Gut health innovations: the secrets to optimal well-being

The truth about the emerging science surrounding probiotics and prebiotics.

First came probiotics, then prebiotics. Your daily routine probably already incorporates these buzzwords that are hugely important to gut health (and whole-body health). Taking a probiotic supplement when you’re on antibiotics or eating yogurt full of probiotics can be good choices.

However, this is just the beginning. Research into gut health is ever-expanding, but we’ve got you covered [1].

Strain-specific probiotics

In addition to targeting specific health conditions or symptoms, different strains of probiotics have different effects on the body. It’s time to turn pro!

Premier Nutrition, LLC Founder Renee Korczak PhD, RD, CSSD, LD, notes, “The science of probiotics continues to grow, and as a healthcare community, we are becoming increasingly aware of the specific effects of probiotic strains. “Not all probiotics are created equal, and the potential health benefits vary by strain.” [2]

It’s important to know that not all probiotics are created equal and that the potential health benefits are specific to the strain. Additionally, Kristie Leigh, RDN, director of health and science affairs at Danone North America, says it’s a common misconception that all fermented foods (think yogurt, kimchi, and kombucha) automatically contain probiotics.

“To be considered a probiotic, a bacterial strain must be studied clinically and must be shown to have benefits for human health,” explains Leigh. “Research has also shown that different probiotic strains are linked to different benefits, making the benefits of the probiotic strain specific.” [3]

“The word ‘probiotic’ isn’t always enough, so be sure to check the label. Find out the full probiotic strain name on the label, which is usually a three-part name ending in a combination of letters and numbers, that includes the genus, species, and strain information. In addition to doing an online search, Leigh suggests looking for strains that have been studied and found to benefit human health.

The science surrounding probiotics and their specific strains is constantly evolving. “Scientific research is increasing in the area of ​​probiotics, particularly for the benefits related to digestive health and immune health,” comments Leigh [3].

“Studies have shown that some probiotic strains may support reproductive tract, oral cavity, lung, skin and intestinal health, while more recent studies suggest some may improve mental well-being.” [4]

However, it’s important to note that much of the evidence for using a specific strain for a health condition is anecdotal. As research continues to evolve, there are bound to be more specific use cases proven for probiotics.

Microbial cocktails

This is not your typical favorite drink. Microbial cocktails are a type of supplement that mixes specific strains of probiotics or combines them with other yeast, bacteria or fungi for optimal health benefits. According to Marie E Murphy, MS, RD, CLT, owner and founder of MEM Nutrition & Wellness: “Microbial cocktails increase the diversity of the microbiota (aka the gut ecosystem).” [5]

Having a wide variety of microbes in your gut is better for your digestion, immunity, and overall health. Evidence shows that these multi-strain probiotics, or cocktails, have improved gut microbiota diversity in various populations, including IBS patients, pregnant women and premature infants, as well as in animal models [6, 7, 8, 9]

“Although more research is needed to demonstrate efficacy in the general population, the results are promising, and microbial cocktails have additional benefits beyond increasing gut microbiota diversity,” says Murphy.

Microbial cocktails have also been shown to do this improve digestion and absorption. “Your diet is only as good as you’re able to break it down, absorb and use,” adds Murphy.

This means that you can eat fruits and vegetables all day long, but if you don’t absorb the nutrients you won’t benefit from them. “There is evidence that supplementing with microbial cocktails can help with digestion and absorption.

Minerals like iron are difficult to absorb. A recent animal study showed that multi-strain probiotics improved iron absorption,” explains Murphy,

If you’re looking to try a microbial cocktail, Murphy recommends using Fullscript, an online dispensary that follows strict safety standards and offers high-quality supplements at affordable prices with reliable, temperature-controlled shipping when needed. [11].

Postbiotics

Move over “pre” and “pro,” the new “biotic” on the block is also known as a postbiotic. According to the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP), a postbiotic is “a preparation of inanimate microorganisms and/or their constituents that confers a health benefit on the host”.

In other words, the term “postbiotics” describes the byproducts or metabolites produced by probiotics during their active phase. An example might include probiotics, which ferment dietary fiber and produce short-chain fatty acids such as butyrate or acetate, which provide colon cells with energy and have anti-inflammatory effects.

“What is important to note with this definition is that even though microorganisms are inanimate, they are not dead; they actually still retain biological activity,” Korczak explains.

According to Korczak, scientific research suggests that postbiotics have a variety of possible health benefits, but more research is needed to confirm. Some of these health benefits include immune system support and intestinal barrier function [11].

They may also have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, immune support, cholesterol-lowering, and weight-protective effects. Postbiotics can include microbial cells, cellular constituents, and metabolites.

They are typically produced during a fermentation process, but both food and supplements contain postbiotics. If you’d rather incorporate food sources into your diet (rather than resorting to supplements), choose postbiotic-rich foods like oats, flaxseed, buttermilk, yogurt, cottage cheese, kefir, kimchi, sourdough bread, and kombucha.

Gut health innovations: the secrets to optimal well-being

New probiotics

As the name suggests, “novel probiotics” are unique or recently discovered strains of beneficial microorganisms. The field of probiotics is constantly evolving and researchers frequently identify new strains (in addition to the typical Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium).

They have different effects on the body and can target specific health conditions or symptoms. According to Murphy, “Vaginal health is a relatively new branch of probiotic research.

A recent clinical study has shown that new strains of Lactobacillus crispatus are effective in improving vaginal health in patients with bacterial vaginosis and vulvovaginal candidiasis.” [12]

With so many strains of probiotics, it can get confusing as to what may work best for you. For that reason, Murphy recommends this guide, which lists strains by health condition [13]

However, please note that the guide is designed for use by healthcare professionals. Always consult a physician before starting any new probiotic supplement.

symbiotic

Synbiotics are products that contain both prebiotics and probiotics, which work together to benefit your digestive system (aka your gut microbiota). “While synbiotics can help boost the beneficial microbes in our gastrointestinal system, they can also help provide nutrients (prebiotics) for their [own] survival,” explains Sarah Schlichter, MPH, RD, nutrition consultant and owner of Bucket List Tummy and Nutrition for Running [14].

The reason for this is that prebiotics are actually the food source for probiotics. They also have protective powers. Unlike many probiotics which break down in acidic digestive juices in the stomach, the prebiotics in synbiotics help the probiotic components survive passage through the upper gastrointestinal tract.

This allows probiotics to do their job by diversifying and increasing the diverse gut microbiota. Schlicter states that, “Several studies show that synbiotics may be beneficial in the management of irritable bowel disease, weight loss, skin health, and more.”

Leigh elaborates and explains the two types of synbiotics: complementary and synergistic. “Complementary synbiotics are a combination of probiotics and prebiotics designed together to provide a health benefit.

A synergistic symbiotic includes not only probiotics and prebiotics, but also live microbes and prebiotic-like substances that have been studied together and have been shown to provide a benefit. Research on synbiotics continues to evolve with benefits spanning many areas of health, including immune and gut health.”

While synbiotics are typically studied as supplements, they occur naturally in food. To get symbiotics through food, Leigh suggests combining foods with prebiotics, such as onions, oats, garlic, and asparagus, with probiotics to form a symbiotic mix.

For healthy adults, Leigh explains that: “There are currently no government guidelines or recommendations on the use of probiotics, including types or quantities. However, we do have some research suggesting that high amounts of synbiotics can lead to mild dehydration and/or constipation.” For this reason, Leigh recommends consumers look to increase the foods rich in prebiotics and probiotics in their diet.

[1] https://www.shape.com/gut-health-innovations-synbiotics-probiotics-postbiotics-7497717
[2] https://www.premierdietitian.com/
[3] https://www.nature.com/articles/nrgastro.2014.66
[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6445894/
[5] https://memnutritionwellness.com/
[6] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28625832/
[7] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32617453/
[8] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35185013/
[9] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34792102/
[10] https://fullscript.com/
[11] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22504002/
[12] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/36856121/
[13] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/368288910_Clinical_Guide_to_Probiotic_Products_Available_in_the_United_States_8th_Edition_2023_ISBN_978-1-7775181-5-8
[14] http://www.nutritionforrunning.com/

Photography: YuriArcursPeopleimages/Envato

The information included in this article is for informational purposes only. The purpose of this webpage is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health-related topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your doctor or other qualified healthcare professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before embarking on a new healthcare regimen, and never ignore professional medical advice or delay seeking because of something you read on this site.

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