Top 5 Probiotic Misconceptions

I know it may feel like we know everything about probiotics, but I assure you that we do not! I am constantly learning and listening to webinars about the importance of probiotics and how they can be utilized for more than just gut health. I set out to ask the Gut Health Expert, Dr. Sara Celik, Naturopathic Doctor:

WHAT ARE THE TOP 5 PROBIOTIC MISCONCEPTIONS THAT YOU ENCOUNTER IN PRACTICE?

 

1. Probiotics are found in food sources like yogurt and there is no need for supplements.

This is a common misconception. Mary Scourboutakos, postdoctoral research associate co-authored a probiotic study with other nutritional science researchers at the University of Toronto in 2017. Results showed that the dosage of probiotic bacteria in some yogurts are 25 times lower than what clinical trials found to be effective.

Although food sources do provide beneficial bacteria, supplements may provide a higher dose along with a diverse range of bacterial species. One small cup of yogurt provides approximately 1 billion beneficial bacteria (and often comes with sugar and other fillers), while a probiotic supplement can provide 15 billion to 100 billion beneficial bacteria with just one capsule. This means that a person would have to eat 15 or even 100 cups of yogurt per day to receive the same amount of beneficial bacteria from a supplement.

 

2. Probiotics are only necessary following antibiotics.

Taking probiotics following a course of antibiotic therapy is needed and usually recommended by medical doctors and pharmacists. The Frontiers in Microbiology journal states that microbiota imbalances caused by antibiotics can negatively affect health in numerous ways and for long periods of time.

Although some people choose to take probiotics only after antibiotics or when they show signs or symptoms, others are more proactive and take probiotics daily, all year long.

It’s a misconception that probiotics are only of value while people are taking antibiotics. Probiotics may offer a variety of health benefits and can support better health even in healthy populations.

 

3. Probiotics are only good for people with digestive issues.

Research continues to uncover new uses beyond healthier digestion. With over 70% of the immune system in the gut, probiotics play a big role during cold & flu season and fighting off pathogenic organisms (e.g. harmful bacteria and viruses).

Although probiotics are widely used for constipation, gas and bloating, current research is evaluating other conditions where probiotics may be of use. Naturopathic doctors commonly recommend probiotics for food allergies, skin conditions (such as eczema and acne) and asthma.

 

4. Gut flora is determined at birth and remains the same throughout life.

It is true that bacteria colonize the gut at the time of birth and thrive throughout a person’s life. When a baby passes through the birth canal, the baby picks up bacteria from its mother. This is the beginning of the baby’s microbiome.

Many people wonder about C-section born babies. How do they receive bacteria if they do not pass through the birth canal? 

C-section born babies are exposed to different types of bacteria and acquire their microbes from the doctors/nurses, mother’s skin, and hospital environment. Their microbiome is slightly different than vaginally born babies.

Although friendly bacteria thrive in the human digestive tract throughout life and the term probiotic literally means “for life”, gut flora changes with age, and after 50 years old we see a decline in Bifidobacteria. 

Gut flora is modifiable and dependent on a person’s lifestyle. Those with high levels of stress who lead a poor lifestyle may notice more health problems as a result of an unhealthy microbiome.

 

5. If a person has been constipated their whole life, there’s nothing they can do.

We know that the composition of intestinal flora can impact intestinal motility. One triple-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trail published in the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology in 2011 showed probiotic supplementation improved constipation. This study used Bifidobacterium animalis subspecies lactis to assess the impact on gut transit time in adults aged 25-65 years old. The probiotic strain used in the study reduced whole gut transit time and also improved gastrointestinal symptoms such as flatulence. 

With such strong scientific evidence, naturopathic doctors often recommend a daily dose of probiotics to their patients who have digestive issues. In patients that are constipated, they often focus on high amounts of Bifidobacterium to encourage diversity of species in the large intestine.

 

Let’s see where the future takes us. I have a gut feeling there will be more gut misconceptions to de-bunk.

 

 

Erin Enns