Over the past few years there has been a major health movement relating to improving gut health by incorporating prebiotics and probiotics into our diet.
First things first - what are prebiotics and probiotics?
Probiotics - The World Health Organization defines probiotics as live bacterial cultures that when consumed in foods (e.g., yoghurts) and dietary supplements, can improve the health of the host beyond their inherent basic nutritional content. Although more conclusive research is needed in this area, various clinical studies and anecdotal evidence show promising results when looking at the role of certain probiotic strains in the treatment of skin concerns, immunity, IBS and even mental health. However, it all comes down to your specific condition and whether there is any evidence for specific strains of probiotics in treating that condition. Just like there are different medications to treat different conditions, different strains of probiotics have been shown to do different things.
Prebiotics - are a group of nutrients that are broken down by your gut bacteria. Essentially, they can help to feed the intestinal microbiota, and their degradation results in the production of Short Chain Fatty Acids (SCFA) that are then released into the bloodstream and are said to elicit positive effects on the body. Studies suggest they may be beneficial in reducing inflammation, obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes (2)). The main types of beneficial prebiotics include:
- Fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) (bananas, onion, garlic and asparagus)
- Galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) (beans, legumes, chickpeas, artichoke, soy)
- Inulin (found in garlic, leek, onions and asparagus)
These three types are present in more than 35,000 plant species.
Research definitely supports the positive health benefits of including foods containing probiotics and prebiotics into our diet - but what about probiotic supplements?
See below for FIVE evidence-based reasons you may benefit from incorporating a probiotic SUPPLEMENT into your diet.
1. Skin concerns (such as eczema, dermatitis and acne)
If you are someone who regularly experiences skin conditions such as acne, eczema and dermatitis, you may want to look into taking a probiotic!
More and more evidence suggests that our microbiome (the community of bacteria living in our gut) plays a crucial role in the development of acne and other chronic skin conditions. A study of 13,000 adolescents showed that those with acne were more likely to experience gastrointestinal symptoms such as constipation, halitosis and gastric reflux. Abdominal bloating was also 37% more likely to be associated with acne and other seborrheic diseases (1).
2. You have been diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or experience IBS type symptoms
Monash University (the university that established the low fodmap diet for IBS) and recent research suggests that probiotic supplementation may be effective in treating symptoms associated with IBS (3,7). Studies show that individuals with IBS have distinctly different gut microbiota to those without IBS. This difference in microbes (or imbalance in certain strains of bacteria), may be responsible for the onset of IBS-like symptoms such as diarrhoea, constipation, belching and gas (4). Evidence suggests that certain strains of probiotics (such as lactobacillus, bifidobacterium and streptococcus) may help to improve IBS symptoms by replacing missing strains of beneficial bacteria and killing of unfavourable strains in individuals suffering with IBS or IBS type symptoms (4).
3. Poor Immunity
The gastrointestinal tract plays a crucial role in the body’s immune system. Approximately 70 percent of the body’s immune system is located in the gastrointestinal tract. That’s right! Beneficial intestinal bacteria and immune cells regulate the immune system of the digestive tract. Evidence suggests that probiotics may play a role in strengthening the immune system by stimulating immune cells in the gastrointestinal tract to fight infection and suppress the growth of pathogenic bacteria (5,8,9). Studies suggest that probiotics may also play a role in preventing respiratory infections like the common cold.
4. Gastrointestinal Infection
Gastrointestinal infections such various types of diarrheal disease are responsible for significant morbidity and mortality worldwide. Evidence suggests that probiotics have been used to reduce and relieve diarrhea in children (10,11). While there are some studies to suggest probiotics may play a role in relieving some gastrointestinal infections such as Rotavirus Diarrhea, Traveller’s diarrhea, Antibiotic-associated diarrhea and Clostridium difficile (6), evidence is still in-conclusive. If you are suffering with one of these conditions, it is important to speak to a doctor or health professional before taking any supplement.
5. Antibiotic use
If you are prescribed an antibiotic, it is important to take probiotics for the entire course of treatment to prevent antibiotic-associated diarrhea and other imbalances in your microbiota. Antibiotics kill beneficial bacteria in our gastrointestinal tract. When our microbial community is disrupted, dysbiosis (imbalance) can occur. This can lead to an immune response, systemic and local inflammation and various intestinal disturbances. Given what we know about the role of gut health in immunity, skin and even mental health, it is important to maintain your microbial community and avoid overuse of antibiotics.
What to look for in a probiotic?
The type of probiotic you use is very much dependent on the condition you are wanting to treat. As noted above, specific strains are used to treat specific conditions. I I like to take a probiotic that contains strains that are specific to my conditions such as Streptococcus, Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species (these species have been shown to assist in IBS type symptoms which can contribute to skin conditions). I use Medlab’s MultiBiotic because just one capsule contains 21.075 billion Colony Forming Units (CFU) per capsule. It contains a combination of Lactobacillus rhamnosus (9 billion), Lactobacillus Acidophilus (3.75 billion), Lactobacillus plantarum (1.575 billion), Bifidobacterium animalis spp. Lactis (3 billion), Bifidobacterium breve (1.75 billion), Bifidobacterium bifidum (500 million) and Streptococcus thermophilus (1.5 billion). Medlab probiotics are also gluten and dairy free.
Medlab can be purchased online and obtained via practitioners around Australia. The company’s point of difference is that it is led by qualified pioneering health professionals who do all their own research in their own PC2 lab. All products are highly innovative and evidence based.
If you are wanting to purchase Medlab’s Multibiotic online, CLICK here and use my discount code “NICOLA20” to receive 20% off.
**The above blog post is written by Nicola Scruby and sponsored by Medlab
- Guglielmetti S, Mora D, Gschwender M, Popp K. Randomised clinical trial: Bifidobacterium bifidum MIMBb75 significantly alleviates irritable bowel syndrome and improves quality of life--a double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2011 May;33(10):1123-32. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2036.2011.04633.x. Epub 2011 Mar 21.
- Waller PA, Gopal PK, Leyer GJ, Ouwehand AC, Reifer C, Stewart ME, Miller LE. Dose-response effect of Bifidobacterium lactis HN019 on whole gut transit time and functional gastrointestinal symptoms in adults. Scand J Gastroenterol. 2011 Sep;46(9):1057-64. doi: 10.3109/00365521.2011.584895. Epub 2011 Jun 13.
- Jamie N. Pugh, Andy S. Sparks, Dominic A. Doran, Simon C. Fleming, Carl Langan-Evans, Ben Kirk, Robert Fearn, James P. Morton & Graeme L. Close. Four weeks of probiotic supplementation reduces GI symptoms during a marathon race. European Journal of Applied Physiology volume 119, pages1491–1501(2019).
- Qin Guo Joshua Z, Goldenberg Claire, Humphrey Regina, El Dib Bradley C Johnston. Probiotics for the prevention of pediatric antibiotic‐associated diarrhea. Cochrane Systematic Review - Intervention Version published: 30 April 2019. https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD004827.pub5
- Goldenberg JZ, Lytvyn L, Steurich J, Parkin P, Mahant S, Johnston BC. Probiotics for the prevention of pediatric antibiotic-associated diarrhea. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015 Dec 22;(12):CD004827. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD004827.pub4.