6 Myths About Probiotics, Busted
There is so much noise at the moment about probiotics. I know that I’ve heard so many different opinions on why they’re good and why they’re not so good, so you probably have too! You might have been told they’re pointless and most of them are dead anyway, or you might be happy in the knowledge that you’re taking your probiotics by diligently drinking your Yakult.
If you have heard lots of great things about them, you might be thinking you’ll just go out and get the one that contains the most bacteria…because more must mean better, right?
There’s truth to some of the things you’ve heard, but there isn’t a lot of truth to most of them. A lot of them are probably just myths. This post is going to walk you through the 5 most common myths that I come across and give you the real story behind each one.
6 MYTHS ABOUT PROBIOTICS
1. PROBIOTICS ARE DEAD BEFORE THEY REACH YOUR GUT
You might have heard that probiotics die if they’re not refrigerated, or they don’t actually survive your stomach acid. So, why would you spend your money on them if they’re dead anyway and won’t have any effect?
Firstly, yes, there is actually a lot of truth behind this one. Most probiotics do have a hard time getting through your stomach acid, so can be dead when they arrive and not benefit you at all. This is why it’s so important to do some research and look into the brand you’re buying from.
What to look out for?
1. Encapsulation technology - some brands have developed technology that lets the probiotics make it through your stomach acid. By putting them into a capsule made of special material, they can get safely transported down to your gut, where they can get to work.
2. Strains that have been shown to survive - there has been a lot of research done on different strains of bacteria, and some of this has looked at whether they survive your stomach acid. All strains of bacteria are different, and some will be better able to survive highly acidic conditions (like in your stomach). Check out this guide to choosing the right probiotic to get more help on this.
3. Spore Forming Probiotics - these are one of the 4 types of probiotics (for more on the 4 types, check out this post). They are highly resistant and can survive really hard conditions, so are much more likely to actually reach your gut. Also, once they’re there they can stay for a long time. They’ll be dormant, but activated whenever food reaches your gut, providing long lasting benefits.
2. THERE’S NO POINT TAKING PROBIOTICS IF THEY’RE DEAD ANYWAY
No, you don’t want to be wasting your money on probiotics that are dead anyway, as they’ll have no effect. However, this is only true depending on the type of probiotic you go for.
Some probiotics actually contain transient bacteria, which means that, when you eat them, they pass through the digestive system without colonizing it (i.e. you poop them out - they don’t stay in your gut).
However, it’s a common misconception that this means they are a waste of money and don’t benefit you. They do, in fact, have an impact on your gut bacteria, just by passing through. They give your gut a boost, and then move on!
3. ADDING MORE GUT BACTERIA IS POINTLESS
There’s already so much bacteria in my gut, so why do I need to add more? Yes, you do have a lot of bacteria in there already, but it may not be the right kind. Probiotics can add back in more of the right kind of bacteria for your gut. This will help you to achieve a healthier, more balanced micro-biome, which is really the overall goal of probiotics as it means optimal gut health. (Why is that so important? Check this out)
Also, they do more than just add more good bacteria into your gut. Probiotics (good bacteria) are really clever! Once they reach your gut, they can swap genes with your existing bacteria through a process called horizontal gene transfer. So, they make your existing ‘bad’ bacteria good too! They also help stimulate your immune system and fight toxins, leaving you healthier all round!
4. I HAVE A YAKULT EVERY DAY SO I’M ALREADY TAKING PROBIOTICS
So many of us get fooled by the marketing messages on ‘probiotic’ yoghurts, telling us that they contain lots of healthy bacteria. So, we spend money on them and think we are doing our gut a world of good by diligently having yoghurt for breakfast, or a Yakult a day.
I wish it was as easy as that to get a healthy gut, but unfortunately, it’s not.
