You may know that probiotics are beneficial for your gut microbiome, and while this is true, not all probiotics are created equal. In fact different types of probiotics (also known as probiotic strains) have different functions within the body. If you’ve read any of the upcoming, almost unpronounceable terms on the back of your yoghurt tub, it’s time to find out more about the major role these types of probiotics play in your health.
But first, what are probiotics, and what do they do?
The term ‘probiotic’ can be defined as live micro-organisms that confer a health benefit to the host, when delivered in adequate amounts. This is the technical definition anyway! More simply, probiotics are what we commonly call ‘good bacteria’, and they are found in our gut microbiome, as well as in fermented foods and supplements. That said, we don’t want to simplify too much – something that conveys a health benefit, and how much is required to see that benefit, are key components here… there is no use spending your hard earned cash on probiotic supplements or food, if there is no quality research to back it up!
Probiotic strains refer to subtypes of good bacteria or yeast. These include lactic-acid-producing bacteria, non-lactic-acid-producing bacteria and various types of yeast. Different organisms, or probiotics, can provide different health benefits. It is important to remember that health benefits need to be documented in research, which is an ever evolving area.
And… its important to remember that the diverse array of these probiotics that is present in our gut is yet to be replicated by any food or supplement – there are trillions of different micro-organisms found in our gut!
Below I will go over some of the most common species of probiotics, however it is important to remember that there is variation between strains of these species in the health benefits they may provide.
This species is one of the two main types of bacteria used in probiotics and is commonly found in fermented foods. The health benefits of lactobacillus include:
- Reducing diarrhea associated with infections and antibiotic-associated diarrhea (specifically lactobacillus rhamnosus)
- Potential benefits in easing the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (specifically lactobacillus acidophilus)
- Can potentially decrease the risk for developing bowel cancer and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- May be effective in reducing body weight
Another widely-used probiotic is Bifidobacterium. This species has been shown to be able to survive in the challenging conditions of the digestive tract. This means that you are able to consume it in your food or with oral supplements. Good sources of Bifidobacterium are yoghurt, olives, sauerkraut, salami and cheese. Its benefits include:
- It’s effective in treating constipation, travelers’ diarrhea and antibiotic-associated diarrhea
- It reduces inflammation and eczema
- Some strains can lower cholesterol levels
- The specific strains, bifidobacterium breve and bifidobacterium longum, have beneficial effects in patients suffering from IBS
This type of bacteria is commonly added to dairy products, such as milk and cheese. Lactococcus lactis is specifically beneficial in the treatment of antibiotic-associated diarrhea and it has antimicrobial properties.
This type of bacteria is commonly found in the large intestine. The strain, escherichia coli is beneficial in treating constipation and IBD.
Also known as brewer’s yeast or baker’s yeast, saccharomyces is commonly used in beer, wine, kefir, kombucha and probiotic supplements. Since this is a strain of yeast, it can be administered at the same time as an antibiotic, potentially helping to reduce the negative side effects of taking antibiotics.
The strain saccharomyces boulardii reduces the duration of infectious diarrhea and antibiotic-associated diarrhea. It is also beneficial in the treatment of IBS, IBD and ulcerative colitis. Saccharomyces cerevisiae also has beneficial effects in people with IBS.
Each species and strain of probiotic has specific benefits, and making sure you consume a wide variety of probiotic-rich foods, as well as foods rich in prebiotics (stay tuned for another article on this topic!) can help give you the best outcomes. If you need help adding more probiotics to your diet or with your gut health, get in touch with me today for a consultation!