As the Head Nutritionist at Every Day Nutrition, one of the questions that my clients frequently ask includes ‘Which probiotic supplement suits me (or my child) best?’ I am Sook Bing from Ipoh, Malaysia. With nearly 5 years of experience in my professional career as a nutritionist in Singapore, I often take time to explain to my clients the importance and benefits of both probiotics and prebiotics during nutrition consultations.
There are more bacteria than cells in our body. The human body is host to over 500 species (or trillions) of microorganisms, which include both good and bad bacteria, fungi and other microbes. As the first line of defense, these microorganisms are everywhere in the body to protect us from pathogens – hair, skins, nails, eyes, nose, digestive tract etc. Together these microorganisms make up a complex ecosystem in our body called ‘microbiome’. The gut microbiome refers to the microorganisms resided in the digestive tract, that includes esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine and rectum. Probiotics are live microorganisms, in most cases, bacteria, that are similar to beneficial microorganisms found in the human gut. In an average healthy adult, the gut microbiome takes up to around 2 kg of his total weight!
Probiotics have been shown to provide potential positive health benefits to our body. With over 60% immune system housed in the gut, our gut microbiome helps us crowd out harmful foreign invaders to decrease risk of infections. These friendly, beneficial bacteria are also responsible for synthesizing certain vitamins and neurotransmitters that are essential to our emotional well-being.
Expecting mothers can reap the benefits of taking a good multi-strained probiotic supplement before, during and after pregnancy. Poor diets, antibiotic use, stress, environmental toxins can take a toll on the mother’s gut health, and that will affect the immunity of the unborn baby.
Having a healthy gut microbiome profile helps reduce risk of pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes mellitus. Multi-strained probiotics supplementation can help reduce the fasting blood glucose serum insulin levels and insulin resistance of expecting mothers. It also helps the mother-to-be to have better digestion by reducing bloating and alleviating constipation, it helps to increase nutrient absorption as well. When the mother is well-nourished, the baby will be, too.
Everyone has their own unique mix of microbiome, just like fingerprints. The microbiome profile of a newborn is essential to its health. A newborn is vulnerable. As previously mentioned, the first line of defense is essential part of our immune system. By building up its microbiome, it will have a stronger immune system to fend off harmful pathogens that may lead to potential complications. Mothers who give birth through natural birth (vaginal birth) and breastfeed their babies will pass down many strains of probiotics to the babies too, which will help make up the microbiome profile of their babies, resulting in healthier babies with stronger immune system.
There are several hundred strains of bacteria found in breastmilk, this makes breastmilk a natural source of probiotics for babies. These bacteria are the building blocks of the baby’s immune system as diverse bacteria can help reduce many health risks – allergies, asthma, infections, eczema etc. The anti-inflammatory properties found in these bacteria in breastmilk can help prevent skin rashes and atopic eczema; these bacteria can also help prevent yeast and bacterial infections in babies as they outnumber the bad microbes. These good bacteria can have long-lasting effects on babies’ health, even up to their adulthood.
Probiotics are available to consumers mainly in the form of dietary supplements and foods. The common strains of probiotics found in supplements include Lactobacillus acidophilus (L. acidophilus), L. Rhamnosus GG, L. reuteri, L. plantarum, L. brevis, L. bulgaricus, L. casei, Bifidobacterium bifidum (B. bifidum), B. breve, B. lactis, B. longum, Streptococcus thermophilus, and a type of good yeast called Saccharomyces boulardi. Each probiotic strain serves a different purpose – some are more for digestion, some are for stress, some are more for diarrhea etc. Food sources of probiotics include fermented foods such as tempeh, miso, kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, yogurt etc. It is important to have the label ‘naturally fermented’ on the products to ensure live cultures available with no added preservatives, food conditioner, artificial colourings and other food additives as these chemicals will create an unpleasant environment for probiotics to live.
Just like every other living organism, probiotics need foods to survive. Prebiotics are foods that help keep probiotics alive and multiply. Probiotics feed on prebiotics to bloom and colonize the gut. By definition, prebiotics are fibers that are hard to be broken down and digested by our body, thus they make a great food source for good bacteria. Prebiotics sometimes are added in the probiotic supplements. Some widely used prebiotics in supplements include FOS (fructooligosaccharides), inulin and GOS (galactooligosaccharides). Beans, artichokes, garlics, onions and bananas make the excellent food sources of prebiotics.
We lose trillions of bacteria through excretion daily. It is important that we replenish the good bacteria regularly for health maintenance either through natural fermented foods (although generally with limited strains of probiotics) or with a multiple strained probiotic supplement.
Here are some tips on how to choose a quality probiotic:
- A high quality human-strained probiotic supplement should not contain any preservatives, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), artificial colouring, flavorings and addictive.
- A multi-strained probiotic is generally better than a single-strained probiotic for more diversity.
- A good probiotic will have at least 1 billion of probiotics per serving.
While probiotics generally do not cause any negative reactions in expecting mothers, babies and children, it is important to talk to your healthcare provider or nutritionist before starting a new probiotic supplement so that they can advise proper dosage and timing.
Every Day Nutrition provides affordable yet extensive nutrition services in Singapore: 1-to-1 nutrition consultations, 1-to-1 grocery shopping, corporate services, home-visit (kitchen diagnostic) and high quality professional-grade nutrition supplements.
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