We’ve unwittingly pummelled our gut bacteria over the years. Did you know that these things can contribute to digestive upset?

  • Antibiotics
  • Hand-sanitiser
  • Being over-cautious of hygiene
  • A diet that lacks variety.

These can impact with a range of symptoms, from being over-reactive to certain foods, through to bloating and discomfort, or unsatisfying bowel motions.

Yes, that’s right, a healthy bowel motion should feel satisfying.

When the beneficial flora in our bowel is disrupted, the internal environment of our bowel can change. This can affect how our food is digested and hinder the absorption of nutrients – a fundamental function of the digestive system. The bacteria in our gut can influence our mood, immune system, weight, heart health, and even how much energy we feel we have.

The species of flora present in our bowel are very strongly influenced by the food we eat daily, which is great because it means we have the power to support our microbial balance with our meal choices. Interestingly, studies found that ingredients often found in processed foods (like artificial sweeteners, emulsifiers, and low fibre) tend to reduce the diversity of microbes in the large intestine. Feel better on a gluten free diet but know you don’t have Coeliac disease? That can be as a result of changes to the microbiome as well, by the change in diet reducing bacteria that aren’t as helpful or health promoting.

It can be alarming when we stop for a moment and think about what we’re consuming on a daily basis. What substances are your bacteria being flooded with? Remember, it isn’t only food that they receive, they are also influenced by any liquid we drink, medications, supplements, and pesticides (indirectly consumed of course!), or other environmental factors. It’s an interesting activity to stop and consider ways of treating these little friends better, like making a few simple changes to our food choices. As adults, we are often end up habitually eating the same things because it’s easy when we are so busy. In what ways might we challenge ourselves to consume different wholefoods each week? This has been shown to support the production of different metabolites that effect good health.

When we consider the diets that traditional cultures have eaten, they are rich in fermented foods that are eaten frequently as a normal part of the diet and come from a varied supply of foods. In this instance, regular consumption of a lower-dose and broad diversity of beneficial bacteria has proven over time that it can support good health.

There are many bacteria that naturally live in the body, particularly the large intestine. When there is imbalance or a loss of diversity in this amazing community, disease can occur. The type of disease and the severity will depend on your individual constitution, genetic tendencies, and areas of weakness. But to give an idea of how broadly bacteria can affect, it has been established that low microbiome diversity is a common factor in the following diseases (as an example):

  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Type 1 & 2 diabetes
  • Eczema
  • Obesity
  • Allergies
  • Arterial stiffness

There are varying populations of bacteria located at different sites of the body. The probiotics within our large intestine are different in some ways, whether it is differing species or just different ratios of the same species to the bacteria present behind our ear, or in our saliva.

So, what is a healthy microbiome?

Amazingly, researchers have discovered that there can be over 400 species of bacteria in a healthy gut, and research is continuing at a rapid pace in this area. Researchers in America looked into this and studied the microbiome of 141 Americans. They found that no matter what the diet was, there were a lot of bacteria from about 8 main families. Each group has different species that are present in varying amounts, with some clear patterns emerging of the types from high to low in quantity, even though no individual has an identical microbiome.

Since the Microbiome Project, the value and potential of beneficial bacteria has enabled a huge body of research to be completed on the different strains of bacteria and how they work in the different parts of the body. With the vast supply of probiotics available at varying strengths, it can be challenging to determine whether to buy the product with the highest number of probiotics in each capsule, or to choose the one with a lower number but better variety of strains.

Shelf-stable or refrigerated?

When manufacturers are making probiotic products, there are lots of factors that come into play to ensure a product will work. It’s essential that the product is stable – the organisms must be protected – some need to be refrigerated, while others need to be kept dry. In fact, if you put shelf-stable probiotics in the fridge, it can be detrimental to them. The way shelf-stable probiotics work is that they have been freeze-dried and are in a dormant state in the bottle, but when they are exposed to specific temperatures inside the body and environments, they are triggered back to life.

The best products will have guaranteed quantities of bacteria present and able to be activated at the expiry date. Essentially it shouldn’t matter if they are shelf-stable or required to be refrigerated if they are stored correctly.

What do the different species do?

There are many species and strains of bacteria found in probiotics, but not one to match every species that might be in our body. Taking some common strains will either be useful for specific areas of the body or they are known for encouraging the health and growth of other strains.

Bifidobacterium lactis Bb12:

  • Allergy relief
  • Tummy bug relief (especially when travelling)

Where to find it: Clinicians MultiFlora Digest supports healthy gastrointestinal function and is a shelf stable product ideal for travelling and ease of use.

Lactobacillus acidophilus:

  • Post antibiotic use
  • Supporting immunity in children – fever
  • Abdominal discomfort

Where to find it: Inner Health Immune Booster For Kids contains Lactobacillus acidophilus and is scientifically researched to support kid’s immunity.

Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG:

  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Tummy bugs
  • Eczema
  • Allergy relief
  • Supporting immunity in children

Where to find it:

Lactobacillus reuteri:

  • Inhibits pathogenic microbes
  • Supports growth of beneficial bacteria
  • Supports immune function

Where to find it: Nature's Way Primadophilus Reuteri contains clinically researched lactobacillus reuteri to support healthy intestinal microflora.

Lactobacillus salivarius:

  • Oral health

Where to find it: Lifestream Advanced Probiotic contains Lactobacillus salivarius plus 13 other strains to support optimal digestive health and well-being.

It isn’t necessarily essential to be focused on the highest number of bacteria in a product, but on the different types of strains and why you might need them. It’s also important to make sure you store them as they need to be stored. HealthPost takes great care to protect the probiotics as they travel to and from our warehouse to you. Much of the research that has been conducted has doses of between 1 and 10 billion, but when the health concern is more acute or degenerative, the dose can increase up to the high billions. For health maintenance, focus on regular consumption over huge doses and look at ways that your diet can support a healthy environment for your friendly bacteria.