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Probiotics 101: How probiotic bacteria shape your gut microbiome and overall health
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Probiotics 101: How probiotic bacteria shape your gut microbiome and overall health

Could health conditions and problems be reversed or prevented by using probiotics to rebalance the gut?

From birth, we have a mutually beneficial partnership with our friendly gut bacteria. We provide them with shelter and food, and in turn, they keep our bodies healthy and our immune systems in top shape.

This kind of relationship is not unique to humans but is found in other places in nature, where bacteria can give some animals incredible superpowers, including immunity to poison.

For example, desert woodrats living in the Mojave Desert, California, can feed on the creosote bush thanks to a special kind of gut bacteria, which grants them resistance to this plant’s toxic resin that would normally cause severe liver and kidney damage.

There are still many things we do not know about the human microbiome and probiotics and more studies uncovering surprising findings about the importance of probiotic bacteria are coming to the forefront. They are not only important for maintaining our digestive system but also play a key role in immune function, organ health, mental well-being and cognition.

But before we dig into the impact of probiotics on our health and longevity, lets cover the basics.

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are essentially live microorganisms, also known as beneficial or good bacteria, residing in our gut. There are about 38 trillion bacterial cells in the human body, compared to 30 trillion human cells, however, because the bacterial cells are much smaller, there are about 2-4 lbs of bacterial mass in an individual weighing 150 lbs.

How do probiotics work?

Probiotic bacteria are the underrated guardians of one of the most delicate ecosystems on our planet — the human gut microbiome, and maintaining a balanced and diverse microbiome is not an easy task.

Modern life has produced many challenges when it comes to maintaining a healthy microbiome, such as processed foods, sugar, artificial preservatives and sweeteners, pesticides, antibiotics, and excessive stress. However, probiotics can help restore balance to the gut.

Here are some of the ways probiotics help improve our health and well-being:

  • Break down food into essential nutrients that our bodies can easily absorb

  • Inhibit pathogens in the gut and minimize inflammation

  • Support the integrity of the intestinal barrier

  • Stimulate immune cells and balance the bodys immune response

  • Neutralize toxins in the stomach and prevent them from being metabolized

  • Produce neurotransmitters that regulate our mood and stress response

  • Improve brain function and prevent aging-related cognitive decline

Some probiotics can be found in fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, and pickles, however, there are reasons why carefully formulated and cultured probiotic supplements provide greater benefits,

Probiotics vs. prebiotics: What’s the difference?

Probiotics are the beneficial bacteria in our gut microbiome and prebiotics are the fuel that keeps them alive.

Prebiotics are plant-based dietary fibre that is digested and broken down in the gut into short-chain fatty acids.

Butyrate is one of the short-chain fatty acids that provide several health benefits, such as improvement in gut motility, reduction of inflammation, strengthening of the intestinal lining, and reducing the risk of colon cancer, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Eating foods naturally rich in prebiotic fibres like oats, apples, legumes, artichokes, and mushrooms can help increase butyrate production.

How many probiotic types are there?

Scientists have divided probiotics into seven groups — Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Saccharomyces, Streptococcus, Enterococcus, Escherichia, and Bacillus.

The first three categories are the most extensively researched and consumed for their beneficial effects on the gut microbiome, immune and cognitive function, emotional well-being, and chronic conditions.

Lactobacillus bacteria produce health-supporting substances such as lactic acid, short-chain fatty acids (SCFA), and some antimicrobial substances that stop pathogenic bacteria from disrupting the microbiome.

Bifidobacterium bacteria produce several vital chemical compounds, including vitamins, short-chain fatty acids such as butyrate, and organic acids that balance the gut pH, all while keeping pathogens at bay.

Unlike the other two, the Saccharomyces category includes several types of beneficial yeasts, which can be found in plants and the human GI tract, while some are used in commercial alcoholic drinks such as wine and beer.

Of all of them, Saccharomyces boulardii is the most studied probiotic for its antimicrobial properties and anti-inflammatory properties in treating digestive issues such as acute diarrhea.

