. Although the largest number of probiotics is found in the colon (intestine), billions of their family members also live in other parts of our body.
Coming to our gut, good bacteria are the heroes who displace their villainous counterparts and influence our overall health, metabolism and body composition – sort of like a Batman, Joker and Gotham City type-situation. (Sometimes, truly the hero we don’t deserve, but the hero we definitely need 😉 )
Are prebiotics and probiotics similar?
Probiotics are those (good) bacteria which provide numerous health benefits, starting with improving your gut.
Fact: Probiotics are often mistaken as prebiotics. The latter are carbs, often dietary fibres that feed the probiotics already in your gut.
Probiotics are often taken as supplements that are to help colonize your gut with good microorganisms. Some popular probiotic foods include yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh, and kimchi.
Fun Fact: The reason your mom gives you a spoon of yogurt before an interview, or an exam, is because your gut is imbalanced due to the stress and anxiety. Thus, having a spoon of probiotic-rich yogurt helps calm your nerves as well as balance out the bacteria situation in your stomach. Isn’t traditional wisdom really wonderful?
What is Synbiotics? Are they a form of probiotics?
Pair a prebiotic and a probiotic into one. Ta-da! The resulting supplement combination is a Synbiotics. (Disclaimer: Please do not try this at home, we have a fix for you 😉 )
Products that contain both prebiotics and probiotics are referred to as Synbiotics. These products usually combine friendly bacteria along with some food for the bacteria to eat (the prebiotics), all in one supplement. This ensures the good bacteria flourishes in your gut. Everyone loves food – including your gut bacteria!
That being said, how do we identify a good probiotic supplement?
We can be quite nerdy, let’s jump into the technicalities, to understand how to identify a probiotic like a PRO!
The Syllable Game:
The most common probiotic bacteria are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria. Other common kinds are Saccharomyces, Streptococcus, Enterococcus, Escherichia, and Bacillus. Now each genus has different species, and each species has many strains.
So, it goes like: Genus > Species > Strains
Coming to the supplement labels, probiotics are identified by their specific strain. This includes the Genus, Species and Subspecies (if any). They also have a specific letter-number strain code which designates the lab in which they were constructed.
Do all probiotics address a common health problem?
Not really. That’s a little like saying all vitamins address the same deficiency. Different probiotics have been found to address different health conditions. Thus, choosing the right type — or types — of probiotics becomes really important.
Some supplements, known as broad-spectrum probiotics or multi-probiotics, combine different species in the same product. Probiotics are important for the gut. That has been fit into our brain since Primary school.
But does the story end there?
We could go on and on and on (and on) about the health benefits of probiotics! They are absolutely multi-functional when it comes to being the support system of your health. (And on!!)
Probiotics provide an extra layer of strength. They are the soldiers in your intestinal tract which combat pathogens and enhance immunity. The list doesn’t end here.
Helps Body Functions:
Probiotics aid digestion and absorption of nutrients. They also produce the variety of vitamins like Vitamin B12, Vitamin K and absorb minerals like Calcium, Iron, Zinc
Our friendly neighborhood Superhero helps eliminate toxins and prevent allergies.
Probiotics turn fibres into short-chain fats like butyrate, propionate, and acetate. These feed your gut wall and perform numerous metabolic functions.
These short-chain fats also stimulate your immune system and strengthen your gut wall.
Doesn’t sound like a big deal, right? Let’s magnify further!
The actions of the short-chain fats can help prevent unwanted substances, like toxins, from entering your body and provoking an immune response – like fever, allergies etc.
There is also evidence to suggest that probiotic supplements can help cure antibiotic-associated diarrhoea.
What is antibiotic associated diarrhoea?
When people take antibiotics, especially for long periods of time, they often experience diarrhoea, even long after the infection has been eradicated.
Antibiotics – whose side are you on!?
There’s no question that antibiotics help treat your bacterial infections. However, antibiotics kill many of the natural bacteria in your gut. This shifts your gut balance. The by-product of this is that harmful bacteria seize the opportunity and begin to thrive. Thus, probiotic supplements also help cure antibiotic-associated diarrhoea.
IBS and Probiotics:
Probiotics may also help combat irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a common digestive disorder. It reduces gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, and other symptoms.
Research also indicates that multi-strain probiotic supplements seem to bring about the most IBS improvements, especially when taken for longer than 8 weeks.
Probiotics beyond the gut:
In our earlier blog, we spoke about what causes gut imbalance and how it manifests into your routine in the form of lifestyle issues. Extending that study, we can say that probiotics come with many other benefits other than pure gut benefits.
Inflammation: Probiotics reduce systemic inflammation, a leading driver of many diseases.
Depression and Anxiety: The probiotic strains Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterium longum have been shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression in people with clinical depression.
Blood Cholesterol: Several probiotics have been shown to lower total and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, although the research remains controversial.
