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Probiotics: Key Ingredient for Digestive Health and Wellbeing

05 Jan 2022

5 min

We live in a world with constant insults to our gut. Poor diets, stress, inadequate sleep, environmental pollutants, and for athletes, extreme training can wreak havoc on gut health.1,2 In particular, probiotic intake is associated with improved digestive and immune health.

70%

Of our immune system is located in our gut, therefore improving gut health supports a healthy immune system.

What are Probiotics?

Probiotics are “live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.”3 These microorganisms include bacteria and yeast. 

There are trillions of metabolically active microorganisms living in your gut microbiome. Your microbiome is a community of helpful, neutral and harmful yeasts and bacteria specific to your gut. These microorganisms are constantly interacting with your immune system, central nervous system and endocrine system. As a result, they impact many aspects of human health. 

A healthy microbiome has a diverse array of microorganisms, largely comprised of helpful or neutral bacteria and yeasts. There are many factors that influence the makeup of your microbiome including your diet, genetics, stress and environmental factors. For instance, a poor diet can result in a less healthy mix of microorganisms which can lead to negative health effects. 

Probiotics have 3 parts to their name – genus, species and strain. Think of it like a first, middle and last name. As you get to the last name you are a lot more specific. If you search for your first name on the internet, chances are you will get a ton of hits. Now try searching for your complete name in quotes including your middle name. This is much more specific and therefore more likely to actually result in a website that features you versus someone with the same first name only. 

Two probiotic pills with a sealed white bottle and sealed silver blister pack

Probiotic Benefits

A well-balanced gut microbiome supports overall well-being, gut integrity, digestive health and immune health. 

Digestive distress is prevalent. In fact, one national survey with over 70,000 participants found 61% had GI symptoms over the previous week.

Marie Spano | Nutrition Communication Expert

The most commonly reported symptoms were heartburn or reflux, abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea and constipation.4 Though there are many potential contributing factors to all of these GI symptoms, a disrupted gut microbiome stands out as one that is easy to target with specific probiotics. In particular, Bifidobacterium animalis subspecies lactis HN019TM has been clinically shown to speed up transit of food through the gut to improve symptoms of constipation.5

Though not all probiotics deliver the same benefits, BifidoB HN019TM alone or in combination with LactoB HN001TM & fructo oligosaccharides speeds up transit of food through the gut to improve symptoms of constipation.6,7,8 BifidoB HN019TM also reduces gut discomfort and supports gut barrier integrity.9

The lining of the human gut acts like a gatekeeper by allowing certain compounds to cross the gut barrier and enter the bloodstream while keeping out harmful compounds. When the gut barrier is compromised, harmful compounds such as pathogens can enter the body from the GI tract (which is technically outside of the body given it has two openings to the outside). Both BifidoB HN019TM and LactoB HN001TM help maintain gut cell junctions to keep out the bad guys.10

Figure taken from NZMP's Probiotic digestive health whitepaper 'Small but Mighty'

Changes in immune health due to excessive exercise, poor sleep and other factors can increase a person’s risk of developing a respiratory tract infection (RTI) or cold. The GI tract is the first defense against potential pathogens and therefore, it makes sense to keep the lining intact and healthy. Probiotics can not only impact the gut lining but they have other effects on immune system health. And, research shows very specific types of strains within Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium genera can decrease the likelihood of getting a common cold or RTI as well as the length of time a person is sick once they have a cold or RTI.11 For instance, BifidoB HN019TM has been shown to decrease the incidence of RTI in kids.12

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Probiotic Safety

Probiotics have been used safely for over 100 years.13 Safety measures include an assessment of side effects in human clinical trials and identification of metabolic activities of the probiotic. Probiotic products should be labelled in CFU, the scientifically accepted unit of measure for probiotics and used to report probiotic quantity in many studies conducted to assess the safety or benefits of probiotics.14 It’s important to note that not all probiotics deliver the same benefits. 

What to look for in a Probiotic

There are three main things to look for in a probiotic: published research on that particular probiotic strain, shelf-life stability and the ability to resist digestion.

Though there are a number of health benefits associated with probiotic intake, these benefits are often specific to certain probiotic strains. Therefore, it is important to choose a probiotic strain that is backed by sound scientific research including human clinical trials. As an example, LactoB HN001TM  and BifidoB HN019TM , are two particularly well researched probiotics that survive transport through the gut.15,16

When examining probiotics, be sure the name contains all three parts, genus, strain, species and information on how the probiotic survives digestion and reaches the gut.

Probiotics have a wide range of potential applications. They can be added to cultured dairy products such as yogurt and fermented drinks, frozen dairy desserts, protein powders, nutrition bars, higher fiber juices, coatings and confections. 

Probiotics are live bacteria or yeast that, when given in adequate amounts, are beneficial for health. The most well-studied roles for probiotics include supporting digestive health and immune health. However, not all probiotics offer the same health benefits. Therefore, it is important to choose probiotic strains that are backed by clinical research in humans.

Our blogger

Marie Spano

Nutrition Communication Expert

Marie Spano, MS, RD, CSCS, CSSD is a nutrition communications expert and one of the country’s leading sports nutritionists. Spano has appeared on NBC, ABC, Fox and CBS affiliates, and authored hundreds of magazine articles and trade publication articles, written book chapter and web copy on a variety of nutrition topics. She is lead author of the textbook Nutrition for Sport, Exercise and Health (Human Kinetics, 2017).

Probiotics: Small but mighty

Download our whitepaper to learn more about the benefits probiotics has on digestive health, and overall wellbeing. 

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