The use of probiotics has become very popular over the last few years. In fact as the benefits of probiotics become more obvious, the expected growth in this sector of the food/supplement industry is expected to grow by 6.5 percent between 2014 and 2019.
This article will tell you about the benefits of probiotics but also what to be aware of when buying probiotics – there’s no point spending your money on a ‘dead probiotic’.
Why are probiotics so useful?
Naturopaths have been sprouting about the benefits of probiotics for decades especially for good gut/digestive function. Practitioners who talked about gut detoxification and getting to the ‘core’ of ill health were often labelled as ‘nutters’ in past years, but these days science is revealing the truth behind this form of treatment.
The importance of our gut to our total bodily health is rightly receiving more and more attention. The health of the gut is known to substantially
affect how the rest of the body functions.
We know that;
• around 70 percent or more of our immune cells reside in the gut;
• most of the body’s serotonin, a brain neurotransmitter needed for mental health is produced in the gut and not the brain as was previously assumed;
• poor digestive function is a major contributor to health problems including cancer.
Having adequate levels of the different types of probiotics is one of the key factors needed for this vital gut health.
Latest research benefits of probiotics
Different studies of probiotics have made the following findings:
• In children, the use of specific strains of lactobacillus is useful in producing a clinical improvement in atopic dermatitis 
• In infants, taking probiotics resulted in decreased gastrointestinal disorders. Taking a Lactobacillus strain in the first 3 months of life resulted in
less regurgitation and crying time. Furthermore it was felt that lactobacilli could improve intestinal permeability. This has implications in allergy related conditions such as eczema.
• When given a strain of probiotic known as streptococcus salivarius as a lozenge, children experienced a 96 percent decrease in sore throats and an 80 percent reduction in episodes of viral infection;
• Probitiotics can be helpful in the treatment of women with bacterial vaginosis. The probiotics were found to help reduce the infection, vaginal bacteria and yeast pathogens;
• A recent study with children with peanut allergy had a mixed response. 62 children participated in the study that found that the treatment was associated with reduced peanut skin prick test responses and peanut-specific IgE levels and increased peanut-specific IgG4 levels (all P < .001). (IgE antibodies are related to an immediate allergy response that occurs within the first 4 hours usually. IgG antibodies are linked to a delayed allergy response (occurring within 12 -36 hours) which generally produce less severe allergic reactions but more long term reactions.)
• In people with HIV, probiotics have been found to improve chronic gastrointestinal symptoms and support the immune system ;
• In athletes, probiotics given in combination with protein, have been found to decrease recovery time and soreness, reduce swelling, boost power and reduce blood kinase (a marker of muscle damage);
• Weight loss – taking probiotics for 12 months has been found to produce weight loss of up to 5 kg, without any other interventions;
• Side effects of antibiotics such as queasiness, fever, bloating, pain and diarrhoea can be halved when taking a probiotic supplement with four strains.
Where can you get your daily dose of probiotics?
Because of the health benefit of probiotics, consuming them has become very popular.
The most common ways to take probiotics are in tablet form if there is a specific health problem or as a part of the daily diet, if prevention of ill health is the goal.
The most common food sources are yoghurt, kefir and fermented milk. Fermented foods in general are useful for boosting the good bacteria of the gut.
With the popularity of probiotics we will see many new products coming onto the market. ‘On the go’ type of products that offer convenience and portability are becoming popular. For example types of probiotic are being put into teas, fruit snacks and bars.
The consumer needs to be aware of a few things before purchasing their probiotic products.
Secondly, probiotics are not as stable as some other products. In other words there shelf life can be limited and the activity of the probiotic may be limited or non-existent. Many probiotics are not room temperature stable. Products such as those produced with water or shelf-stable beverages are not conducive to the use of probiotics.
According to Mike Bush, senior vice president of Ganeden Biotech. ““If you try to put your standard lactobacillus and bifido bacteria into a granola bar, and you want it to be stable after carrying it around all day, it just really limits the options of probiotic strains you can use.”
Furthermore he stated that ““Supplements have found ways to get around these stability issues, but food and beverage have a ways to go.”
But even the production of supplements can have issues. The tableting process that requires the use of heat can upset the stability of the probiotic. Gelatin capsule probiotics may be particularly susceptible to instability as they are high in moisture. Low moisture capsules perform much better and also survive the journey from mouth to stomach to intestine where the probiotics are eventually intended to be released – whilst still active.
Even the natural acid environment of the gut can kill off the probiotic as it passes through the stomach. This creates yet another formulating issue that the manufacturer must overcome in order to produce a good probiotic product.
So the message here is not to get sucked into purchasing new probiotic drinks or health bars. Stick to products on your supermarket shelves that have been around for a long time such as Vaalia or Activia yoghurt.
When shopping for probiotic supplements it is probably safer to stick to a company that supplies practitioners and have been tried and tested over many years. Your practitioner will also be able to advise about the products that will feed your new probiotics in the stomach – without food, the ability of the probiotic to survive, thrive and multiply in the body is limited.
How to get tested
Occasionally clients of Healthy Skin Clinic will be recommended to have tests done on their bowel motions. These laboratory tests can help to reveal exactly what probiotics are low or non-existent in the gut. These tests can be ordered Australia wide, as part of our consultation services offered by Healthy Skin Clinic
Written by Naturopath, Nurse and Formulation Chemist, Vivienne Savill for Healthy Skin Clinic.
REFERENCE 1. Clin Exp Allergy. 2015 Jan 20. doi: 10.1111/cea.12489. Children with atopic dermatitis show clinical improvement after Lactobacillus exposure. Wang IJ1, Wang JY.
2. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2015 Jan 12. pii: S0091-6749(14)01737-0. doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2014.11.034. Administration of a probiotic with peanut oral immunotherapy: A randomized trial. Tang ML1Et Al.
3. Progressive Probiotics. Insider, Vol 2, No 1. Jan-Feb, 2015