Blood Pressure: Probiotics may also cause modest reductions in blood pressure
Immune Function: Several probiotic strains may enhance immune function, possibly leading to a reduced risk of infections, including those that cause the common cold
Skin Health: Evidence says that probiotics can be useful for acne, rosacea, and eczema, as well as other skin disorders
COVID-19 and Probiotics
The gut microbiome is the variety of bacteria which flourishes in our intestine. Multiple researchers have proposed that using probiotic supplementation and a good nutrition routine to improve this gut microbiome may be a healthy strategy to fight and treat an infection with the virus (SARS-CoV-2) that causes COVID-19. The COVID-19 has been studied and known to damage the body’s immune defence. It does this through a “cytokine storm”. This implies a storm of excessive cytokines which are inflammatory in nature. This is understood to be the main cause of deteriorating health and even has been fatal.
In our earlier blog on Gut Health, we have also emphasised on how intestinal flora has shown its benefits in strengthening the immune system and fighting inflammation. It’s mainly because of this, that researchers think probiotic supplements may help speed recovery from coronavirus, as it can inhibit or limit this “cytokine storm”.
Individuals with COVID-19 have reported symptoms related to the gastrointestinal tract, such as diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and loss of appetite. This has also helped researchers form a theory that there’s a chance that probiotics could help prevent the Coronavirus. Their theory is that probiotics may block the ACE Receptor (Angiotensin-converting enzyme) where the pathogen enters the body and invades the gastrointestinal cells.
There’s another theorised link between COVID-19 and probiotics. It involves the “gut-lung axis.”
As the name suggests, this is a system of communication and interaction between the gut and lung tissues. This is carried out via the microorganisms of the human microbiome.
There are studies which link the imbalances of the intestinal flora to lung diseases and respiratory tract infections. Researchers have also theorised that the correction of those imbalances may promote optimum lung health, which by extension, might help guard against pathogens like SARS-CoV-2.
Yet another research suggests that probiotic supplementation may promote antiviral activity in general. This can lead to improved immune, pulmonary, and anti-inflammatory response that might help clear the SARS-CoV-2 infection.
Note: All these hypotheses are still theoretical. Researchers say further studies are needed to confirm them.
How do we choose a good probiotic?
Practically, there is a wide range of probiotic supplements available. It frankly can be rather gut-boggling (Sorry, the only thing probiotics lack is the inability to destroy the infinite number of puns its name allows 😉 )
But yes, we are with you. How do we narrow it down to the right probiotic supplement? The choice can be difficult.
Some companies take advantage of the buzz around probiotics to sell supplements they label as probiotic and make claims that aren’t backed by evidence.
What should you look for?
Here’s a quick checklist for the next supplement-shopping spree you go on! (Yes, we know that’s not a thing. But we saw a chance for alliteration and we took it!)
A good probiotic supplement should:
– Have variety of strains
– Combine probiotics with prebiotics
– Not promise false claims
– Have additional gut-friendly ingredients
Important Note: Probiotics take some time to make colonies of bacteria in your stomach. It is normal to experience bloating and gas initially while they adjust to your stomach environment.
What’s the take on consuming probiotics naturally?
Although supplements work wonders, you must work on multiplying the quantity of healthy bacteria by increasing your intake of fermented foods such as Idli, Dosa, Yogurt, Raw Cabbage, cultured vegetables, pickles and kombucha.
The process of fermentation naturally enhances the “good bacteria”.
Get enough of fibre (prebiotics) in your food daily as it is necessary to build strong probiotic colonies in your intestines.
Naturally build your probiotic balance:
– Set your curd with some raisins.
– Store cooked rice with some water in a clay pot and let it stay overnight. Consuming this in the morning is a natural way of flourishing the gut bacteria.
– Cut back on foods having processed sugar – it feeds the unhealthy bacteria in your gut.
– Eating home-cooked food to keep good bacteria bad bacteria ratio in place.
Who should consume a probiotic supplement?
You might have to take a probiotic supplement for these reasons:
– When taking antibiotics
– To improve your gut health
– To combat stress
– To protect your gut while traveling
– To improve your immune function
– When you’re with a cold or flu
– To treat health conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhoea, colitis, acne, and eczema.
You should consider a probiotic supplement if you face these conditions as well:
– Mood swings
– Low energy all day
When is the right time to consume a probiotic supplement?
Taking probiotic capsules on an empty stomach or at least an hour before a meal ensures they pass through the stomach quickly and reach the intestines in a good condition.
Remember: Combining them with meals makes them stay in the stomach for a longer period of time. This will cause the acids and other foods to destroy it. A high percentage of the good bacteria may die in this process. So, it should always be taken on an empty stomach.
Although negative effects are rare, probiotics itself have an extensive history of safe use, particularly in healthy people.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Probiotics can be found in both food and supplements. In terms of supplements, it’s always better to consult with your doctor before starting any probiotics.
Let’s begin to “gut” your gut feeling in sync!