Bacteria and Probiotics Part 4:
Not all probiotics are created ‘equal’
As discussed previously, probiotics and prebiotics can be sourced as tablets or powders. However, it is good to be aware that not all the probiotics in tablets and powders may be therapeutic probiotics! Yes you read correctly! Some of them may not be therapeutic at all and others could even be pathogenic if used incorrectly. So best to pick the right ones and know what you spend your money on!
Therapeutic probiotics are ones that have been studied and are know to have specific properties that are healing or supportive in some way to the digestive tract, when used correctly. When probiotics are classified as being therapeutic they get a ‘strain’ number. For example Lactobacillus acidophilus is a general name for a group of bacteria of which specific strains are actually considered therapeutic (such as Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM, where the NCFM is the strain number/numeral). So if you are taking Lactobacillus acidophillus with no strain specified, you cannot be guaranteed that this is going to be therapeutic or supportive for your digestive tract. Specifying the type of Lactobacillus acidophillus is important. Consider the ‘dog’ analogy below to understand this better.
Imagine ordering a dog on line. Now all dogs, big or small are wonderful, in my opinion, but if you don’t specify what type of dog you want you could be in trouble with the delivery. You live in a small apartment and were thinking about getting a Chihuahua but you get sent a German Shepherd. Oh oh! Or you wanted a guard dog and you get sent a chihuahua… It’s the same with gut bacteria – you want to get the specific bacteria that will do the job that you want it to do.
So keep in mind that some therapeutic strains of probiotics are specific for certain conditions. There are specific strains that assist with immunity, constipation, loose bowels, yeast overgrowth, IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) etc. Good quality probiotics have specific strains often combined to assist particular conditions. Get some correct advice as to which ones you need.
And then this brings us to the topic of foods and probiotics in foods. Some foods such as fermented foods also have bacteria in them and are often marketed as probiotic foods. Examples include yoghurt and yoghurt drinks, kim chi and sauerkraut. What is interesting here is that whilst some people swear by these foods being good for their health, I see many clients in clinic with gut issues associated with consumption of fermented foods. Why is this, you might ask…
When I was studying for my naturopathy degree at Southern Cross University many moons ago, we had a fellow student, Jason Hawrelak who was completing some further studies on probiotics – Jason is now considered one of the naturopathic leaders in gut health in both Australia and Canada where he also lectures, and he owns and runs an amazing clinic and herbal pharmacy in Hobart called Gould’s Pharmacy, a beautiful old school apothecary and clinic, well worth a visit for that matter. But back to the point… His studies at the time, involved investigating the bacteria in common cultured foods on the supermarket shelves. He discovered that most of the bacterial cultures in these freshly cultured foods were not the ones stated on the labels, and some even contained pathogenic bacteria. This does not mean that all cultured foods are ‘bad’ or should not be eaten, it is simply saying that you need to discern if this food is actually truly support for you or not. The results of this study were an eye opener for all of us and certainly helps me understand today why some people can get digestive issues from fermented foods.
Fermented foods may also not suit many people for various reasons, from the high amine content (which can increase mast cell activation and allergies), to the fact that some fermented foods can contain alcohol in varying amounts, and also the fact that fermented foods can be considered as being energetically very damp for the body and stimulating to the spirit. So for most, having fermented foods and using probiotics certainly can have its place, but for others, take caution and this is perhaps not something you would want to do long term.
If you have not already checked our Part 1, 2 and 3 of Gut Bacteria and Probiotics, then please do so to get the full story behind these wonder bugs!