Is there a difference between different probiotic strains?

Names such as Lactobacillus acidophilus or Bifidobacterium bifidum might sound more familiar to you because theyre the probiotic strains you see listed on probiotic supplement bottles.

Each probiotic strain can have different scientifically proven effects on our microbiome and general health, as shown below.

Lactobacillus acidophilus

  • Supports healthy immune function and alleviates allergy symptoms

  • Helps manage symptoms of digestive issues such as diarrhea, inflammatory
    bowel syndrome (IBS), and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

  • Reduces incidence and duration of common cold and flu symptoms

  • Improves vaginal health and helps prevent infections

Lactobacillus brevis

  • Boosts immune system function

  • Helps improve digestion and regulate bowel movements

  • Reduces inflammation in the body

Lactobacillus helveticus

  • Strengthens the immune system

  • Supports the gut flora and improves digestion

  • Helps prevent gastrointestinal infections

  • Helps reduce anxiety and depression symptoms and improves mood

Lactobacillus plantarum

  • Promotes a healthy immune response

  • Supports digestive health and reduces bloating

  • Helps improve skin health and may reduce eczema symptoms

Lactobacillus reuteri

  • Helps improve oral health by reducing plaque formation and gum inflammation

  • Improves digestion and reduces constipation

  • Promotes healthy skin and reduces acne and eczema

  • Helps treat and prevent urinary tract infections and yeast infections in women

Lactobacillus rhamnosus

  • Promotes a healthy immune system

  • Helps prevent and treat gastrointestinal infections

  • Reduces the risk of antibiotic-related and acute infectious diarrhea

  • Stops candida overgrowth in the body

  • Helps improve mental health by reducing anxiety and depression symptoms

 Bifidobacterium bifidum

  • Supports healthy digestive and immune function

  • Helps manage symptoms of IBS, including bloating, gas, and diarrhea

  • Helps prevent gastrointestinal infections

  • Alleviates digestive discomfort associated with stress

Bifidobacterium breve

  • Boosts digestion and prevents constipation and diarrhea

  • Helps reduce inflammation in the gut and throughout the body

  • Supports the immune system and alleviates allergy symptoms

  • Maintains the balance of vaginal flora and helps prevent yeast infections

Bifidobacterium longum

  • Regulates the body’s immune response and reduces inflammation

  • Helps improve mental health and decreases depression and anxiety symptoms

  • Supports digestive health and reduces the risk of gastrointestinal infections

  • Alleviates symptoms from ulcerative colitis and IBS 

What are the health benefits of taking probiotics?

  • Improve digestion and regulate bowel movements

Probiotics help restore and maintain a balanced gut microbiome, regulate bowel movements and support healthy digestion and nutrient absorption. Studies show that probiotic supplementation can help reduce the duration of acute infectious diarrhea by inhibiting the growth of harmful bacteria that disrupt digestion and cause irregular bowel movements.

Taking probiotics has also been found to help counteract the disruptive effects of antibiotics on the gut flora, reduce the risk of antibiotic-associated diarrhea and speed up recovery by promoting the growth of beneficial gut bacteria.

  • Relieve symptoms of GI issues such as IBS, IBD, Crohn’s disease and leaky gut syndrome

Probiotics have anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties that may help manage IBS and IBD flare-ups and reduce the severity of symptoms such as bloating, gas, abdominal discomfort and irregular bowel movements.

Research shows that using probiotics can also help address leaky gut symptoms by reducing gut inflammation, improving the integrity of intestinal walls and preventing toxins from entering the bloodstream and causing further infection.

  • Strengthen the immune system and relieve allergy symptoms

Probiotics help support and regulate our immune system by activating immune cells to eliminate harmful bacteria and viruses, reducing systemic inflammation, and stimulating the production of antibodies in the gut. These beneficial bacteria ensure our body is protected from disease-causing pathogens while also preventing it from overreacting to harmless substances, such as food.

