What are Probiotics?

Nightingale Blog_What are probiotics?

As we explore further into digestive health, today we are discussing bacteria. Did you know that your gut is full of bacteria, both good and bad – about 100,000 billion in total? That’s right, bacteria is actually critical in keeping your digestive system healthy and balanced. Your gut starts getting populated with bacteria as soon as you’re born, so every person will have a slightly different microbiome, or population of bacteria, by the time they are adults. So how can you make sure you get enough of the good bacteria as an adult and keep the balance? The answer may be probiotics! These are live bacteria that help keep your digestive system healthy – often thought of as ‘good’ microbes. Good microbes help us digest food, stay healthy and prevent disease. In contrast, antibiotics, like the ones you get when you are sick with a bacterial infection, kill bacteria. Since establishing the reality of the gut-brain connection, or the relationship between your digestive system and your mental health, science has devoted more time than ever on researching probiotics and other ways that the gut and mind can reach a happy balance. While many of the capabilities of probiotics are not yet fully understood, there has been more and more evidence that points towards probiotics as being beneficial for a variety of conditions.

What types of digestive conditions can probiotics help treat?

  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

Two of the most common strains of probiotics for humans to take are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. You can look for these in capsule, tablet or drop forms at the pharmacy. To care for your probiotics, refrigeration is often required to keep the bacteria alive. Probiotics are also available in some foods and drinks like fortified yogurts and kombucha. Just remember to pay attention to the concentration of bacteria in your probiotic, as you need a pretty high concentration for it to have a desirable effect. Be sure to consult your doctor if you are unsure which strain or concentration of probiotics to begin taking. As well, it is a good idea to ask your doctor which brand they recommend, as they are not classified as ‘pharmaceuticals’ and therefore are not always subjected to the same standards.

Reach out to your doctor, dietician or naturopath if you are interested in trying probiotics and learning more!

Adapted from the Canadian Digestive Health Foundation