Do Probiotics Work (and what exactly do they do?)

Probiotics – are they safe and what are they doing to your gut flora?!

Probiotics have gone mainstream!

Every health conscious company is whipping up their own concoction of acidophilus-bifidobacterium cocktail and pushing it onto us like it’s the newest savior to our growing health concerns.

Let’s go ahead and break down the basics and see why probiotics deserve our attention and what they actually can do for our gut flora and overall health.

Define Probiotics

By now we know how antibiotics are the destroyer of gut floras and the demon of modern health*.

*Don’t worry, antibiotics have their place but unfortunately most prescribing doctors, they don’t know their harmful effects to our precious little biome.

The definition of probiotic according to Dictionary.com is the following:

usually dairy food or a dietary supplement containing live bacteria that replace or add to the beneficial bacteria normally present in the gastrointestinal tract.

Pretty decent job.

Straight to the point.

Time to put my spin on it.

I would like to say my definition of probiotics is something like this: the hero that we need and most of the time, the ones what we deserve.

It is the little engine that could.

…A Cinderella story of a tiny few delivering a bigger impact.

These guys know how to help us out!

One of the best ways is if they can begin to seed themselves in our gut…but in a good way…not like that famous Alien scene.

Probiotics are bacteria that help bring balance to our microbiome. They are usually organisms that have been scientifically proven to provide beneficial properties to our bodies under the right quantities.

Great!

So they are here to help us.

That means they are safe?

Well…

It depends.

There are cases when you shouldn’t be taking probiotics.

Those who have a depleted immune system should hold off.

And for those of us who are just starting out with probitoics need to do so in a careful manner. If not, it can lead to massive bloat, painful gas, and a hunkering over a porcelain throne.

Take it slow. You can’t regain diversity or all the health benefits overnight.

Ok, know that we have a little understanding of what probiotics are what does that mean to us?

 

Do Probiotics Work?

The main goal of taking probiotics is to either clear our “bad” gut bacteria or add diversity to your microbiome.

Off the top of the head, logic would make it seem like taking probiotics is a pipe dream.

“You’re going to take a 1 billion tablet and that’s gonna cause change amongst 10 trillion?”

The results are actually surprising.

There have been multiple studies with various probiotics showing how they can be effective in their small numbers.

Here are a few of them:

Prescript Assist was shown to provide relief of symptoms of IBS[¹]

General Biotics Probiotic Equilibrium showed improvement for the users on the Bristol Stool Chart [²]

VSL #3 was shown to provide relief to those with ulcerative colitis and IBS sufferers. [³]

There is no better evidence than science backed evidence.

But hey, not everybody will see the same results, but the overarching theme here is that these probiotics can make a difference to our flora.

So how are these support troops able to do their job?

How Do Probiotics Work?

Let’s talk about probiotics in pill form.

There are usually billions or CFU’s (colony forming units) of a particular strain.

Assuming they all survive in the capsule, they have to pass through a rigorous chain of events.

The first test is your mouth. Should be an easy win all considering you aren’t chewing the capsules. (Unless you’re a savage!)

Ok, next.

Your stomach.

This is where the survival is at its lowest.

Your stomach acid is strong enough to break down the rest of your food in a form more convenient for your microbiome to handle. Not to mention, it is not very hospitable to bacteria.

Which is a GOOD THING!

Or else we’d be infested with infections every other meal.

But not so good when we are trying to deliver our little capsule of reinforcements.

The capsule must endure the highly acidic environment and reach its main destination…

The Intestinal Tract.

This is where the magic happens.

Almost like that fairy godmother turning the pumpkin into a chariot, these little warriors will begin to transform your gut into the well-oiled machine you need it to be.

Your intestines are where most of your gut microbiome is hanging out. They are just floating around or chilling on your gut linings waiting for that meal to come down the tube.

When you have dysbiosis in your flora you will have the gangstas running the food causeway.

That’s why you gotta send in the boys in Blue.


Probiotics work in different ways.

One main feature of most bacteria in these capsules is their ability to create lactic acid.

Lactic acid is the kryptonite of the bacteria that cause us all the issues in our guts. Given the opportunity to chow on our meals, our probiotics can be to produce lactic acid.

This begins to clear the way for the good guys to regroup and regain the balance that we need.

It does take time. You may see results immediately.

