by Terra Leon, PharmD Candidate 2019
Bacteria in food might not sound like a good thing, but probiotics are good bacteria that mimic the natural bacteria you have in your gut. The bacteria that naturally occurs in the gut supports proper gastrointestinal health and digestion. Different strains of probiotics can also support other functions in the body such as reduce vaginal infections, prevent autoimmune disease, reduce urinary tract infection rate, and ease skin ailments2.
Sources of Probiotics
Probiotics can be taken in several ways. As supplements, much like vitamins, or in dairy products, like yogurt, cheese, lactobacillus milk or kefir.
When choosing a dairy product like yogurt for your intake of probiotics it is important to choose a yogurt that has “Live and Active Cultures” on the product label. This statement means that the yogurt has at least 100 million active cultures per gram of yogurt1. If you choose to use supplementation in the form of a capsule you should try and choose a product with a strain of probiotic that aids in the reason you are taking it. To start, most patients use a probiotic supplement that has both species of Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus because these species are most commonly found in the gastrointestinal tract and aid in digestive health1. A commonly prescribed probiotic is VSL #3. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if this could be right for you.
What are Antibiotics
Antibiotics are widely used when a patient has a bacterial infection in the body. They work by inhibiting growth and replication of the bad bacteria that has infected your body. Different antibiotics target different bad or foreign bacteria in your body. Some even have a wide spectrum of activity and can wipe out the bad bacteria and the beneficial.
Purpose of Combined Use
When a patient receives a new antibiotic from their doctor, they are often told at the pharmacy that this medication has the potential to cause stomach upset or diarrhea for up to a month after use. The reason this happens is the antibiotic taken for an infection is powerful enough to kill off most bacteria in the body during the period it is being consumed. This includes the normal flora in your gut which helps with digestion and stool formation. Taking a probiotic with the species Bifidobacterium and/or Lactobacillus can greatly help reduce the likelihood of prolonged diarrhea and stomach pain. Once the antibiotic is consumed it will wipe out the bacteria in your stomach (good and bad) so taking a probiotic to help replace the good digestive bacteria can help reduce stomach upset. When using probiotics with antibiotics it is important to separate the two by 2 hours to ensure the antibiotic doesn’t wipe out the probiotic you just consumed. Using probiotics during antibiotic treatment and up to 3-7 days after antibiotic treatment can reduce the likelihood of stomach upset5. Always check with your doctor or pharmacist to ensure the use of probiotics is appropriate.
Risk vs Benefit
Probiotics are great in aiding in digestive health and preventing unwanted disorders. However, for those who are immunocompromised the risk can out weigh the benefit. Since the majority of probiotics work in the digestive tract side effects like gas and bloating are a possibility. Patients who have a compromised immune system, have certain bowel problems or are severely ill need to consult their doctor before starting a probiotic. Pregnant women and young children need to consult their doctor before starting probiotics.
Common Species/Strains of Probiotics Available
- Bifidobacteria (B.): commonly used in food and supplements to support your immune system, decrease growth of harmful bacteria in gut, and help breakdown lactose into nutrients2.
- Lactobacillus (L.): produces lactase to breakdown lactose and produce lactic acid. Lactic acid helps reduce the amount of harmful bacteria and can fuel the body’s absorption of minerals2. This species of bacteria is commonly found in the mouth, vagina and small intestines.
- animalis: helpful in supporting digestion, supporting immune health and fighting food borne bacteria2.
- breve: works in the digestive tract and vagina to reduce yeast and ferments sugars to help your body absorb the nutrients2.
- lactis: improves digestion, lower cholesterol and enhances immunity and fights tumor growth3.
- longum: found in the GI tract and aids in the breakdown of carbohydrates and has antioxidant properties2.
- acidophilus: found in the small intestines and the vagina. Helps to improves blood pressure and cholesterol, fights off bacterial/viral/fungal infections, aid in digestion and even reduce allergy severity3.
- reuteri: found in the mouth and intestines. It helps fight off gingivitis by reducing oral bacteria that causes tooth decay and can help re-establish the pH of the vagina and aid in the digestive system2,3.
- rhamnosus gg: boost immune system, reduce allergies and inflammation and can aid in digestive support by decreasing constipation, leaky gut symptoms and IBS symptoms3.
- plantarum: can improve your overall health by improving your digestion and immunity. This strain of probiotic has a growing temperature that is very close to our body temperature allowing it to thrive3.
- gasseri: found in the digestive and vaginal tract. This strain can assist with weight loss by possibly suppressing dietary fat absorption in the small intestines and in turn inhibiting calorie intake4.
- casei: improves immunity, allergies (pollen), digestion (fights diarrhea) and can improve cholesterol levels3.
- brevis: can reduce mouth ulcers and periodontal disease. This strain has also been seen to reduce urinary oxalate levels (kidney stones) and decrease H. pylori colonization3.
- salivarius: found in the colon, vagina, small intestines and mouth. This strain can improve dental health, immunity and digestion3.
- “What are probiotics?” Mayo Clinic. 14 Apr. 2017. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. 23 Jan. 2019 <https://www.mayoclinic.org/what-are-probiotics/art-20232589>.
- “6 Most Common Types of Probiotics.” Healthline. Healthline Media. 23 Jan. 2019 <https://www.healthline.com/health/types-of-probiotics#benefits>.
- Jerkunica, Evan. “About Top 15 Most Researched Probiotic Strains.” Lactobacillus plantarum Benefits & Side Effects – Probiotics.org. 2014. 23 Jan. 2019 <http://probiotics.org/strains/>.
- Leech, Joe. “Probiotics and Weight Loss Review: Microscopic Miracle or Mirage?” DIET vs DISEASE. 17 Dec. 2018. 23 Jan. 2019 <https://www.dietvsdisease.org/probiotics-and-weight-loss-review/>.
- Sherman, Max. “Probiotics and Microflora.” U.S. Pharmacist – The Leading Journal in Pharmacy. 17 Dec. 2009. 23 Jan. 2019 <https://www.uspharmacist.com/article/probiotics-and-microflora>.