Probiotics: What You Need To Know

Probiotics are booming in popularity, but what does the research tell us? Is it all hype, or are there benefits to taking probiotics? Here are our answers to some of your frequently asked questions.

Q: What is a probiotic?

A:  Probiotics must be live microorganisms that survive and grow in the gastrointestinal tract, are safe for humans and have a health benefit on their host. Although several foods, like yogurt, contain live active bacterial cultures, they don’t necessarily have a probiotic effect.

Q: There are so many different names listed when I look at a probiotic supplement. What do all of these different names mean?

A: Probiotics are listed as genus, species and strain – and it is the strain that determines how and where the probiotic works. Several supplements may include more than one strain.

Example: Lactobacillus rhamnosus  GG
                genus        species        strain

The label on probiotic supplements should also include the amount of organisms in each dose, given in colony forming units (CFU). Although many probiotic capsules do not require refrigeration, some companies will recommend refrigeration to extend shelf life of the product, especially for long term storage.

Q: What are the most common probiotic bacteria?

A:  The most common probiotic bacteria come from the genera:  Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium. Saccharomyces is another genus that is commonly used for probiotic supplements.

Q: What conditions do probiotics help with?  

A: Different probiotics are used to help with different health conditions.  Research shows strong support for the effect of probiotics on certain gastrointestinal disorders, such as antibiotic associated diarrhea. In addition, several probiotic strains are showing promising effects with irritable bowel syndrome, lactose intolerance and ulcerative colitis.

Currently, there is little evidence that supports the safety of probiotics in individuals who are immunocompromised and those living with Crohn’s disease.

Q: Do probiotics also help with constipation and bloating?

A: Studies show that Activia yogurt, which includes Bifidobacterium lactis DN-173010, or better known as its marketed name of BL Regularis, is effective with relieving constipation.

Q: Are probiotics helpful for any other conditions aside from gastrointestinal disorders?

A: In addition to gastrointestinal disorders, probiotics are currently being studied for the benefits they may have on specific skin conditions, such as psoriasis; the role they may play in the prevention of obesity-related metabolic disturbances (such as high cholesterol levels, high blood glucose levels and high blood pressure); and upper respiratory tract infections.

Q: Can you get probiotics from food or do you need to take a supplement?

A: Fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi and miso contain live active cultures that are beneficial for keeping your gastrointestinal tract healthy. However, they may not have an actual probiotic effect. If you are looking for a therapeutic dose of probiotics for a specific condition, consider taking a probiotic supplement.

Q: What is the best dose to take for probiotic supplements?

A: Although there is no determined dose for probiotics, studies show there are rarely health benefits seen with fewer than 100 million CFU per dose. Therefore, a dose equivalent to that or higher is recommended for most conditions.

Q: Where are probiotic supplements available?

A: A wide variety of probiotic supplements are available at most pharmacies. Call HealthLinkBC at 8-1-1 and speak to a dietitian about which probiotic supplement is best for you.

  1. Dietitians of Canada. Guidelines for Choosing a Probiotic. In: Practice-based Evidence in Nutrition [PEN] Knowledge Pathway Gastrointestinal System.  November 30, 2012 [cited January 15, 2014]. Available from: http://www.pennutrition.com. Access only by subscription.
  2. Dietitians of Canada. Probiotics Background. In: Practice-based Evidence in Nutrition [PEN] Knowledge Pathway Gastrointestinal System.  February 9, 2010 [cited January 15, 2014]. Available from: http://www.pennutrition.com. Access only by subscription.
  3. The Science of Probiotics [Internet]. Danone; 2012 [cited January 15, 2014]. Available from: www.scienceofprobiotics.ca
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