Probiotics are becoming increasingly popular with various different health claims around them. But, what is a probiotic?
Probiotics are described by the World Health Organisation as “Live microorganisms that when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit to the host” (1).
Probiotics can be either live bacteria or yeast which are usually added to foods such as yoghurts or stored in capsules (2). Care should be taken to store your product correctly as per the packet instructions.
What Can Be Classed as a Probiotic?
Gut bacteria plays an important role in the digestive process and so having it in the right balance is important to how we function.
The European Foods Standards Agency have had 300 requests for probiotic claims which have not been approved (3). This is due to the lack of scientific backing around these claims
How Do Probiotics Work? (4)
Probiotics work in many different ways – some of which we actually do not know about yet.
Having lots of ‘good’ gut bacteria can firstly reduce levels of ‘bad’ bacteria as the bad bacteria is competing for the same environment. If you imagine this as 5 grey rabbits fighting 10 brown rabbits for the same carrots. The brown rabbits will win because there are more of them and go on to produce many more brown rabbits, whilst the grey ones die off.
Probiotics help your gut digest fibre. Bacteria in your gut digests fibre in a process known as fermentation – producing gas.
The final one we know about is the ability of probiotics to have a certain level of influence over the immune system.
There are several other areas where probiotics may be of benefit, but these areas have only limited amounts of scientific backing.
Should I Take A Probiotic?
Probiotics are still a fairly new concept being studied and so evidence is limited around just how effective they are. Questions also lie around what happens when you stop taking them?
Probiotic products will contain various different strains and quantities of bacteria. This means that they will all work in a slightly different way.
Each symptom of digestive health needs to be matched up to a specific product as just taking any is unlikely to have the desired affect. This is where seeing a specialist dietitian comes in as they will be able to advise you accordingly. As many products are quite expensive, this process may save you money.
You can read about which probiotics are good for treating IBS, here.
If you have digestive health problems, probiotics are likely to help you. BUT the strain, product type and quantity will all need to be taken into account. This is a complicated process which requires expert dietetic involvement to read through scientific research and advise appropriately.
4.Rossi, M. “Gut Health And Probiotics”. Clinical Nutrition Focus 2017: 32-34. Print.