When I started on my healthy eating journey the nutritionist I spoke to at York Laboratories (who I did my intolerance test with) recommended I take a probiotic every day.
Not having a clue, my first question really should have been: What on earth is a probiotic?
You hear the word bandied around so much, and nod sagely as if you know it's something that's good for you. Yoghurts have it, right? Yakult? Something about being good to your insides? That's not really very detailed is it...
A quick Google search comes up with this:
"Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are good for your health, especially your digestive system. We usually think of bacteria as something that causes diseases. But your body is full of bacteria, both good and bad. Probiotics are often called "good" or "helpful" bacteria because they help keep your gut healthy."
So basically probiotics are drinks or tablets full of bacteria and yeast.
Cue me laughing out loud and feeling confused. But I thought I was cutting out yeast?! Yes. But. I think this is the right kind of yeast... a friendly set that don't give me stomach problems and in fact might prevent them instead.
Probiotics, as you would expect from a 'yeast', are found naturally in fermented foods such as saurkraut, yoghurt and kefir and fermented soy products. All those things on the Don't Eat Me list. So I guess it figures that if I'm stripping out naturally occurring probiotics from my diet, I need to replenish the good sort elsewhere with a supplement. And actually general advice is even if you're not on a restricted diet, you should take a probiotic daily anyway.
The nutritionist says "you get what you pay for." So where do I get one and how much are we talking? First stop, I'll see what Holland & Barrett has to offer.
After staring at the shelves for what seems like an hour, and politely refusing all assistance (anyone else do that?! Drives my boyfriend crazy...) I went for Probio7 capsules. They were about £15 for 30 and seemed to claim a good number of bacteria.
I took them for two months, at the same time as I was cutting out yeast completely. So it would be hard to say what was making the difference but I wasn't convinced it was the tablets.
So I stopped taking them. Believing more in the differences I could see and feel in my body from the changes to my diet instead, I thought the probiotic was a waste of my money.
The question I should really have been asking myself is: what is a probiotic going to do for me? What makes it worth all the money?
It was at this point that I started to do some research and stumbled across this article on matchesfashion.com written by nutritional therapist Eve Kalinik. That in turn led me to follow Eve on social media and then go on to attend a Guardian Masterclass she led called Be Good To Your Gut.
In the matchesfashion article Eve recommends supplements for different purposes. I honed in on her recommendation for Symprove for people "just starting out" and looking for a supplement to aid digestion. It sounded just right for me! And the best bit of all? I got a free trial bottle in my goodie bag from the Guardian Masterclass session.
I tried it out over ten days and I could tell the benefit immediately. I could actually feel it working. That probably sounds a bit weird and maybe a bit gross, but it was like I knew everything was just.... moving... in my gut. But moving in a really healthy, good "happy to be here" kind of way. Not a "oh s&*^ I need a loo pronto" kind of way...
I've since been taking Symprove regularly. It's expensive, don't get me wrong. But when you can actually feel the difference it seems worth it to me. Symprove have a great support group on Facebook and whilst some people see immediate benefits, others take a bit longer. As with everything with diet and gut health, we're all individual. It's about what works for you.
Since then I've done some more research about probiotics, and reading a lot of great articles shared on the Symprove Facebook page. As well as all the gut benefits, the other reasons for taking a probiotic on a daily basis are also pretty compelling:
1. Probiotics improve thinking and memory
A recent study is said to have proved that taking a daily probiotic improved patients with Alzheimer's thinking and memory. And just this month I spotted a BBC News article stating scientists believe Parkinson's is caused by bacteria in the gut.
These sort of findings add to an already existing theory that probiotics "might also boost cognition." That's because in the body there's a two-way line of communication between the bacteria in the intestines and the brain. One article I read (and Eve in her talk) even called the intestines your "second brain" because of the 100,000 neurons in there.
I'm not a scientist and don't have any professional training in this area but the research is fascinating if you keep digging (I've put a list of links at the bottom of this blog for further reading).
And you know that channel or 'axis' between your belly and your brain? It's also known to link to the nervous system and the immune system... which leads us on to....
2. Probiotics boost your immune system
I want to write something more compelling here. But I think that just about sums it up doesn't it. Don't want a cold? Take a probiotic.
3. Probiotics improve skin conditions
I suffer a little with eczema and when I read this, it all started to make sense. When I'm not taking a probiotic it does flair up.
Probiotics help reduce inflammation in the gut which can cause skin conditions. Conditions said to be improved by probiotics include acne, eczema, rosacea and.... ageing! Oh hello, something that's going to make my gut feel better and help prevent wrinkles?! Yes please.
4. Probiotics can help you lose weight
It is believed that "certain probiotics may inhibit the absorption of dietary fat, may help release the appetite-reducing hormone GLP-1 which may help you burn calories and fat and increase levels of the protein ANGPTL4 which may lead to decreased fat storage." Article with research here.
There are a lot of 'may's in there, but to be quite honest compared with a lot of rubbish out there in the diet market, and considering all the other benefits of taking a probiotic, I am happy to take these maybes as Brucey bonuses while I heal my gut.
With these four reasons I'm definitely won over that a probiotic is something I want daily in my life. Which leaves one last question:
How do you choose a probiotic?
I am not a doctor, or a nutritionist, nor someone with any science background at all to preach about this stuff. My top tip is to do your research.
There is so much information out there online about probiotics. Follow people you trust and see what they suggest. And follow's Eve Kalinik's advice to look for a probiotic with lots of really good research and evidence behind it.
For example read this article about how Symprove triumphed against popular shop-bought rivals like Yakult and Actimel. When tested these cheap alternatives didn't contain the bacteria levels they claim, or the bacteria didn't actually survive to get to the stomach and flourish.
And a geeky history fact to end: the word probiotic comes from the Greek: “pro” meaning “for” and “biotic” meaning “bios” or “life”. Probiotics = for life! Okay. I'm done.
Do you take a probiotic? Which one? What benefits do you find it has? x
Research taken from: