You can't swing a litre of kombucha without hitting a probiotic supplement in any health shop worth their activated charcoal in 2019. But what the benefits of probiotics – and do they actually do anything?
'Probiotics are live bacteria that you ingest,’ explains Dr Philip Burnet, associate professor in psychiatry at the University of Oxford.
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Probiotics benefits: how do the supplements work?
‘You’ll find them in live yoghurt, but also in fermented foods like kefir and kimchi.’ Getting more of the good stuff helps maintain digestive health and boosts the immune system – if it gets to your gut, that is.
‘There’s no evidence that fermented foods like kefir survive stomach acid and reach the large bowel,’ says consultant gastroenterology dietitian Kirsten Jackson.
A lot of probiotic supplements, however, come in acid-resistant capsules, so they’ll survive the journey.
Probiotics benefits: what happens in your body when you take the supplements?
1/ To get the greatest probiotic benefits: eat lots of prebiotics
Much like the live yoghurt in your fridge, supplements have a shelf life in the body.
‘The bacteria in the products only live in the gut while you consistently take the supplement,’ adds Jackson. Consistency is key in the long-term, too.
Think of prebiotic foods(high-fibre veg such as chicory, beans, pulses and onions) as microbiome fertiliser. Eat them regularly and your microbiome will be #plantbasedandthriving.
2/ To get probiotic benefits: persevere when the going gets tough
Got a loo nearby? Good. Because changing your gut microbiome can have, ahem, explosive results. ‘Those who have a sensitive digestive system may experience uncomfortable gas, bloating, constipation or diarrhoea,’ explains digestive health expert Dr Sara Celik.
Think of it as a turf war between the good guys and the bad guys.
The fight scene might leave you temporarily out of action, but the good guys win out in the end.
4/ When it comes to probiotic benefits: watch out for mental uplifts, too
Gut feelings: not just about Tinder hook-ups – it turns out the gut and the brain are tighter than Jon Snow and Samwell Tarly. ‘There are three main pathways between bacteria and the brain,’ says Dr Megan Rossi(@theguthealthdoctor).
‘One sends the message through the bloodstream by producing chemicals in the gut, the second is through the nervous system and the third is via immune pathways.’
Recent studies have explored the potential for manipulating this connection to treat anxiety, depression and PTSD.
5/ Know that probiotic benefits could stretch into weight loss
If your goal is to lose pounds to reach a healthy weight range, consider your gut an investment as worthwhile as that boutique gym membership.
One study found that obese women who took lactobacillus rhamnosus (try saying that while spinning) for three months lost significantly more weight than those given a placebo.
And in the three ‘weight-maintenance’ months that followed, the supp-taking participants continued to lose weight, dropping twice as many kilograms, on average, as the placebo group.
Now that you know about probiotic benefits, why not learn what happens when you go through an IBS flare-up.
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