A strong, healthy gut needs plenty of good bacteria to function optimally and probiotics can provide a boost when needed. Here’s how to get the gut bacteria balance right.

There are many different strains and species of probiotics and each offers different health benefits.

“Probiotics occur naturally in the lining of the small and large intestine, the vagina, urethra, and cervix in women and the urethra in men,” said Lize von Schlicht, a pharmacist at Mediclinic Panorama. Antibiotics can disturb the healthy bacteria colonies that naturally inhabit our bodies and cause unwanted side effects such as diarrhoea or yeast infections, which is why doctors will often prescribe a probiotic to be taken with a course of antibiotics.

THE BENEFITS OF PROBIOTICS

Probiotics are not only necessary for restoring good bacteria when taking antibiotics, they can also:

  • Strengthen the immune system and improve the body’s natural defences against diseases.
  • Increase the absorption of various nutrients and other substances from the gut.

“In fact, any condition resulting in the disturbance of our natural intestinal flora can benefit from probiotics,” said Lize adds. Examples include infectious diarrhoea, Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome.

THE RIGHT PROBIOTIC FOR THE JOB

When it comes to probiotics, there isn’t just one type that suits all. “Probiotics comprise a whole lot of different strains and species, and each of these offer different health benefits,” Lize explained.

The most common probiotic strains are:

  • Lactobacillus species: Helps with overall digestion, nutrient absorption, relief from occasional cramping, gas and diarrhoea, promotes immune health and supports urinary tract and vaginal health in women.
  • Bifidobacterium species: Helps with overall digestion and nutrient absorption, and provides relief from diarrhoea, particularly related to travelling.
  • Bacillus species: Promotes overall digestion, relief from occasional constipation and promotes vaginal health in women.
  • Streptococcus species: Promotes oral and immune health.

Probiotics come in different dosages and forms, the most common being tablets (chew or swallow), capsules, and drops. The dose required depends on the condition being treated.

LIVE CULTURES

“Probiotics are live bacterial cultures, so taking probiotics and antibiotics at the same time should be avoided. It’s therefore best to take probiotics at least two hours before or two hours after taking antibiotics,” said Lize.

Storing probiotics correctly is also essential for keeping the bacterial cultures alive. Avoid heat and moisture and store probiotics in tablet or capsule form in a dry, cool area under 25°C. Certain types of probiotics – especially probiotics in liquid form – should be stored in the fridge between 2°C and 8°C.

GET YOUR DAILY DOSE

Probiotics can be taken as a daily supplement to boost your supplies of gut-healthy bacteria. Fermented foods like yoghurt, kefir, pickles, sauerkraut, tempeh, and kombucha tea are also great natural sources of probiotics. However, Lize cautions that taking extra probiotics when your bacterial colonies are already sufficient and functioning can cause gas, bloating, and discomfort. If you experience these symptoms when taking probiotics, lower the dose.

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