A client suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) came into my office one day, complaining of extreme discomfort and stomach pain. She was anguished and frustrated because every time she wanted to leave her house, she would stress over whether a bathroom would be available.
She was in a constant war with her bowels between diarrhea, constipation, and major abdominal discomfort. After suggesting she try to include probiotics as a part of her regular diet, she was able to control her symptoms instead of having them control her.
What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics are live bacteria that are naturally found in the gut and help prevent disease and enhance immunity by replacing and fighting off harmful bacteria. The most common probiotics are ‘lactobacillus’ and ‘bifidobacterium.’
Health Benefits of Probiotics
Probiotics have shown to be beneficial in preventing or treating many disorders, including irritable bowel syndrome, acute diarrhea, lactose malabsorption, and mild forms of inflammatory bowel disease. They may even help lower blood pressure or cholesterol.
Prebiotics, which are non-living dietary components, nourish and promote the growth of beneficial bacteria over harmful bacteria. Prebiotics may also help decrease inflammation of the gut.
In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, groups of 20 participants aged 60 or older were given a placebo: a low-dose, medium-dose, or high-dose probiotic. All groups consuming a probiotic showed an increase in beneficial bacteria and a decrease in harmful bacteria.
While probiotics may help treat some illnesses, unfortunately, the doses of probiotics in most enriched food products tend to be too low to provide any real beneficial effects.
The benefits of probiotics are also very specific to the strain of the bacteria and to the dosage. One strain may provide benefits for a certain symptom, but this may not be true of other strains. Therefore, when looking for relief of certain symptoms or diseases, you have to be aware of the specific strain you need that’s been found to be beneficial for that particular illness.
Although the research is just beginning, several studies have found promising results.
One randomized control study of participants aged 70 and older found that with prebiotic supplementation, there was an increase in the beneficial bifidobacteria and a decrease in harmful bacteria.
As you age, the amount of bifidobacteria in your body decreases. This may be a result of dietary changes, increased antibiotic use, and/or diminished lining within the gut that comes with age.
By ages 55–65, your bifidobacteria has decreased significantly. This allows increased growth of harmful bacteria, leading you to be more susceptible to infection and disease.
Prebiotics called oligosaccharides are naturally found in biscuits, cereals, chocolates, dairy products, wheat, onions, bananas, honey, garlic, and leeks. Include these foods in your diet to start promoting the growth of the beneficial bacteria that are naturally found in your gut.
Incorporating products containing probiotics, or even supplements, is trickier. The research is currently lacking, and it is not clear to consumers whether the benefits are there. Health claims are not strongly regulated, leading you to be even more overwhelmed and confused.
You can use sites like PubMed to find out which bacteria strain the product contains and the specific health benefits that are associated with that bacteria.
The 4 Best Probiotic Enriched Foods
If you’re looking to supplement your diet with some probiotic-enriched foods, here are four products that carry great health benefits, according to Dr. Gregor Reid, the chair of microbiology and probiotics at the Lawson Health Research Institute and a professor at the University of Western Ontario, Canada:
• Activia yogurt by Dannon: Improves gastrointestinal transit time
• DanActive fermented milk drink by Dannon: Reduces diarrhea symptoms
• Bio-K Plus and Bio-K Pharma: Reduces diarrhea symptoms as a result of antibiotic use
• Yoptimal fermented milk by Yoplait: Helpful during antibiotic treatment as a result of H. pylori stomach infection
You can also try this probiotic supplement:
• Advanced 4-strain Probiotic, Jamieson: Helps replenish beneficial bacteria
Auld A., “Is it good bacteria?” The Globe and Mail web site, August 23, 2012; http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/is-it-good-bacteria/article572498/, last accessed April 28, 2013.
Millar E., “Probiotics: what’s hype, what’s healthy?” The Globe and Mail web site, June 23, 2011; http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/probiotics-whats-hype-whats-healthy/article598896/, last accessed April 28, 2013.