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How taking probiotics could actually make your health worse

I used to think that all probiotics were the same.

My doctor would tell me to make sure I bought a probiotic at the pharmacy when I picked up my script for antibiotics – so I diligently followed and bought whatever probiotic the pharmacist gave me.

Because a probiotic is a probiotic, right?

Wrong.

I have since learnt that there are huge differences in probiotics – whilst your doctor may advise you to take a probiotic alongside your antibiotic, it is important for you to understand that almost every probiotic on the market is different.

Advising you to take a probiotic is like advising you to take a vitamin – if someone said to you “I think you need to take a vitamin”, your immediate response would most likely be “which one?” as you’ve heard that there are vitamins A, B, C, D, E & K and they all have very different functions within the body. So too, when it comes to probiotics.

Not all probiotics are created the same. 

The research into probiotics and the associated health benefits is a relatively new field. While probiotics have a role in maintaining health, regulating your immune system and managing disease, it’s important to take the right probiotic for your desired outcome.

You may have seen ads on TV in which probiotic companies promote their products as containing “billions of beneficial bacteria” – but a billion bacteria may not be so good for your health, if the probiotics are not of the right type for your condition. In fact, over populating your gut with one type of bacteria may make your health worse.

Also, different probiotics have shown to be effective at different levels, but it really depends on each probiotic.

How do you differentiate between probiotics?

There is an abundance of scientific literature on good quality probiotics as well as clinical studies to confirm the published research. While it would take me all day to analyze the different probiotics available on the market, the following information might help when you are trying to decipher between them. 

Every probiotic is named using its genus, species and specific strain. For example, you may have seen Lactobacillus acidophilus LA5 on a product, the breakdown is as follows:

Lactobacillus = genus

acidophilus = species

LA5 = specific strain

While there are many products claiming to contain Lactobacillus acidophilus, it’s the specific strain (LA5) that differentiates it – and the studies that are carried out have used this specific strain (the other strains may not be clinically validated).

This specific probiotic (Lactobacillus acidophilus LA5) can be found in both supplements and food, and in Australia it’s in various encapsulated probiotics as well as Vaalia yoghurt.

Why take a probiotic?

Probiotics are most commonly prescribed alongside (or after a course of) antibiotics. Your gut microbiota is the term given to the of tens of trillions of bacteria that already live in your intestines.

More and more research is being published daily on the gut microbiota and its role in the digestion of food, the barrier effect it creates for the immune system,  and how a healthy and balanced gut microbiota is essential in ensuring your digestive system is functioning properly.

Probiotics found in supplements and food can aid your gut microbiota so that it is in balance, you feel good and are able to function at your optimal level of health.

Have you ever taken a probiotic? Or maybe you take one daily? Let me know in the comments below what your experience has been with probiotics 🙂

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