What are probiotics? What are prebiotics? Should you be taking them? Do they help or make a difference?
It's that time of the year when many folk are thinking of, or indeed, doing a detox/cleanse/shred/diet following the excesses that may have ensued over the festive season.
If you are thinking of, or indeed have already embarked upon, one of the above, then it may indeed be a good idea to supplement with a probiotic. Even if you haven't commenced a regime then a regular dose of a probiotics could be a good idea. But, did you know that to maximise the efficacy of a probitoic that you also need to ensure that you are ingesting prebiotics too?
Why take probiotics?
Research shows that the bacteria in our gut play a vital role in our digestive health and daily wellbeing. There are a number of probiotic strains which are useful, a few of the key ones are listed below.
Prebiotics & Probiotics
This is a really current topic! ‘probiotics and prebiotics’ . Probiotics are the benefical bacteria, some of which we discuss below, which are found in supplements and certain food types and products. Prebiotic fibres feed the probiotics in the digestive system so we need to ensure that we take both at the same time.
Prebiotic fibres are the non digestible parts of certain foods, they travel through the small intestine undigested and are then fermented when they reach the large intestine. The beneficial bacterial colonies (including probiotics) are fed by this fermentation process, which then increases the total number of beneficial bacteria in the gut, leading to better health and a reduction in the risk of disease.
The probiotics in the gut transform the prebiotic fibres into short chain fatty acids called Butyrate. Extensive studies have been undertaken to show the anti-inflammatory effects on the colon. They have also been shown to block the growth of cancerous cells and promote the growth of healthy cells, so that they are able to divide in the desirable l manner.
These are the live beneficial bacteria which are naturally created when fermentation takes place in certain foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, miso soup and kimchi, for example.
Probiotics are also available in pill form and are a popular added ingredient in health products like yogurts and drinks.
Popular & Effective Probiotics
This is one of the best known of the probitocs and it has established its name as a friendly bacteria. However, there are a number of different strains of L.acidophilus, all of which vary in quality and their ability to affect health positively.
The best researched is L.acidophilus NCFM which was initially discovered in a food microbiology lab in North Carolina hence it's name. Since its discovery it has become the most well researched L.acidiophilus strain internationally, this research includes over 45 clinical trials considering its ability to support a number of health issues and conditions. Research included its effects on lactose digestion, IBS and immunity support.
Lactobacilli is typically found in the small intestine.
This is a group of well known probiotics that includes B. lactis and B.bifidum. They are typically found in the large intestine. Due to the fact that Bifidobacteria inhabit the large intestine and Lactobacilli the small intestine it's important to check that both families are found in your probiotics.
One strain of the Bifidobacteria family that has been researched intensively for its affect on immunity is B.lactis BI-04. One of the clinic trials performed on this strain found that if it was taken daily it could reduce coughs & colds by 27%.
Recent clinical research has been considering the effect of taking a combination of L.acidophilus NCFM & B.Lactis BI.04 can help alleviate the symptoms of hay fever by reducing nasal irritation caused by birch tree pollen. The children in the trial that took this combination had significantly reduced levels of white blood cells associated with allergies.
Prebiotocs can be found naturally in some foods. The foods that are high in prebiotic fibres include:-
It may be useful to use a metaphor to explain the difference between prebiotics & probiotics with probiotics being the seeds & the prebiotic fibre being the water and fertilizer that nourishes & nurtures the seeds to grow and flourish. They are a really powerful combined addition to a health & wellness regime that should not be underestimated.
 Mustapha (1997) Improvement of lactose digestion by humans
 Ringel Kulka (2014) A randomised clinical study on patients with functional abdominal pain
 West (2014) Probiotic supplementation for respiratory & gastrointestinal illness
 Ouwehand (2009) Probiotics alleviating allergic rhinitis