The truth is, yoghurt drinks aren't actually probiotics. Most of them have been pasteurized, which means that any good bacteria in them have been killed. Even if they do still contain some good bacteria, it's not enough to act as a probiotic, AND they've normally had a load of sugar and additives put into them. This will actually do you much more harm than good, as lots of sugars are high in FODMAPs and can trigger IBS symptoms.
5. FERMENTED FOODS ARE NATURAL, SO MUST BE BETTER
If you’re someone who’d rather take the natural approach to calming your gut, you probably feel like fermented foods are a better option for you. Now, I am a huge fan of fermented foods, and think they’re a fantastic tool for helping to maintain a healthy gut. However, they’re not necessarily better than probiotic supplements…just different.
Probiotic supplements and fermented foods are both probiotic, but are very different things:
Probiotic supplements are obviously not natural, so they typically have a very high amount of a couple of specific strains of good bacteria (this is called a high CFU count). Different supplements are made with different strains of bacteria to help with specific symptoms or problems (e.g. a case of traveller’s diarrhoea).
Fermented foods, on the other hand, are completely natural, so contain a huge variety of different bacteria. They contain whatever good strains of bacteria were naturally found on or around that food. So, the CFU count in fermented foods isn’t very high (i.e. there won’t be a huge amount of any specific strain of bacteria). However, they contain a huge variety of different strains. For more on fermented foods, check this out.
One isn’t better than the other. The best one for you depends on your specific goals. If you’re generally healthy, but struggle with some digestive symptoms, I’d recommend fermented foods. These contain a great mix of bacteria, and a high enough amount if you’re generally healthy. If, however, you’ve just had a parasite infection or a round of antibiotics, or need more of a kick, a probiotic supplement might be best. I’d always advise talking to your doctor if you’re looking at starting on probiotics for a specific concern like this.
6. THE MORE BACTERIA, THE BETTER
You’ll notice 2 things when you start to look at probiotic supplements - CFU count and number of different bacteria strains.
CFU stands for Colony Forming Units and it just refers to the number of live bacteria in each dose of that particular supplement. So many brands claim high CFUs, marketing this as a major selling point. However, there’s no proof that a higher CFU is better.
Number of strains refers to the number of specific strains of bacteria in that supplement. Some supplements will have just one or 2 strains, whereas others can have over 12 different strains. Again, more strains doesn’t mean better - one strain can be an absolute targeted superstar, whereas a multi-strain can work amazingly together.
So, more bacteria or more different strains doesn’t mean better. As the saying goes, quality is more important than quantity.
Do a bit of research on the various probiotics and choose one that will apply to your specific health goals. For example, some strains have been shown to reduce inflammation, whereas others have been shown to help with diarrhoea. Choosing the right one and having it work for you will make the time investment very much worth it! If that feels to overwhelming, speak to your doctor about it, or ask me!
There are a lot of facts and opinions flying around at the moment about probiotics, but a lot of them are just myths.
6 Common Myths about Probiotics:
1. Probiotics are dead before they reach you anyway
2. There’s no point taking probiotics if they’re dead anyway
3. Adding more gut bacteria is pointless
4. I have yoghurt or Yakult every day, so I’m already eating probiotics
5. Fermented foods are natural, so are better
6. The more bacteria a probiotic contains, the better
Overall, a probiotic can really help you to improve a specific symptom and to build and maintain a healthy gut. However, if you’re still eating foods and doing things that are triggering your IBS symptoms, they’re not going to ‘fix’ you. You need to focus on eliminating the things that are triggering your symptoms first, then focus on adding in probiotics to give your gut a further boost!
Figuring out your triggers can be a mystery though, right? Pop in your email address below and I’ll send you a list of 20 Things that Could be Triggering your IBS Symptoms. Put an end to your IBS mystery today!
April is the month of probiotics, and we’ve got one week left! Next week, I’m going to write a post answering all your probiotics questions, so just let me know if you’ve got a burning question you want answered..just tell me here.
Have any of these myths surprised you? Let me know in the comments below.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this and I hope it’s helped you on your journey to taking control of your gut, eating well and living your life.