All About Probiotics


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Probiotics are a type of good bacteria that can provide you with a range of health benefits, when taken in the right amounts. These live microorganisms are said to restore the healthy balance of gut bacteria in your digestive system, regulating your stools and improving your overall immune system. In some cases, the addition of probiotics is said to help manage stress levels, as well as control anxiety and depression.

For those with digestive problems, probiotics are a popular remedy as they can help to restore the gut flora to a balanced state. If you’re healthy, probiotics are used more like an everyday vitamin. Today, it’s easier than ever to get a probiotic boost. Consuming Yakult, eating miso or kimchi, or snacking on yogurt with berries will all increase your probiotic intake.

Every country has a difference stance on probiotic usage, so it’s recommended to seek medical advice if you want to be absolutely sure that what you’re doing is right.

Find your perfect match

Probiotics come in many variations, and are classified into two main groups. Lactobacillus is the most common probiotic, found in dark chocolate and fermented food. This form of probiotic can help with diarrhoea, and has a positive impact on people who cannot digest lactose. Good alternatives to sugary yogurts are OptiBac Probiotics For Daily Wellbeing 30’S ($32 for 30 capsules, Guardian) and OptiBac Probiotics For Women 30’S ($55.30 for 30 capsules, Guardian) capsules. Proven to reach the female’s intimate area, the latter is safe to consume during menopause, pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Another common probiotic, Bifidobacterium, can be found in some dairy products like cheese, and works particularly well for those who suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Choosing the right type of probiotic helps you address your specific concerns, and optimises your overall health.

Pick the best supplement

You may have heard that the best probiotic supplement is the one with the highest bacterium count (measured as ColonyForming Units, or CFUs, and which can run into the billions). But researchers say that a more effective measurement is actually looking at the combination of different strains of bacteria each supplement includes.

For instance, when you’re looking for a new supplement, you should look for one with both L. acidophilus (which colonises the walls of the small intestines and supports nutrient absorption) and B. longum (the most common bacteria found in the digestive tracts of adults and which helps flush out toxins).

The different strains of probiotic bacteria become naturally concentrated in different areas of the digestive tract. But they all work together to produce a synergistic effect that benefits our health.

Keep your gut healthy

Probiotics are living organisms, and they need a good environment so they can flourish. Optimise your gut microbiome by eating real foods and avoiding processed foods. Also stay away from processed sugar, because sugar accelerates the growth of pathogenic microbes. Keeping your gut healthy in turn helps your probiotic supplement to work better.

Expect to bloat

This is a relatively uncommon issue, but some people have reported side effects such as a temporary increase in gas and bloating. This shouldn’t necessarily be a surprise as your body needs time to adjust to new internal conditions. Those taking yeast-based probiotics may experience constipation and increased thirst. Fret not, for these effects usually go away within a few days of continued intake. However, if you experience cognitive impairment and bloat that last longer than a few days, consult your doctor.

To reduce the likelihood of side effects, start slow. Begin with a low dose of probiotics and slowly up your intake to a full dosage within a few weeks of continued use.

Understand why yogurt isn’t best

While it is hard to deny that the yogurt in your fridge is indeed a good source of beneficial probiotics, it is certainly not the best. Today’s commercially mass-produced yogurt runs in contrast with the traditional method of making yogurt with cultured raw milk. It is highly likely that commercial yogurt is made from factory-farmed, pasteurised and homogenised milk that might even contain genetically engineered hormones and artificial sweeteners, all of which affect the organisms that are beneficial to our bodies. In fact, some clinical trials have shown that these commercial products contain too little good bacteria to offer the health benefits you seek. Store-bought yogurt may be a source of nutrients like calcium, magnesium and zinc, but is probably not your best choice if you’re looking to improve your gut health.

To be considered a probiotic food, yogurt should contain at least one billion active probiotic cultures of a recognised probiotic species per serving, according to Health Canada, and many commercial yogurts fall short of this.

Purchase from reputable brands

For probiotics, brands matter. For instance, OptiBac Probiotics invests in research and technology, specialises in live culture and is completely transparent on the make-up of their products, right down to the specific strain. So, you can rest assured that you’re getting your money’s worth of quality goods.

Check the expiry date

As mentioned earlier, probiotics are living microorganisms and thus will lose their potency after a certain period of time. They have a limited shelf life, so make sure you buy something that isn’t about to expire.

Dig into fermented foods

Live probiotic cultures are often found in fermented dairy products such as yogurt (choose a yogurt labelled “live and active cultures”) and kefir, a fermented milk drink that has a grainy consistency. Other fermented foods that are abundant in probiotics include kombucha, pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh and miso.

Remember prebiotics

Prebiotics are made up of non-digestible food elements that enable probiotics to flourish in your gut. Some examples of prebiotics include bananas, asparagus, garlic and onions. These fibres act as food and fuel for the probiotics to thrive on, resulting in more efficient probiotics that will help maintain a healthy environment in your body. Essentially, that extra push maximises the function of probiotics.

Consume them at the right time

Probiotics are best taken 15 to 30 minutes before breakfast. This has been shown to be a time when bacteria has the highest chance of survival due to the acidic nature of the gut. Avoid taking probiotics together with acidic foods such as soda or juices, or very hot foods and alcohol, because they can kill microbes and greatly defeat their functional purposes.

Store correctly

You’re probably making a mistake if you store your probiotic supplements in the bathroom medicine cabinet or the kitchen cupboard. These places have fluctuating temperatures which result in a stark change in moisture levels, thereby compromising on the effectiveness of your products. Check the labels to see if they need to be stored in the fridge. If not, tuck away your dry supplements in a cool, dry and dark place.

Minimum dosage is key

Although CFU count may not be the best way to select a probiotic, it’s still a regular measurement of how much bacteria in probiotics are capable of dividing and forming colonies. Hence, the CFU count should be as high as possible to let the bacteria flourish. For a daily probiotic, a good range would be from five to 10 billion CFUs. For probiotics tackling a specific ailment, 15 to 45 billion CFUs is recommended.

Use it to complement your course of antibiotics

If you’re on antibiotics, you’ll want to bring your gut flora back to a healthy balance. While many might think that you have to wait till the end of the antibiotics course to start consuming probiotics, you can actually jump-start the whole scenario. Take your probiotic supplement at least two hours before or after taking the antibiotics, and continue even after your antibiotic course has finished.

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