Probiotics, Prebiotics and Your Health — What Helps and What Hurts
Probiotics are a hot topic in the world of gut health.
And if you struggle with digestive issues, I’m sure you’ve heard someone praising them as a cure-all for IBS or touting their ‘magical’ gut-healing powers. With such impressive claims, it’s no surprise that there are now so many different brands and strains to choose from. But with such an abundance of information and so many options available, you may find yourself with more questions than answers…
Pills, drops or powders?
How do I choose a strain?
Which brand is best?
How many ‘active cells’ do I look for?
So, are they as great as they seem? The Clairity team has delved into the latest research to clear things up, once and for all. Stick around and we will share our recommendations for IBS, IBD and everything in between!
What are probiotics, anyway?
The World Gastroenterology Organisation defines a probiotic as a live microbe that has been found in human studies to impart a health benefit when administered in adequate amounts. In other words, probiotics are live bacteria that have been shown through research to improve human health.
Your gut is already populated with a unique combination of different bacteria that help you digest food and absorb nutrients. This is your ‘gut microbiome’. The goal with probiotic supplements is to change this population to one that predominantly includes species to help you feel your best. Research suggests that probiotics may help to strengthen your immune system, improve the health of your intestines, prevent chronic disease, and perhaps even play a role in mental health. What more could you ask for?!
But what is important to understand is that the health benefits of probiotics are highly strain-specific. Different bacteria impart different health outcomes. This can make purchasing probiotics super confusing! All those pills, drops and sachets contain different strains of bacteria… and each of those bottles offer some relief (or prevention) for very different ailments!
Are probiotics right for your sensitive system?
Listen, I know it can be scary to start something new when you’re struggling with digestive issues. It can feel like EVERYTHING you put into your body makes symptoms worse (and emotions run high).
But there’s good news. There is valid research to suggest that probiotics may be beneficial in the treatment of IBS, IBD and other digestive symptoms. Cue happy dance! In fact, a consistent probiotic regimen is one of our suggestions to Clairity participants. It is not a cure-all and needs to be utilized alongside several other lifestyle and nutritional interventions… BUT, when used properly, probiotics may help your gut return to normal so you can finally experience relief. But more on that later.
What about prebiotics?
We can’t discuss probiotics without also briefly addressing prebiotics. The similarity in names creates a bit of confusion, understandably. Prebiotics are actually the food source for probiotics. Without them, probiotics can enter our system, but will struggle to survive (let alone flourish!). The major challenge with IBS and other digestive issues is that many prebiotic foods are also high FODMAP. That’s right! The very diet that is touted as the ‘cure’ for IBS can also prevent you from achieving an abundant gut microbiome. This is one of the reasons we discourage people from following the low FODMAP diet long-term.
So, what do you do?
We know this can be confusing. You want to relieve yourself of symptoms, you want to achieve a healthy gut microbiome, and really, you probably just want to eat and feel normal. This is what we recommend.
First of all, you must make a decision that is right for your unique body. Please start by consulting with your physician and/or pharmacist about your interest in probiotics. They will have the best understanding of your medical history and any potential interactions between probiotics and current medications. We have provided a list of suitable probiotics below, which was attained from the Clinical Guide to Probiotic Products Available in Canada. This guide is an incredible resource because it is a compilation of recommendations from all of the relevant research. Here is what the guide suggests for IBD and IBS:
Digestive Care Daily Probiotic
GoodBelly Probiotic Juice
UltraFlora Intensive Care
Once you have the go-ahead from your healthcare team, we recommend you take your new probiotic supplement consistently for 4 weeks. Follow storage and dosage instructions on the back of the package. For best results, try one brand and stick to it every single day. It is critical to allow sufficient time for the bacteria to colonize in your gut in order to see results. If the probiotic worsens your symptoms, try to allow one week to adjust (within reason, of course). If symptoms persist, discontinue use and try another brand. If you do not see an improvement in symptoms after a minimum of 4 weeks, consider discontinuing use and try another brand!
What not to do
There are a few important precautions to keep in mind. First and foremost, we do not recommend probiotic supplements for those with Crohn’s disease. They may seriously harm your health and we urge you to consult with your doctor before attempting any new supplements. Secondly, you should always discontinue use and consult a doctor if symptoms worsen significantly. And please, give it TIME! We can’t stress this enough to those in our program! Your gut and your body are unique, and everyone will react differently to a new probiotic regimen. A little patience and consistency will go a long way.
And a final reminder: probiotics are not a miracle cure
IBS is a complex disorder. We want you to feel better and we wish the solution was more simple. There is some really cool research to indicate that probiotics can help alleviate symptoms. But, probiotics alone will probably not fix the issue. And as mentioned, your low FODMAP diet could be limiting your prebiotic intake and preventing your probiotics from reaching their full potential.
I created Clairity for this very reason. I want to help you piece together every facet of your gut health puzzle. We recommend probiotics as a first line of defense alongside many other lifestyle and nutritional interventions. This gets you to a place of relief. From there, we walk you through the process of identifying your unique triggers so that you can learn to keep symptoms away for life.
We are here to help. Please reach out at any time if you want support in alleviating your digestive distress.
Wishing you well, always,
Stephanie Clairmont, MHSc, RD