Probiotics are consistently talked about in the nutrition world and many people recognize that they are good for your gut and overall health. But what are we actually talking about when we refer to probiotics? And why are they good for you? And should you be taking them?
Today’s blog will answer these questions about probiotics and give you some practical tips on how to add them to your diet!
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are defined as living bacteria or microorganisms that provide health benefits when consumed (1). The Latin origin of the word probiotic breaks down into pro meaning “forward or before” and bios meaning “life”. In other words, probiotics are life-promoting bacteria. I like to call them friendly gut bugs! Everyone can benefit from consuming probiotics in some way, but certain individuals may receive more benefits than others!
What are the benefits of probiotics?
The vast range of benefits of consuming probiotics continues to increase with further research. Three of the main benefits include:
1. Balance intestinal microflora (which benefits our brain, mood and more!)
Probiotics have the ability to restore the composition of intestinal microflora to a favourable and balanced state for a healthy gut environment! (1,2,3). Why is this important? Imbalance gut bacteria (also called dysbiosis) has been connected to several diseases, including depression, autism, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease (1).
2. Influence the immune system
Certain probiotics have been shown to regulate the immune response, leading to a decrease in disease symptoms (4). For example, the probiotics found in Kimchi (a fermented spicy cabbage) were found to decrease atopic dermatitis (eczema) symptoms by regulating the immune system response (5).
3. Support production of brain chemicals (neurotransmitters)
Specific friendly bacteria have been found to produce chemical messengers for the brain called neurotransmitters, which impact mood and brain function (1). Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium have been found to contain the neurotransmitter GABA, which is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter that helps us to “chill out” and relax (6). Who doesn’t want more of that? 🙂
So, Colleen…where can I find these friendly bacteria that are so beneficial for my health and well-being?
Where do I find probiotics?
Probiotics can be found in both food and supplement form. For most healthy individuals, getting probiotics in food form is best. In order to be labeled a probiotic, a food needs to have at least 108 live colony forming units (CFUs) per ml (7). This includes foods such as yogurt, kombucha, kimchi, kefir, unpasteurized apple cider vinegar or sauerkraut.
One of my favourite kinds of Saurkraut is made by Wildbrine. It only has three ingredients: organic green cabbage, organic garlic, and sea salt! Of course, if you are ambitious in the kitchen, you can make your own very cost-effective version of sauerkraut at home. If you are sensitive to dairy, coconut yogurt is an excellent way to get in a few morsels of gut-loving bacteria! Yoso makes a coconut yogurt that is thicker, and Silk makes one that has a bit of a thinner consistency. Please buy the unsweetened versions! Sugar creates a favorable environment for pathogenic bacteria to thrive, which is the opposite of what we are trying to do by consuming probiotics! Again, you can also make your own coconut yogurt at home relatively easily.
How much should I consume?
Consuming 2-3 servings/day of these food-based probiotics can help to improve the delicate balance of gut bacteria and provide the health benefits mentioned above. One of the best times of day to eat them is first thing in the morning or whatever time of day you are breaking an intermittent fast. This allows the friendly gut bugs to inoculate your gut lining with relatively little interference from other foods.
Another great time to consume them is with your meals. Good gut bacteria can help break down food and protect the gut lining from pathogenic bacteria (8). One of my new favourite ways to consume apple cider vinegar is by adding a tablespoon on top of my steamed broccoli or sautéed spinach. I add ¼ of sauerkraut on the side of almost any meal, or on top of a quinoa salad for some extra crunch and flavor! Finally, I really enjoy having coconut yogurt with a few berries for a healthy dessert or light snack.
What about a supplement form of probiotics?
For individuals with chronic illnesses, digestive disorders, skin or hormone imbalances, taking a therapeutic dose of probiotics in supplement form may be needed. For example, patients with chronic fatigue syndrome saw reduced symptoms of anxiety when taking 24 billion CFU’s per day. However, it is not just the quantity of probiotics that matter, but the species and strain of bacteria that are important for certain health benefits. In the study with CFS patients, the specific probiotic consumed was Lactobacillus casei strain Shirota (LcS). This was just one study, but it shows promise for probiotics assisting with health issues outside of the digestive system. Since the amount and type of probiotics that should be taken is individual for each person and disease state, I highly recommend talking to a qualified healthcare professional to discuss your options.
In the best case scenario, probiotics would be consumed alongside their synergistic partner- prebiotics. Prebiotics are considered food for probiotics and when they are consumed together, the benefits of both increases (7)!
Want to more know about prebiotics? Stay tuned, I will be writing a blog all about them soon!
If you have any questions regarding probiotics or nutrition for gut and brain health, feel free to contact Colleen at: 204-952-7982 or firstname.lastname@example.org
- Kim, N., Yun, M., Oh, Y., & Choi, J. (2018). Mind-altering with the gut: Modulation of the gut-brain axis with probiotics. Journal of Microbiology, 56(3), 172-182.
- Choi, H.J., Lee, N.K., and Paik, H.D. (2015). Health benefits of lactic acid bacteria isolated from kimchi, with respect to immunomo- dulatory effects. Food Sci. Biotechnol. 24, 783–789.
- Mountzouris, K.C., Tsirtsikos, P., Kalamara, E., Nitsch, S., Schatz- mayr, G., and Fegeros, K. (2007). Evaluation of the efficacy of a probiotic containing Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Enterococcus, and Pediococcus strains in promoting broiler performance and modulating cecal microflora composition and metabolic activi- ties. Poult. Sci. 86, 309–317.
- Bermudez-Brito, M., Plaza-Diaz, J., Munoz-Quezada, S., Gomez- Llorente, C., and Gil, A. (2012). Probiotic mechanisms of action. Ann. Nutr. Metab. 61, 160–174.
- Lim, S.K., Kwon, M.S., Lee, J., Oh, Y.J., Jang, J.Y., Lee, J.H., Park, H.W., Nam, Y.D., Seo, M.J., Roh, S.W., et al. (2017). Weissella ci- baria WIKIM28 ameliorates atopic dermatitis-like skin lesions by inducing tolerogenic dendritic cells and regulatory T cells in BALB/c mice. Sci. Rep. 7, 40040.
- Bravo, J. A.; Forsythe, P.; Chew, M. V.; Escaravage, E.; Savignac, H. M.; Dinan, T. G.; Bienenstock, J.; Cryan, J. F. Ingestion of Lactobacillus strain regulates emotional behavior and central GABA receptor expression in a mouse via the vagus nerve. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 2011, 108 (38), 16050−16055.
- Matthews, K.R., Kniel, K.E., Montville, T.J. (2017). Food Microbiology, An Introduction. (4th Ed). ASM Press.
- Kanwal, J. (2016). A Second Brain: How microbes in your gut may affect your body and mind. Retrieved Nov 11, 2017 from: http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2016/second-brain-microbes-gut-may-affect-body-mind/