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Probiotics 101: An Expert Guide on What You Need to Know

Why should we add probiotic-rich foods or probiotic supplements to our diet? If you’re wondering what these microorganisms do for your body, then you’ve come to the right place. We asked Maciej Chichlowski, PhD and Senior Director of Nutrition Research here at Shaklee, to answer all your burning questions about the health and wellness benefits of probiotics. Here’s your expert guide to what you need to know.

What are probiotics?

As defined by the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics, probiotics are live microorganisms that provide a health benefit to the host when consumed in adequate amounts. Did you know that probiotics have been to the moon and the International Space Station? Probiotics are also on the International Olympic Committee’s list of nutritional supplements for athletes’ immune health.

Probiotic content is estimated in colony-forming units (CFUs), which means the number of live strains in each serving. There are other ways to count probiotic bacteria, like active fluorescent units (AFU), an advanced and more precise method for cell enumeration. CFU or AFU tells you how many live microorganisms are in each serving all the way through the expiration date.

What is the microbiome, and why is it important in our body function?

The microbiome refers to trillions of microorganisms on the skin and in the digestive tract, mouth, and many other body sites. We are made up of as many bacterial cells as human cells (about a 1:1 ratio), with close to 95% of these microbes residing in our gut!

The impact of the microbiome on human health is astounding. Microbes benefit our digestive and immune systems and influence the interactions between our nervous system and the rest of the human body. Some of the microbiome functions shown in clinical studies include improving gut motility, protecting against pathogens, bolstering the immune system, influencing brain, liver, skin, and vaginal tract health, and producing and modulating hormones.

The gut microbiome can be like a tropical forest in healthy adults when there is a high diversity of microbes. In contrast, the gut microbiome may be more like a desert in unhealthy adults since diversity is usually lower.

Scientists believe that the metabolic activities of the microbiome resemble those of an organ. For this reason, we can think of the gut microbiome as the “forgotten organ.” Probiotics and prebiotics can help ensure that this forgotten organ functions optimally. A well-nourished and supported microbiome is crucial to our physical and emotional well-being.

How do probiotics help the gut microbiome?

Different probiotics address various health conditions, making it essential to choose the right type of probiotic. Increasing the CFU counts and number of strains in probiotic products does not always lead to higher quality and impact. It is crucial to select probiotic products with specific strains and counts that support the desired effect. For example, Optiflora® DI is so effective because it uses four clinically studied bacterial strains to improve gut function and enhance immunity.*

The health benefits of particular probiotics can be more general, such as improved digestion, but others can have very specific benefits like helping with stress and anxiety or aiding weight loss. So, no single probiotic strain can be expected to provide all of the suggested health benefits for probiotics. Overall, probiotics may be effective against various digestive problems like antibiotic-associated diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome.

Do I need probiotics daily?

It can take two to three weeks or more to feel the effect of probiotics. Daily use is necessary if you want to maintain the health benefits. Probiotics work best when they’re taken consistently, and it’s important to select probiotic products with specific strains that support the desired effect. For example, the probiotic strains in Optiflora DI were studied in clinical trials for their beneficial impact on the digestive and immune systems.*

How is Optiflora® DI different from other probiotics on the market?

Optiflora DI has beneficial strains of bacteria that were clinically shown to survive in the human gut, improve gut health, and enhance immunity. Surprisingly, 70% of our immune defense can be found in the gut! So, a balanced microbiota is vital for a well-functioning immune system. Optiflora DI also contains the strain s B. lactis HN019™ which is clinically shown to enhance cellular immunity in the elderly by increasing immune cells and activity.*1

How do prebiotics help? Are they necessary?

Prebiotics (or prebiotic fibers) are food for the beneficial microbes that live on or in us, and taking them might make probiotics more effective. Prebiotics are metabolized by “good” bacteria (probiotics), positively impacting the gut environment with an overall health benefit.

It is important to include prebiotic fibers in your diet. Fermentation of prebiotic fibers by gut bacteria leads to the production of beneficial metabolites in our gut. Those metabolites are linked to many health benefits, like increases in calcium absorption, decreases in allergy risk, less inflammation, or positive effects on insulin resistance and blood sugar levels.

What is the best time to take prebiotics and probiotics?

Products that contain both prebiotics and probiotics are called synbiotics. Synbiotics usually combine friendly bacteria and some food for the bacteria to eat (prebiotics) all in one supplement. Overall, it’s okay to take prebiotics and probiotics at any time of the day. You may take your prebiotic around the same time you take your probiotic, but spacing out the intake of probiotics and prebiotics (if not combined in a single supplement) might be more effective. The most important thing is consistency with probiotic supplementation and taking them daily.

Are there any products you recommend as “happy gut pairings”?

I recommend pairing Life Shake™ with Optiflora DI! Life Shake includes 6 g of dietary fiber, which can serve as food for bacterial strains in Optiflora DI. Combining a high-quality fiber with an effective probiotic supplement will positively impact our gut health and beyond!

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