Probiotic supplementation has been shown to lower the risk of allergic reactions by balancing the bodys immune responses and reducing the hypersensitivity that leads to allergies like asthma and atopic dermatitis and relieving related symptoms.

  • Improve mood and emotional well-being 

One of the most surprising findings related to gut health is the gut-brain axis, the bidirectional communication channel between the brain and the gut microbiome.

Researchers have uncovered that bacteria in our gut can directly impact our mood and emotions, and dysbiosis or an unhealthy gut can lead to mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and age-related cognitive decline.

Probiotic bacteria showing mental health benefits or psychobiotics have become the focus of numerous clinical studies in recent years, some revealing promising outcomes. As such, strains of Lactobacillus plantarum and Bifidobacterium breve have been found to alleviate stress and anxiety in adults and reduce the severity of depression compared to the placebo groups.

  • Support optimal kidney and liver health

Probiotics can enhance renal and liver function, as well as prevent or slow the progression of chronic kidney and liver disease and prevent recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs) by promoting a balanced gut microbiome, reducing inflammation, strengthening the intestinal barrier, and cleansing toxins from the body.

An increasing number of clinical studies have revealed that rebalancing the gut microbiome can impact the development of liver disorders such as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and reduce complications.

While more research is needed to cover the benefits of probiotics for patients with chronic kidney disease, some studies have found that probiotic treatment can help improve kidney function and reduce uremic toxin levels in the blood.

  • Reduce the risk of cancer

Probiotics represent a promising tool for cancer prevention and treatment as they might slow down the growth of cancer cells, making it harder for them to multiply uncontrollably and wreak havoc on the body. Research also shows that probiotics can boost the immune system to help recognize and eliminate cancer cells faster and reduce the risk of tumours, thus saving our lives.

Why eating fermented foods is not enough

Eating fermented foods is without a doubt beneficial for your gut health, but compared to supplements, you have very little control over what probiotic strains you’re consuming and in what quantity.

Also, not all fermented products that claim to contain live probiotics actually do. For example, it may surprise you that many yogurt manufacturers use pasteurization to kill the bacteria within the products and extend their shelf life. In doing so, they also eliminate the probiotic bacteria that are beneficial for your health.

A diversified diet that includes fermented foods, as well as essential vitamins, minerals, Omega-3s, and probiotic supplements, is more likely to help restore your gut balance and address related health issues more effectively.

Are probiotics good for everyone?

Probiotics have a variety of health benefits, including improved digestion, stronger immunity and better mood and are considered safe for most people, especially when they do not contain dairy.

Probiotics are even more important in pregnancy or people with compromised immune systems, who are critically ill or those who have undergone surgery or are on antibiotics.

When is the best time to take probiotics?

Timing matters when it comes to probiotics, especially since they must pass through the stomach and survive the highly acidic environment before reaching the large intestine, namely your gut.

When you eat a meal your stomach produces acid to help digest the food. However, food also dilutes and buffers the stomach acids which helps the probiotic bacteria survive.

Different bacteria have different levels of sensitivity to stomach acid, but in general, taking probiotics with food is closer to what happens in nature.

How long does it take for probiotics to work?

The time it takes for probiotics to have noticeable health improvements can differ from person to person and depends on several factors, including your health status, the specific probiotic formulation, supplement dosage, and health concerns youre targeting with the probiotic treatment.

For example, if youre taking probiotics for antibiotic-related or travellers diarrhea, you might see improvements in your digestive health within a couple of days. However, if youre using probiotics as an alternative treatment to relieve allergies, immune disease or anxiety symptoms, it can take several weeks to a few months to see the full effect.

What are the side effects of taking probiotics?

Although probiotics are safe to use and can help improve your overall health, some individuals may experience mild digestive symptoms when first taking probiotics, such as bloating, gas, stomach cramps, and changes in bowel movements.

Theres nothing to worry about, as these symptoms are usually temporary and may be a sign of positive resetting of your gut microbiome.