Usually, you will need to take probiotics for around a week to truly see if it benefiting you.

When is the best time to take them?

There are a lot of different advice on when to take them. It really all depends on your current condition.

If your gut is in serious shambles, you may need a constant dosage recommended by a professional.

For those of us looking to treat minor gut troubles or to promote diversity, its best to look at the back of the bottle.

The most important factor is allowing the bacteria strains to make it past the stomach acid and get into your gut to get to work.

One method that was mentioned is actually taking your probiotic with a meal.

Doing so will allow the acid to not have its full impact on just a singular tablet and spread it out amongst the food and tablet.

Some tablets are even coated to help the survival rate through the stomach.

Probiotics and Antibiotics

As I said earlier, if you’ve been on antibiotics your flora has been disrupted.

You can usually notice the signs.

Diarrhea.

Disrupted bowels.

More than a third of patients taking antibiotics develop antibiotic-associated diarrhea. [4]

Most of us can bounce back to our old diverse gut, but for others there are last side effects.

We need to have our diverse guts back!

We have to be proactive.

This means helping our guts recover faster with the help of probiotics…

…but we also don’t want to be throwing pills down our throats only for them to be neutralized by the antibiotics.

The best way to navigate these waters is to allow 2 hours after your antibiotic dosage and your probiotic regime. 

Probiotics In Food

Those of us who aren’t as keen to take pills might find some solace in the fact we can grab ourselves some probiotics the old fashioned way: in food.

Now, I wrote a quick primer on the different type of probiotics in my Simple Foods 2.0, so it’s worth re-pointing out the key players.

Most of these can be found at a local grocer or you can whip them up in your own kitchen!


Kimchi

This Korean probiotic powerhouse isn’t for the faint of heart. With a little bit of a kick, this healthy snack can be added to your bone broth or on the side of a bowl of rice.

Sauerkraut A staple for those who want to have a little of tang on their brauts or hot dogs. I personally like making sauerkraut at home. Using red cabbage, you can more antioxidants to this healthy little snack.

Learn how to make your own kimchi here

Kombucha

Love me some kombucha. The tang of a homemade brew can be overbearing for some but I like the way you can experiment with different flavors. Gingerberry anyone? More flavors are becoming available at the grocery store making this drink tolerable for most palates.

Podcast guest Hannah Crum Recipe

Listen to our podcast w/ Hannah!

Pickled Anything

Pickled eggs? How about string beans? Making these at home are a little bit different than traditional fermentation. Pouring vinegar is kinda cheating, but who is keeping score here? If it tastes good and beneficial for me, you know I’ll be eating it!

Pickled string beans recipe

Tempeh

Apparently, I’ve been living under a rock. Or maybe it’s because I’m not vegan, but I was finally introduced to tempeh last year. Whoa. This stuff is good. Straight from the motherland (tempeh was created in Indonesia), I was pounding tempeh burgers at one of my favorite coffee shops in Ubud, Bali. Give them a try, but don’t go to HAM on them at first, or you may be hitting the loo more than you’d like.

Kefir

One of my favorites, kefir is yet another tangy drink concoction.  Kefir can be made with either coconut milk or regular milk. Even those with lactose intolerance can give this a go.

Coconut based kefir – where to order your grains/recipe

Milk kefir

Craft Beer

Ok maybe I’m pushing it by putting on the list, but I’m not technically wrong. Especially when you can get your hands on a freshly brewed, unfiltered, glass of heavenly goodness. Mostly filled with yeasts, when drinking in moderate levels, these beers can add to your diversity of your flora.

If you are looking to get really nerdy and what to see the strains, pick up a microscope. In fact, the people over at Microbial Foods break down to the specific strain for each one of the probiotic foods.

Final Thoughts

Probiotics can be thought of as just another add on to an already diverse microbiome. They alone won’t solve all your woes of gut troubles.With the right strains and correct diet, you can certainly right the ship in a direction that will give you healthy life.

Whether you go with the pill form to target specific strains or go with the traditional fermentation route, it’s never a bad thing to help bring more diversity to your gut!

Don’t forget to start slow with adding probiotics to your diet.

With the right strains and correct diet, you can certainly right the ship in a direction that will give you healthy life.

With the right strains and correct diet, you can certainly right the ship in a direction that will give you healthy life.

How have probiotics affected your life? Did you experience any relief from taking them?