Probiotics your questions answered
What are probiotics?
Your intestines are home to trillions of bacteria, which are collectively referred to as the microflora or microbiome and comprise over 500 individual species.1 Unlike the bacteria that cause infections, many of those that are natural residents of your digestive tract have positive health benefits, and consequently are known as ‘probiotics’.
Probiotic supplements contain ‘live’ or ‘viable’ bacteria from bacterial strains that are normally found residing in or passing through the human gastrointestinal tract. In order to be considered viable, the bacteria must be capable of reproducing and/or colonising the intestines.
What is a probiotic strain?
A probiotic strain is a subtype of a bacterial genus and species, usually referred to by a code at the end of the species name. For example, Lactobacillus is a particular genus, Lactobacillus acidophilus is a species of bacteria, and Lactobacillus acidophilus (La-14) is a specific therapeutic strain of that species.
What are the benefits of probiotics?
Probiotics support the health of the digestive system and its function, so it’s not surprising that they may be beneficial for a wide range of digestive symptoms, including flatulence, bloating and abdominal discomfort.
One particular strain, called Bifidbacterium animalis ssp. lactis (HN019), helps to ease constipation by improving bowel transit time (the length of time it takes for food to travel through the digestive system).
Probiotics are also beneficial for children’s overall health and wellbeing, thanks to the support they offer healthy gut flora balance. In addition, probiotics support gastrointestinal health in children.
Are prebiotics and probiotics the same thing?
Prebiotics and probiotics are different. Probiotics are viable bacteria that are consumed for their direct health benefits. On the other hand, the term ‘prebiotics’ is used to describe certain complex sugars found in the diet that have benefits for the health and activity of the microflora. Examples include fructooloigosaccharides (FOS) and inulin.2
What causes disruption of the normal gut microflora?
Among others, factors that can interfere with the balance of the gut microflora may include antibiotics, exposure to harmful bacteria, and eating a poor diet. Probiotics support the health of the intestinal microflora and help to restore its balance following the use of antibiotics.
What does CFU mean?
Colony-forming units (CFU) are the units of measure used to express the number of viable (live) bacteria present in a probiotic supplement (in other words, the number that are capable of reproducing or colonising the intestines).
Can I eat yoghurt instead of taking a probiotic supplement?
While some yoghurt is fermented using strains of bacteria with known health benefits, it’s often unclear how many live bacteria (CFU) are present in each tub. On the other hand, probiotic supplements must state the CFU for each bacteria strain, so you know exactly how many probiotics you are getting in each capsule.
It’s safe to say that in many instances, you’ll get a higher and more consistent quantity of live bacteria from a supplement than you will from eating food like yoghurt. For example, a leading yoghurt brand contains around 1 billion per 100 grams. Your best bet is to consume both yoghurt and probiotics, it’s a win-win!
Can I take probiotics when I’m on antibiotics?
Probiotics can be taken alongside antibiotics to maintain the health of the friendly gut flora. If your intestinal microflora has been disrupted following a course of antibiotics, probiotics can also help to restore the healthy gut flora afterwards.
Do I need to keep probiotics in the fridge?
Some probiotics remain viable at room temperature and still have the same health benefits whether they’re kept in the fridge or not.
- Nature. Last updated 29 January 2020, Accessed April 2021 from https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00193-3
- Carlson J, et al. Curr Dev Nutr 2018;2(3):nzy005.