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Probiotics: What do they actually do?

Often when we think of the word ‘bacteria’, we think of infection and disease. However, not all bacteria are harmful to our bodies. In fact, ‘good bacteria’ are increasingly being researched and discussed in the health community for their potential to improve health in a number of different ways.

Probiotics are live microbes that deliver health benefits to our bodies. Probiotics are naturally found in fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, tempeh and kombucha. However, you can also buy probiotic supplements that contain specific strains of bacteria that are selected for their health benefits.

Let’s talk about the specific ways that probiotics may improve your health:

Digestive health

Many people are aware of the connection between probiotics and gut health.

Probiotics may be useful for conditions including:

● Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

● Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

● Infectious diarrhoea (caused by viruses, bacteria or parasites), and

● Antibiotic-related diarrhoea.

It’s common for doctors and pharmacists to recommend a probiotic to follow your antibiotic course. This is because while antibiotics work to kill the bacteria that cause infections, it can also kill some of the ‘good’ bacteria that help support a healthy digestive system. As a result, it’s relatively common to experience diarrhoea following a course of antibiotics. There is lots of research that show that probiotics can help to prevent this.

However, it’s not just antibiotic-associated diarrhoea that probiotics help with. They have been shown to reduce the severity and duration of viral diarrhoea, the risk of traveller’s diarrhoea and even the incidence of diarrhoea in day-care centres.

When it comes to IBS, probiotics have been shown to reduce overall symptoms including abdominal pain and bloating, as well as improving bowel movement frequency and consistency in some IBS patients.

If you suffer from IBS, speak to your doctor or Capital Chemist pharmacist to find out which probiotic is right for you.

Immune health

Many people take probiotics for general good health, which can help to support a healthy immune system. However, some research indicates that probiotics may help to protect the body against a number of conditions, including allergy, eczema, and viral infection.

One particular study found that some strains of probiotics have the potential to reduce the likelihood of catching a cold, and reduce the number of days with common cold symptoms.

There is also evidence that demonstrates that giving certain probiotics to babies can prevent allergic disease, with long-term reduction in the incidence in atopic eczema.

Taking a probiotic may help to support immune function and may be especially helpful in children, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers.

Brain health

In the past five to ten years, there’s been a huge increase in the amount of research that’s being conducted into how the gut and microbiome works. One of the most exciting and interesting discovery was the connection between the gut and the brain, or what researchers call the ‘gut-brain axis’. There’s still a lot of research to be done, but what we do know is that there is strong evidence to suggest that the gut microbiota plays a role in how the gut ‘talks’ to our nervous system, which involves regulating brain chemistry and influencing the systems that help with how we react to stress and anxiety, and even our memory.

A lot of the research that has explored this connection, particularly in relation to how it might affect conditions like depression and anxiety, has been done on rats — but it does suggest that maintaining a healthy gut through the use of diet and probiotics may have benefits that could help to prevent or treat depression. There are also a number of small studies that indicate probiotics may help to reduce the anxiety and stress response and improve the mood of people experiencing moderate stress.

We also know that people who suffer from chronic issues like IBS often experience stress as a result of their symptoms, and may experience a better quality of life as their symptoms improve.

Women’s health

Similar to the gut, the vagina also has a microbiome that is home to trillions of microorganisms, including bacteria. When the natural balance of bacteria changes because of stress, antibiotics, skincare products or other factors, the result can be conditions like bacterial vaginosis.

If you suspect that you have an infection, your first step should be to speak to your GP, as treatment may require antibiotics.

A probiotic can also help by rebalancing the bacteria. One study compared two groups of women diagnosed with bacterial vaginosis: some were given oral probiotics while others were given a placebo pill. After a follow-up period, 61.5% of the women in the probiotic group had normal vaginal microbiota, compared to 26.9% of the placebo group.

There are lots of different ways that probiotics can help to maintain good health, with researchers continually discovering more. It’s important to note that different strains of probiotics are associated with different areas of health, so it’s important to talk to your GP or pharmacist about which one may be right for you.

You may also be interested in the following:

Gut health and probiotics


Acknowledgement of Country

Capital Chemist acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we operate, live and gather as employees, and recognise their continuing connection to land, water and community. We pay respect to Elders past, present and emerging.