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70% of your immune system is in your gutiStockPhoto / Getty Images

From improving mood to boosting the immune system, probiotic supplements offer a range of health benefits

A growing body of scientific evidence underscores the role probiotics, or beneficial live microbes, play in optimal health, from strengthening the immune system to easing symptoms of mood and stress.

Yet despite the proven positive effects of these live microbes, many people don’t fully understand how to incorporate them into their daily regimes.

“Probiotics have been well-researched,” says Sara Celik, a Toronto-based naturopathic doctor. “Their role has been studied for immune health, gastrointestinal health, including constipation, gas and bloating, and issues relevant to women, like yeast overgrowth and urinary tract infections.”

While some people know supplemental probiotics can be useful in counteracting the side effects of antibiotics, they may not be as familiar with their function outside of this scenario.

Experts suggest taking a daily probiotic to ensure the body has more good bacteria. “Each day we are exposed to antibiotics in our soil, food, and water[i], which may disrupt the balance of bacteria in the gut,” Celik says, “Higher than normal stress levels, a diet low in fibre, and other factors which can also cause dysbiosis or microbial imbalances.”

While the relationship between the gut and gut microbes is intrinsic, researchers have determined that their interaction is profound. “Although we’re still in the early stages of research, the gut-brain link is attracting attention worldwide,” she notes. “Some people are now referring to the gut as ‘the second brain’ since they are connected via the vagus nerve. It appears to be a bi-directional pathway used by gut bacteria to communicate with the brain.”

It is also important to note that 95 percent of serotonin – the body’s happiness hormone – are produced by enterochromaffin cells in the gut. “With the gut and the brain so closely connected, an imbalance in the gut microbiome could increase symptoms of stress, depression, and anxiety,” Celik says.

In one recent clinical study, researchers looked at the effects of taking a probiotic formulation with Lactobacillus helveticus R0052 and Bifidobacterium longum R0175 for 30 days. They found oral intake showed a beneficial effect on symptoms of mood andstress.

Renew Life® offers Mood + Stress, a formulation containing both probiotic strains.

New research is also looking at the potential benefits of probiotics for menopausal women. There is evidence to support the use of supplements to address common conditions linked to menopause such as recurrent urinary tract infections (a common condition in menopausal women due to the thinning of the tissue in the urethra), bone health, and improved mood.

Studies are also looking at the correlation between probiotics and bone density, which diminishes as a woman’s estrogen levels drops. Data, published by the Journal of Clinical Investigation, examined two groups of mice. The ones not receiving daily doses of probiotics lost half of their bone density within one month, compared to the probiotic group which remained stable and experienced no change.

While the impact of probiotics is becoming more well-known, particularly through food sources (such as yogurt and other fermented foods), probiotic supplements can provide a much higher dose. A 2017 study by University of Toronto found that the level of probiotics in some yogurt was 25 times lower than what clinical trials found to be effective. That underscores the need for taking daily supplements in capsule form. “Capsules can have a delivery system that aids in the safe arrival of the live bacteria to the intestines,” Celik says.

Renew Life®, for example, clearly lists the amount of active cultures and the type of strains contained in each capsule, which is helpful for selecting the right health benefits from probiotics.

  • Available at Health Food Stores across Canada. $32.99 for the 30ct.Bryan Dickie

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Fact or Fallacy:
How well do you understand probiotics?

  • FALLACY: You only need probiotics if you’re taking antibiotics. Even if you’re not taking antibiotics, research shows supplementing with probiotics can offer other health benefits, including better immune health, improved mood.

  • FALLACY: Your microbiome – the trillions of microorganisms that inhabit the gastrointestinal tract – is determined within the first two years of life and you can’t do much about it. We have the ability to improve healthy gut flora in adulthood by eating healthy, and taking probiotic supplements.

  • FALLACY: You can eat yogurt to get the same level of probiotics as a supplement can provide. You’d have to consume as many as 50 cups a day of yogurt to get the same amount as a single capsule of a probiotic supplement.

Citations:

Antiobiotics in soil, food, water: Ma J, Zhai G (2014) Antibiotic Contamination: A Global Environment Issue. J Bioremed Biodeg 5:e157. doi:10.4172/2155-6199.1000e157

Seratonin levels in gut: Psychobiotics in mental health, neurodegenerative and neurodevelopmental disorders. January 2019, Journal of Food and Drug Analysis. https://www.jfda-online.com/article/S1021-9498(19)30015-8/pdf

Anxiety/depression and gut health link: The neuroactive potential of the human gut microbiota in quality of life and depression, Nature Microbiology, February 2019.https://www.nature.com/articles/s41564-018-0337-x

Mice study for bone density: Sex steroid deficiency–associated bone loss is microbiota dependent and prevented by probiotics, Journal of Clinical Investigation, April 2016. https://www.jci.org/articles/view/86062

Yogurt and probiotic claims: Mismatch between Probiotic Benefits in Trials versus Food Products, Nutrients, April 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5409739/


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