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Good bacteria

Just how do probiotics work and are they of real benefit?

Can't say probiotics?

In recent years European legislation has meant that the word ‘probiotic’ cannot be used in advertising and it is more difficult to make health claims about these products. This means that we are more likely to see probiotic powders, capsules and foods labelled differently.

Dorothy Browne of Nice and Natural, Cootehill, Co Cavan says, “Goodbye probiotics hello ‘live native bacteria’. Confused? Essentially, the products will not change, only the wording, so we will see words like live native bacteria which is what probiotics are.”

Oliver McCabe of Select Stores of Dalkey, Co Dublin says: “I think the term should be regulated as it’s often over-used on big-brand, mass-produced products for sales and marketing purposes, when in fact the products contain a minuscule amount compared to a supplement or whole food.”

Say instead

According to Angela McGlanaghey of Simple Simon, Donegal town the terms “live bacteria, good bacteria, beneficial for gut flora” will be used.

“Good bacteria is used. Also friendly bacteria, and gut micro flora,” says John Halpin of The Health Store in Dundrum.

“It depends on the nutritional breakdown of the food product in question,” says Oliver McCabe. “If the food contains a considerable amount of ‘probiotic’ then the term ‘contains live bacteria, keep refrigerated’ should be used.”

How do they work?

“These supplements are made of friendly bacteria and formulated to restore the composition of healthy gut flora,” says Margaret Guthrie-Nally, nutritional therapist for Evergreen health stores. “They are a remedy to restore healthy intestinal or vaginal flora, especially after stress or antibiotic treatment. Other benefits include aiding traveller’s tummy, constipation and diarrhoea and supporting the immune system.”

“These products contain different strains of friendly bacteria which are introduced into the gut to help break food down, help with absorption of nutrients and help fight off more pathogenic organisms,” says John Halpin.

Other benefits of probiotics include:

  • Shorten length of respiratory tract infections in over-65s
  • Stabilise IBS symptoms when combined with other help
  • Relieve hay fever symptoms

How to choose

“Generally speaking the more strains of bacteria the better since each different strain of bacteria has a different function and benefit in the body,” says Dorothy Browne.

“Speak with a knowledgeable staff member to help you choose the correct product for you,” says Margaret Guthrie-Nally. “Whether it be for constipation, bloating, traveller’s tummy or candida albicans, each product varies with the strain and amount of good bacteria that it contains.”

“Go for quality brands of supplements, all of which have research behind them,” says John Halpin. “Some also include related ingredients, like digestive enzymes, included in the formulation.”

Other tips:

  • Always read the label – look for the genus, such as lactobacillus; and the species, for example acidophilus. Then look for a strain number – this guarantees that it has been researched to ensure effectiveness.
  • You need about 2 billion bacteria for maintaining gut health and 20-30 billion if you are recovering from antibiotic use or have long-term issues.
  • You may be taking it for a month before you feel real benefits.

What's available?

“There is a lot more choice now, with some research showing it might be better to have a product with smaller amounts of several strains, than one with a much higher level of one particular strain,” says John Halpin. “There is also a greater emphasis on improving gut health with foods such as kefir and sauerkraut which effectively nourish good bacteria.”

“Probiotics can be found in yoghurts, fermented foods such as miso, and are available as powders and supplements,” says Oliver McCabe. “Live natural yoghurt and kefir help to encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria.”

“In terms of supplements acidophilus would be our biggest seller,” says Angela McGlanaghey. “We also stock other supplements which contain higher strains of bacteria so they deliver a more potent dose.”

Oliver McCabe’s new book The FuelFood Cookbook is published by Mercier Press this month.

Click here to read earlier Rude Health Magazine natural health articles.
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