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Family Health Magazine - NUTRITION

Probiotics
The benefits of these healthy bacteria

Lost in all the marketing hype about the health benefits of probiotics is often an understanding of what they are and how they work. Probiotics are live bacteria that support the natural balance between good and bad bacteria living in the intestines. We naturally have millions of bacteria in our gut that aid in digesting the food we eat. Probiotics restore and nourish these good bacteria. Broken down, the term means for (pro) and life (biotic). The opposite of a probiotic is an antibiotic, which kills or destroys bacteria.

However, not all probiotic products are the same. Learning more about probiotics will help you better understand how and why to use them.

The hype

Marketers are getting on the bandwagon. They claim probiotics can shorten the length of colds, prevent diarrhea, overcome allergies, and even reduce the risk of certain cancers. Unfortunately, some of these claims are not proven.

Probiotics are being added to everything – from juices and infant formula to bread, chewing gum and chocolate. Some yogurts, which naturally contain probiotics, contain additional probiotics to boost their nutrition value.

Labelling concerns

Consumers can find it difficult to know how much and what type of bacteria a product contains. It is also not clear whether the probiotics are best suited for a particular health concern.

Health Canada has developed a probiotics guideline that spells out when health claims can be made about food. These guidelines are just that - a guide. As Health Canada does not regulate probiotics, many consumers currently rely on the manufacturer’s claims.

We are all unique

No recommended dietary allowances exist to tell you the amount or kind of probiotics you need. Each person has about 1000 different species and strains of healthy bacteria around the cells of the wall of the intestine. As a result, the intestinal flora (bacteria in the gut) is unique. Individual responses to particular probiotics will range from mild to strong.

If you want more probiotics in your diet, what do you do?

The most common probiotic bacteria are from the lactobacillus and bifidobacterium species. If you want to be healthy and support your digestive system, eat more yogurt and kefir or take a supplement.

Both yogurt and kefir are cultured milk products and have a tart taste. They can be purchased or made at home. Kefir cultured granules consist of 10 to 20 different types of probiotic bacteria and yeasts. Most yogurts use only a few. The higher the probiotic count in food, the bigger the potential benefits to your digestive system. Kefir delivers about 40 billion probiotic organisms per serving, while yogurt contains about one billion per serving. Kefir is easy to make at home. The granules can also be added to juice or other beverages, such as soy milk or coconut drinks.

On the other hand, if you have a specific health concern, there is no guarantee that the probiotics in the foods you eat will give you the health benefits you seek. Many different strains of healthy bacteria perform many different functions. For probiotics to work well, the right probiotic for each health condition must be taken for the correct amount of time. Most have not been proven effective in clinical studies. Although many products claim to contain probiotics, they have not been proven in a human study to provide a specific health benefit.

How much do you need?

According to the Guidelines for Choosing a Probiotic from EatRight Ontario, most research studies use doses of at least 100 million colony-forming units (cfu) per day to benefit from probiotics. The dose varies for different health conditions. Check the product label to find the suggested dose. Call the company or check the product website to learn more about the product. A reputable company will have scientific studies to support their products.

The probiotics that really work

Certain probiotics have been proven effective in treating symptoms of the following conditions:

Want to know more? Check the table below to figure out what type of probiotic strain is needed to treat your health condition. Next, find a product that contains that probiotic strain.

Condition

Strain

Suggested Product

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) Bifidobacterium infantis 35624 Align® (capsule)
Blend of:
Bifidobacterium breve
Bifidobacterium longum Bifidobacterium infantis
Lactobacillus acidophilus
Lactobacillus plantarum Lactobacillus paracasei Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus
VSL#3® (sachet)
LGG (Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG)
Culturelle® (capsule)
Prevent diarrhea from antibiotics
* must start taking within 24 hours of starting antibiotic





LGG Culturelle® (capsule)
Lactobacillus casei DN-114 001 DanActive® (fermented milk)
Lactobacillus acidophilus CL1285 and Lactobacillus casei LBC80R Bio-K+® (fermented milk)
Lactose Intolerance Lactobacillus bulgaricus
and Streptococcus thermophilus
Found in most yogurts
Constipation Bifidobacterium lactis DN-173 010 Activia® (yogurt)
Ulcerative colitis Escherichia coli (E. coli) Nissle 1917 Mutaflor® (capsule)
Blend of eight strains. See IBS above. VSL#3® (sachet)
Reference: Dietitians of Canada, Guidelines on How to Choose a Probiotic, 2013 EatRight Ontario.

Now, look for the correct genus, species and strain. This information will be listed on the food or supplement label. It is the strain of the bacteria or yeast that is most important and determines if the product is going to work for a certain condition. For instance, bifidobacterium longum R0157 breaks down to:

Getting the most from your probiotic

Can you have a healthy digestive system without taking probiotics?

Yes, eating foods that are a source of fibre will feed the bacteria in the digestive system. These food sources are called pre-biotics. If you eat vegetables, fruit and whole grain products, you are naturally consuming prebiotics. Particularly good sources of prebiotics are oatmeal, flax, onions, garlic, asparagus, chicory root (inulin), and Jerusalem artichokes. Prebiotics, often in the form of inulin, now appear in many food items in the grocery store. Many food companies are adding prebiotics to processed foods, so check the label for information.

Are probiotics for everyone?

There is little risk in taking probiotics unless your immune (defence) system has been weakened due to illness or medical treatment like chemotherapy. In this case, probiotics may be mistaken as an invading virus. If you are thinking about taking probiotics, talk to your doctor first.

Everyday things to keep your digestive system healthy

Eat healthy foods, especially more vegetables and fruit, whole grains, legumes, plain yogurt and kefir. (Dessert and frozen yogurt are not good sources of probiotics.) You can also try making fermented foods at home. Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchee, pickles, tempeh, miso and kombucha tea are potential sources of probiotics, though the types and quantities are yet to be established. To get the most benefit, make your own sauerkraut, kimchee and pickles. Store-bought items are too processed and high in sodium to count as nutritious.

Generally, probiotics are good for us, and good for our digestion. If you are serious about using probiotics to help with a particular health concern, it is important to read food labels. Do your homework to make sure you are getting the right probiotic in the right amount.

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While effort is made to reflect accepted medical knowledge and practice, articles in Family Health Online should not be relied upon for the treatment or management of any specifid medical problem or concern and Family Health accepts no liability for reliance on the articles. For proper diagnosis and care, you should always consult your family physican promptly. Copyright 2012, Family Health Magazine, a special publication of the Edmonton Journal, a division of Postmedia Network Inc., 10006 - 101 Street, Edmonton, AB T5J 2S6  [NU_FHd13]
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