Healthspan staff August 01, 2018

Probiotic supplementation is incredibly on-trend at the moment, but the numerous strains and complicated language associated with probiotics are difficult to get your head around at first. How do you know which strains you need, for example? What do you need to look out for when buying a probiotic supplement?

Researchers are continually making exciting discoveries about the complex role our gut microflora has on our health – from keeping our immune system strong and preventing travellers’ diarrhoea, to reducing digestive problems and aiding our heart health. As such, we want to explore the different strains of probiotics you’ll encounter, and how they might relate to your health goals — so you have all the knowledge you need to make an informed supplementation decision.

Probiotics for general wellness

If you don’t have any specific health complaints, but you’re just looking to help keep your gut and immune system healthy, you may want a supplement with a wide variety and number of live bacteria. An ideal supplement should have at least several billion live bacteria per capsule, in at least 3 different strains. Specifically, your supplement should include Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium: the two main genera of beneficial bacteria we find in our large bowel.

Lactobacillus

Lactobacillus is beneficial as it’s been shown to break down dairy products. Not only that, research has shown it can also help correct the bowel pH, making it acidic enough to help support mineral absorption and prevent pathogens and yeast from growing. This may, in turn, help to prevent urinary tract infections1. You can also boost the level of Lactobacillus in your gut by consuming a variety of fermented foods, such as sauerkraut (pickled cabbage), kimchi (a spicy Asian pickle), Kefir (fermented milk), and plain bio-natural yoghurt.

Bifidobacteria

Bifidobacteria are another main genus found in the gut microbiome; it’s the most prevalent type found in children up to the age of 7. This genus lines the wall of the large intestine, helping to protect the integrity of the gut, maintain the correct bowel pH, manufacture B vitamins and Vitamin K, and also helps regulate the movement of stools throughout the bowel. Alongside Lactobacillus, these good gut Bacteria help ferment carbohydrates: releasing short-chain fatty acids. These feed the cells that line the digestive tract, helping to keep them healthy and support good gut function in the process.2

Specific probiotic strains for weight loss

The connection between weight loss and different strains of probiotics is a vastly expanding and exciting area of research. A number of studies show how beneficial microflora affect how we process nutrients, create energy, and manage sugars. If you’re trying to support healthy weight management, then you may want to look for a probiotic supplement that contains a combination of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium accordingly. Specifically, you may want to look out for:

  • Lactobacillus gasseri: a species that has been found to increase the amount of dietary fat that is excreted from the colon, reducing how much fat we absorb from our diet3
  • Lactobacillus rhamnosus: a species that was found to boost metabolism in a placebo-controlled trial, in which obese women achieved sustainable weight loss over a 24 week period — twice as much as those in the control group taking the placebo4
  • Lactobacillus amylovorus and Lactobacillus fermentum: these species can have similar effects to the two above5

What seems to be clear from the research is that, by modulating the gut microflora, you may be able to change the way your body metabolises energy. While supplementing specific strains of beneficial bacteria may be helpful in that regard, it’s also important to address factors in your diet which may affect your gut microflora — and your ability to lose weight as a result. Reducing the amount of sugar and refined white carbohydrates you eat is a good place to start, for instance. This, alongside introducing more vegetables and wholegrains can provide the prebiotic food that helps your gut microflora to thrive and prosper.

Can I just take a supplement and hope for the best?

Supplementing probiotics shouldn’t replace a good diet and lifestyle. Eating plenty of fibrous vegetables, fruit, and wholegrains to support the good bacteria in your bowel, plus more general lifestyle improvements such as reducing stress levels should always come first when attempting to improve your general wellbeing. These are all natural and healthy ways to support your gut, and a probiotic supplement is simply a small part of a grander, more complex gut health strategy. For more information on probiotics and gut health, just visit our advice centre.


References
1Reid G et al. (2003), Oral use of Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1 and L. fermentum RC-14 significantly alters vaginal flora: randomized, placebo-controlled trial in 64 healthy women, FEMS Immunol Med Microbiol., 35(2):131-4.
2Ruiz L t al. (2017), Bifidobacteria and Their Molecular Communication with the Immune System, Front Microbiol., 8:2345.
3Ogawa A et al. (2015), Lactobacillus gasseri SBT2055 suppresses fatty acid release through enlargement of fat emulsion size in vitro and promotes fecal fat excretion in healthy Japanese subjects, Lipids Health Dis., 20;14:20.
4Sanchez M et al. (2014), Effect of Lactobacillus rhamnosus CGMCC1.3724 supplementation on weight loss and maintenance in obese men and women, Br J Nutr., 111(8):1507-19.
5Omar JM (2013), Lactobacillus fermentum and Lactobacillus amylovorus as probiotics alter body adiposity and gut microflora in healthy persons, Journal of Functional Foods, 5 (1): 116-123.
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