As the body adjusts to the probiotics and eliminates the harmful bacteria and toxins accumulated in the gut, these initial side effects typically disappear within the first weeks of treatment.

How to choose the best probiotic supplement

With so many probiotic alternatives on the market, making the right decision can be overwhelming when youre unsure about what to look for.

To give you a starting point, Ive put together a list of factors you might want to consider when doing your research and comparing probiotic supplements.

  • Brand Reputation

Choose brands that are transparent about their ingredients, sourcing and manufacturing processes and are not afraid to walk the talk regarding their commitment to quality control and customer satisfaction.

These companies typically have a proven history of producing high-quality supplements supported by verified customer reviews and testimonials.

  • Quality and Transparency

Look for probiotic supplements that undergo third-party testing for quality and purity to ensure the product respects the highest quality standards.

You should also be able to find clear information about the companys ingredient sourcing and manufacturing processes on its website and product labels. This way, you get peace of mind the supplement you use is free of fillers, toxins and heavy metals.

  • Strain Diversity

Different strains offer unique health benefits, so opting for a probiotic with a variety of carefully selected strains can improve overall health and well-being by restoring the gut microbiome, boosting the immune response and improving cognitive function.

When supported by clinical studies and scientific research, a multi-strain probiotic formula can also help relieve symptoms of chronic digestive issues.

  • Formula

Not all probiotic formulas are created equal. Ideally, choose probiotic supplements that contain prebiotics as well as herbs that enhance the digestive benefits of probiotics and improve overall health.

As lactose intolerance is rather common, we suggest that you opt for vegan probiotic supplements for which the selected live bacteria strains have been fermented on a dairy-free medium.

  • CFUs (Colony Forming Units)

When considering a probiotic supplement, pay attention to the CFU count. CFUs indicate the number of live and active probiotic bacteria per serving. A supplement with 10 to 20 billion CFUs is generally sufficient for optimal gut health, a strong immune system, and a balanced mood.

While youll also find probiotics with 50 billion CFUs or higher, remember that the CFU count doesnt necessarily equate to a high-quality probiotic supplement or better results.

  • Packaging

Packaging plays a significant role in maintaining the effectiveness of probiotics. To preserve the probiotic's potency and purity, look for supplements that come in opaque, airtight, glass bottles. Chemicals leaching from plastic containers may negatively affect the quality of the product, harm the environment, and increase the risk of exposure to moisture. They are also a sign that the manufacturer prioritizes cost-cutting over product quality.

Not all probiotics are created equal: Meet GutSense H+

GutSense H+ is a dairy-free probiotic and digestive health support formulated with nine clinically-researched Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains to help stimulate the growth of good bacteria in your gut, relieve digestive discomfort, gut inflammation, and bloating, and boost your immunity and mood.

Unlike most probiotic supplements, GutSense H+ is enriched with a unique blend of certified organic natural ingredients that improve digestion and nutrient absorption, regulate bowel movements, and gently detox your body from toxins and heavy metals.

GutSense H+ is a vegan probiotic formula that also includes prebiotics, which helps friendly bacteria in your digestive tract thrive and fight off pathogens. GutSense H+ is suitable for all ages and can help boost digestive health and immunity and relieve symptoms from common GI conditions such as IBS, Crohns disease, and leaky gut.

All H+ supplements are sustainably sourced and undergo rigorous third-party quality and purity testing to ensure maximum health benefits for you and your family.

Key takeaways

As the understanding of the gut microbiome evolves, so does the importance of probiotics for our physical and mental health.

Research shows we can count on our friendly bacteria allies to restore balance and well-being in the gut microbiome and within the whole organism to help increase our bodys natural ability to heal and defend itself.

But youd be surprised how much more we can learn from nature and its inherent capacity to rebalance and heal, a process I have called the Healing Cycle that involves easy-to-apply principles of natural healing and can significantly improve your overall health and quality of life.

