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Probiotics: What you need to know

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‘“No guts, no glory”  might be closer to the  truth than we realize.’ 

Not only do the organisms in the gut,  known as the gut microbiome, digest  the nutrients you need to thrive, but  they also ward off infection and help  make neurochemicals essential for  brain function. 

When the gut microbiome is balanced, you stay healthy and have a lot of energy. Out of balance and you are prone  to health issues from weight gain and brain fog to diabetes and cancer. With  so many roles, is it possible to optimize  gut function? 

Emerging research on probiotics  shows that these “good” bacteria help  boost natural gut flora and provide  many benefits for optimal gut health.  

Probiotics are live microorganisms that  provide a range of health benefits by  boosting the diversity of the gut microbiome. These microorganisms, usually bacteria or yeast, are different from  those found naturally in the human microbiome in the skin, mouth, vagina, penis and gastrointestinal (GI) tract. 

Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli are the  most common types of probiotics as sociated with health benefits. Research  demonstrates the improvement of conditions such as chronic intestinal inflammation, diarrhea, constipation, vaginitis and atopic dermatitis. Specifically, Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli have been  shown to modulate the immune system, make digestive enzymes and boost  gut microbiota activity after antibiotic  treatment. 

These effects also help to maintain the  gut barrier, which is crucial for the func tions of the gut. For example, probiotics help the gut resist pathogens, bad bacteria and viruses by binding to receptors in the GI tract that pathogens  can otherwise inhabit. Probiotics also  use the same nutrients that pathogens  feed on and subsequently make antimi crobials that prevent their growth.  

Probiotics are generally safe with proven benefits to the consumer. They  should survive the digestion process,  colonize the gut and retain their ben eficial properties even when stored.  There is increasing evidence from hun dreds of human studies that show they can treat GI disorders and promote GI  health in general. A diverse microbiome results in carbohydrate fermentation, which improves the absorption of  calcium, magnesium and phosphorous. 

Probiotics are live organisms that provide a range of health benefits by boosting the diversity of the gut microbiome.

Currently, probiotics must be defined  at the levels of genus, species and  strain. This is important, as all probiotic  strains have not been shown to confer  the same health benefits. At present  there are no standard guidelines for  probiotic dosage and recommenda tions can range from treatment once or  twice daily to once per week. It is also  important to keep in mind that organ isms behave differently when adminis tered in combinations rather than alone. 

Most of the research in probiotics  has focussed on the digestive system.  However, there is evidence that probi otics also help maintain a healthy vagi nal microbiome and may help decrease  the occurrence of urinary tract infec tions (UTI’s). The vaginal microbiome  contains a large amount of Lactobacil libacteria and these high levels have  been shown to maintain a healthy state  by preventing the accumulation of bacteria that lead to yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, and UTI’s in women.  

With increasing choice in products  containing probiotics, it is important to  know how to read labels and evaluate  the health claims of this popular health supplement. 

Probiotic supplementation can be  done in a variety of ways, as probiotics  are found in a range of foods as well as  in dietary supplements. 

Probiotics are present in a number  of foods that naturally contain living  “good” bacteria cultures. These include: 

  • Yogurt 
  • Kefir
  • Kimchi
  • Sauerkraut
  • Miso
  • Tempeh
  • Apple cider vinegar (with the mother)

If you are interested in a specific health  benefit associated with a particular  strain of probiotic, such as reducing  gut inflammation associated with GI  disorders, your best bet is to use probiotic capsules containing that particular  strain (or strains).  

*JUST BECAUSE A FOOD LABEL REPORTS  THE PRESENCE OF “LIVE CULTURES,” DOES  NOT MEAN THAT THOSE CULTURES WILL  PROVIDE THE SAME HEALTH BENEFITS AS A SPECIFIC STRAIN. 

Note: If you are making a significant change to your diet, talk with your doctor first. This article is not be considered as medical advice, it is for information purposes only.

More Insight: Check out this helpful article on overcoming the stigma associated with lung cancer for Canadians.

Author: Christine Blanchette is a freelance writer for Optimyz Magazine print and digital issues and sometimes helps with editing.

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