Not All Bacteria Are Created Equal

by Brooke on September 7, 2010

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I have been receiving a lot of questions lately on probiotics and prebiotics.  These terms have been all over the media and consumers are getting more and more confused as to what they are and if they should in fact be consuming them.  Today, I will just discuss probiotics, but I will first differentiate between the two.   Here is a little break down of what probiotics are, where they can be found, and how they are used.  

In the beginning there were definitions…  

Probiotics – The most widely used definition is that of the FAO/WHO Expert Consultation stating that probiotics are: “Live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host.” 

  • It is important to remember that probiotics are ALIVE! 
  • There are different types of microbes including:  Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, S. thermophilus,  Saccharomyces, Propionibacterium, Bacillus, Enterococcus, E. coli.   All microbes do not have the same effects; therefore, they do not all offer the same health benefits.

Prebiotics– Are described as non-digestible food ingredients, not whole foods that selectively stimulate growth or promote activity of bacteria species that benefit the host.  Some examples are inulin, and  short and long chain fructooligosaccharides.  A few examples of foods that contain prebiotics are: honey, garlic, bananas, and whole grains.

Live Active Culture – Are microbes that are used to make fermented foods like: cheese, cultured cottage cheese, yogurt, kefir, and fermented milks.  Some foods still contain these alive microbes prior to consumption and thus are sources of  “live active cultures.” 

The human body: 

Each one of us is the host to numerous microbial cells.  These microbes can be found in the: mouth, intestine, vagina, and skin.  We are said to have more than 1,000 different bacterial species in our intestines.  There are more microbes in the intestine than there are cells in the human body!  Our ‘microbiota can be viewed as a metabolic “organ” exquisitely tuned to our physiology that performs functions that we have not had to evolve on our own.’   

Where they can be found:   

Probiotics – Beware not all products called “Probiotics” actually perform like probiotics.  Probiotics is not a legal definition and some products may not be clinically validated.    

How they are used: 

Probiotics – Studies have been conducted on benefits of probiotics and colds, colic, lactose digestion, sick days, workplace abscesses, acute diarrhea, etc.  Most of all the studies conclude that more research needs to be conducted. 

If you decide to try probiotics: 

1)      Understand that different health benefits are based on specific strains and doses

2)      Check with your doctor and registered dietitian prior to starting probiotics if you have any health concern. 

3)      Here are examples of what a few products are used to treat: 

  • Lactose Digestion: any yogurt with “Live Active Culture” and dietary supplements that contain containing S. thermophilus or L. bulgaricus
  • Mild Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS): Align
  • Diarrhea: Florastor, DanActive, Culturelle, BioK+CL1285
  • Slow transit time or in other words it takes you a long time before you have to go to the bathroom.  This product may help you go to the bathroom quicker: Activia

4)     It is also important to know that consistent, regular use of products containing probiotics is necessary to gain health benefits.  Continuous use of these products is the only way to increase the healthy bacteria in the intestine and promote health benefits.  If you don’t use them on a regular basis, the healthy cultures wont be able to fully colonize i.e. take over ‘territory’ in the intestine.    

Photo courtesy of tajmomhal.



{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Bill February 14, 2011 at 3:38 am

It may be of interest to note that there is no definitive list of microbial strains used in yogurt. I am trying to put one together on my website:

Please, post link of any lists you find so I may add them to this list.

Thank you


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