Our friends are awesome, aren’t they?! No matter what, they always seem to have our backs. And that’s the same when it comes to the good bacteria in our guts. These friendly bacteria, better known as ‘probiotics’, are found naturally in fermented foods such as yoghurt, kefir and miso. In the UK we know these as friendly bacteria. These supplements (both pills and powders) are also ubiquitous in health food stores as more and more of us wake up to their potential benefits. Indeed, the market for probiotics is exploding; annual global sales of probiotic supplements was estimated at $3.7 billion in 2016 and is expected to be worth $17.4 billion by 2027 (Harvard Health 2017).
Our guts are home to a range of bacteria. Whilst most of us worry about the potentially harmful ones, we don’t do enough for the good guys . These are true superheroes, helping improve gut immune function and prevent infection (Sizer and Whitney 2017). When we’re healthy, friendly bacteria vastly outnumber unfriendly ones and literally create a barrier against them.
After a course of antibiotics, good bacteria can also help re-establish a healthy gut. Antibiotics indiscriminately kill off bacteria, meaning our good bacteria suffer in addition to the bad bacteria antibiotics are prescribed to treat. This can lead to gas, cramping or diarrhoea. A diet rich in probiotics can minimise these effects and return our gut to a normal, healthy state (Sizer and Whitney 2017).
Probiotics even have the potential to treat inflammatory gut diseases such as IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), ulcerative colitis, and Crohn’s disease. However, so far trials have seen mixed results and more research is needed (Derwa et al. 2017).
Straining off the best
There are tonnes of types of good bacteria out there, each of which function differently. However, the most common are Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum. You can find these in a range of products, including sour cream, probiotic cereals and infant formula.
All yogurts are required to be treated with Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. However, for a yogurt to be considered probiotic, it must contain certain types, including either Lactobacillus acidophilus or Bifidobacterium bifidum.
Creating a good home
It’s our job to ensure our friends feel comfortable. Good bacteria thrive in certain conditions and require specific things to function at their best. For example, heat often kills live active cultures (Terpou et al. 2019). Meanwhile, prebiotics found in foods such as apples, oats and bananas, act as food for our friendly bacteria (Sizer and Whitney 2017). It’s therefore essential we include plenty of these foods in our diets.
Probiotics are our number one cheerleaders and their benefits have been known for centuries. Even the Romans were using fermented milk products to treat digestive disorders (Harvard Health 2017)! The scientific community now agrees regular consumption of probiotics has the potential to vastly improve our health and wellbeing. Whilst more research is needed, we are sold on doing what we can to help our friends and believe a ‘food first’ approach will always outweigh any pill or tablet we take. We also believe in making this as easy and convenient as possible.
Derwa, Y., Gracie, D.J., Hamlin, P.J. and Ford, A.C. (2017) Systematic review with meta‐analysis: the efficacy of probiotics in inflammatory bowel disease. Alimentary pharmacology & therapeutics, 46(4), pp.389-400.
Sizer, F.S. and Whitney, E. (2017) Nutrition Concepts and Controversies 15th Edition. Cengage Learning Inc.
Terpou, A., Papadaki, A., Lappa, I.K., Kachrimanidou, V., Bosnea, L.A. and Kopsahelis, N. (2019) Probiotics in food systems: significance and emerging strategies towards improved viability and delivery of enhanced beneficial value. Nutrients, 11(7), p.1591.