We can no longer solely rely upon the help and knowledge of our healthcare providers, which is why empowering yourself with knowledge is so important.

I believe it is no coincidence that your health journey brought you here, and I hope I can help you and your dog live healthier, happier and longer lives.

Please accept my invitation to join our health-minded dog-loving community to get the latest news on health, nutrition and healthy living.

Probiotics FAQ

  • What do probiotics do?

Probiotics are your body's bacteria allies that help maintain a healthy balance in your gut microbiome, regulate your immune response, and improve your mood and cognitive function.

    • Can you take probiotics daily?

    Absolutely! Many people take probiotics as a part of their daily routine as they can help balance the gut microbiome and support overall health. Make sure to follow the recommended dosage on the supplement label.

      • What’s the difference between probiotics and prebiotics?

      Probiotics and prebiotics are your gut’s dynamic duo. Probiotics are live beneficial bacteria that contribute to your overall health and well-being, while prebiotics are the non-digestible fibres that act as fuel and help them thrive in the gut. 

        • Probiotics vs. digestive enzymes — which one should you take?

        Although both probiotics and digestive enzymes are essential for your digestive health, several key differences exist between them. Probiotics are live bacteria that restore gut balance and help boost your immune response and cognitive function, while digestive enzymes are proteins that assist in breaking down food to increase nutrient absorption.

        While digestive enzymes can benefit individuals of any age, they are more frequently indicated in middle-aged or older individuals with signs of digestive problems.

          • How can you tell that probiotics are working?

          The beneficial impact of probiotics can differ from person to person, depending on their health and gut microbiome. The first improvements you may notice when taking probiotics include reduced bloating and gas, improved digestion and regular bowel movements, less sugar cravings, and better energy and mental focus.

            • Should you take probiotics with food or on an empty stomach?

            Timing matters when it comes to probiotics, especially since they must pass through the stomach and survive the highly acidic environment before reaching the large intestine, namely your gut.

            When you eat a meal, your stomach produces acid to help digest the food. However, food also dilutes and buffers the stomach acids which helps the probiotic bacteria survive.

            Different bacteria have different levels of sensitivity to stomach acid, but in general, taking probiotics with food is closer to what happens in nature.

              • Can you take probiotics with antibiotics?

              Generally, antibiotics are over-prescribed in medicine, and our goal should be to reduce their usage. However, when they are indicated, antibiotics can have negative long-term effects on the gut microbiome, lowering gut microbial diversity and decreasing the population of probiotic bacteria. This negative effect may persist for months.

              Taking a probiotic supplement is shown to help prevent antibiotic-related side effects, such as diarrhea, bloating, and cramps, and replenish the GI tract with beneficial bacteria.

              Ideally, antibiotics and probiotics should be taken at least two hours apart from each other to help the friendly bacteria survive and restore the gut.

                • Can probiotics prevent you from getting a cold?

                Probiotics not only help eliminate the pathogens that cause viral infections but also improve the body’s immune response. Taking probiotics regularly has been shown to help decrease your chances of getting sick and reduce the severity and duration of symptoms for the common cold and upper respiratory infections.

                  • Can probiotics help you lose weight?

                  People with an imbalanced gut can struggle to lose weight due to lower microbiome diversity that disrupts nutrient absorption and fat storage. While studies show that probiotics can boost metabolism and help with weight loss, they should be accompanied by a healthy diet and lifestyle for long-lasting results. Weight gain is generally related to a higher caloric intake in addition to metabolic disturbances, insulin resistance, high sugar, and processed food diet.

                    • Who shouldn’t take probiotics?

                    Probiotics are contraindicated in individuals sensitive to a particular supplement or ingredients in the product.


                      Disclaimer: Any information provided here is for educational purposes only and is not intended to substitute medical care.


                      About the author

                      Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM is an Integrative veterinarian, nutritionist and creator of natural supplements for dogs and people. Helping you and your dog prevent disease, treat nutritional deficiencies, and enjoy happier, healthier, and longer lives together.

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