Your Guide To Probiotics |

Your Guide To Probiotics

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With the gut – the body's most neglected organ – high on the health agenda these days, the buzz around probiotics continues to grow. But are these so-called ‘friendly bacteria’ really so vital? 

To get the low-down on everything from how these microorganisms actually help balance the body to the best way to naturally incorporate them into your diet, we asked expert nutritionist Henrietta Norton, co-founder of Wild Nutrition, for a comprehensive guide to probiotics...

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are live microorganisms (also known as ‘friendly bacteria’) which help maintain the natural balance of organisms (microflora) in the human gut. They are vital for a healthy immune system, protect against harmful bacteria, and aid in both the digestion and absorption of food and nutrients. 

The gastrointestinal tract contains several hundred types of friendly bacteria, which promote healthy digestion and reduce the growth of harmful bacteria. The most well-known probiotics are Lactobacillus acidophilus, which occurs naturally in yoghurt, and Bifidobacterium, commonly found in the gut of breast-fed infants and thought to help provide natural immunity from disease. There are certain strains of yeast in the body, such as Saccharomyces boulardii, that also function as probiotics.

When might we need to take them?

A healthy balance of friendly bacteria in the gut may be thrown off balance by disease-causing bacteria, fungi, and parasites. Drugs (particularly antibiotics), alcohol, stress and toxin exposure can also tip the delicate balance in the body, causing an overgrowth of bacteria, yeast and other harmful organisms, which can lead to the development of vaginal yeast and urinary tract infections. Probiotics can be used to replace the loss of beneficial bacteria from taking antibiotics, helping to prevent any digestive issues. 

In addition, many immune cells are found in the intestines so your overall wellness may be very dependent on the health of your gastrointestinal system. For this reason, taking a daily probiotic may help improve your immune function.

What other issues can probiotics help with? 

Mounting research suggests an imbalance in your gut is related to many health problems both within and outside the gastrointestinal tract, from IBS to obesity and allergies. Probiotics can therefore be used to address a variety of conditions, including inflammatory skin conditions, such as eczema. 

Intense exercise can also affect the balance of healthy flora in the gut and immune tolerance. Preliminary research suggests supplementing your diet with probiotic strains, such as bifidobacterium breve and Lactobacillus rhamnosus, can improve your metabolism, glucose regulation and protect the gut barrier from exercise-induced oxidative damage.

In addition, recent research has looked at the role of gut bacteria in depression and anxiety.

What is the best way to take them? 

Yoghurt is the most common food to contain beneficial bacteria and can be an effective source of probiotics. It is important to eat plain yoghurt, as the addition of sugars can negate the positive effects. 

When probiotics are recommended after a course of antibiotics to restore normal gut flora, supplementation in the form of capsules, powder, or liquid may help improve things more quickly than yoghurt alone. Powder is both more versatile and thought to be more effectively used by the body. 

Do I need to take them all the time? 

For most people, long-term supplementation with probiotics is not necessary. Rather I recommend, on average, a one-month course to repopulate the gut. Then, if you are eating a healthy diet, low in sugar and high in prebiotics, you can let your body do the rest…

How can I incorporate more probiotics into my diet? 

Fermented foods, such as sauerkraut and yoghurt, are rich sources of both probiotics and prebiotics, compounds that the beneficial flora in our digestive tract feed off. They also play an important role in detoxification, while the process of fermentation makes these foods excellent sources of B vitamins and vitamin K2. 

The key is to make sure you get a variety of the fermented foods and introduce them to your diet gradually to avoid side effects, such as bloating. These fermented foods have been used since ancient times by cultures that report great health and longevity.

A few things to note when taking probiotics: 

  • Look for complexes with multiple strains such as those containing lactobacillus, bifidobacterium, and streptococcus strains.
  • Some people respond with digestive discomfort if FOS (a source of prebiotic) is included in the supplement. If this is the case, take a product without added FOS and gradually build prebiotic sources into your diet.
  • Probiotic supplements should have both a manufacturing date and an expiration date on the bottle, as potency is lost after time. The bottle should also state 'contains live cultures'. Powders can be mixed with water or yoghurt, depending on the label instructions.


5-Day Ultimate Detox Kit, £83 | David Kirsch Wellness Co.

Biotic Balance, £19.99 | Bioglan

Acidophilus Capsules, £10 | Holland & Barrett

Body Brilliance, £50 | Clean & Lean 
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