Probiotics are tiny, microorganisms which can provide many health benefits when administered in the right amounts. There are many to choose from so let’s look at the big names.
Lactobacillus are any of a group of rod-shaped, gram-positive, non-spore-forming bacteria of the family Lactobacillaceae. Lactobacillus are characterized by their ability to produce lactic acid as a by-product of glucose metabolism. Lactobacillus are used commercially during the production of sour milks, cheeses, and yoghurt, and they have an important role in the manufacture of fermented vegetables (pickles and sauerkraut), beverages (wine and juices), sourdough breads, and some sausages.
Lactobacillus are commensal inhabitants (ie microorganisms that live on one specific part of the body without causing disease) of animal and human gastrointestinal tracts, as well as the human mouth and the vagina. Lactobacilli are used in probiotic formulations to restore normal flora in the gastrointestinal tract.
The common strains in probiotic formula are
- L. acidophilus – a potent immunomodulatory strain which can increase regulatory T cells and promote Th1/Th2/Th3 immunity and IgA response in the body
- L. plantarum – assists with IBS, colitis and antibiotic therapy, improves influenza response in the elderly
- L. casei – reduces the occurrence of infections in elderly, lowers inflammatory marker CRP, improves insulin sensitivity preventing diabetes, repairs aspirin induced bowel injury and assists with ulcerative colitis
- L. paracasei – can inhibit salmonella, E. coli and listeria and assist with restoring microbiome integrity following anti-biotics
- L. rhamnosus – is effective against pathogen C. difficile, atopic allergic reactions and infant diarrhoea
FOOD SOURCES WITH LACTOBACILLUS - plain yoghurts, kefir, buttermilk, fermented vegetables such as cabbage, kimchi, sauerkraut, pickled vegetables, miso, tempeh, some infant formulas, kombucha, natto. Cheeses that contain live or active cultures contain some probiotics (eg gouda, mozzarella, cottage, cheddar). Some foods, such as sausage and cured meats, wine, vinegar, commercial sauerkraut and sourdough bread, have lactic acid added during the manufacturing process to facilitate fermentation. Adding lactic acid bacteria lowers the pH of the food and can suppress harmful bacterial growth.
Bifidobacterium is a genus of bacteria that live in the GI tract, vagina and mouth of mammals. They are gram-positive, use glucose as fuel instead of oxygen (anaerobic), and are usually branched-shaped. Bifidobacterium makes up 25% of adult faecal bacteria and 80% in infants.
Bifidobacteria are important in their role of carbohydrate fermentation. As plant and milk carbohydrates are undigestible in their natural state, fermentation is an important step in turning these carbohydrates into short chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which is the main energy source for our intestinal cells. Bifidocacterium also work to protect us from infections in several ways
- B. breve – prevents and treats constipation, increases the anti-oxidant glutathione, improves bloating, and symptoms associated with ulcerative colitis. B. breve enhances IgA-antibodies that are antigen specific for rotavirus, a major cause of acute childhood diarrhea
- B. animalis – has anti-inflammatory properties helpful in reducing symptoms of colitis, reducing the episodes of common allergies such as allergic rhinitis. B. animalis boosts immune IgG response, can adhere to intestinal cells preventing invading viruses or bacteria from binding to our epithelial cells
- B. bifidum – improves constipation and IBS symptoms such as bloating, pain, flatulence and diarrhoea. Can also be useful as combination treatment for H. Pylori infection
- B. longum – can reduce coeliac disease symptoms, IBS, constipation and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
- B. Infantis - shown to have a broad spectrum of antimicrobial properties to inhibit the growth of pathogens
FOOD SOURCES WITH BIFIDOBACTERIA – some plain yoghurts, kefir, buttermilk, fermented vegetables such as cabbage, kimchi, sauerkraut, pickled vegetables, miso, tempeh, some infant formulas, kombucha, natto. Cheeses that contain live or active cultures contain some probiotics (eg gouda, mozzarella, cottage, cheddar). Some foods, such as sausage and cured meats, wine, vinegar, commercial sauerkraut and sourdough bread, have lactic acid added during the manufacturing process to facilitate fermentation. Adding lactic acid bacteria lowers the pH of the food and can suppress harmful bacterial growth.
For general health it’s probably best to source a probiotic with multiple lactobacillus and bifidobacterial strains. You can discuss with a Synergy Compounding pharmacist if you need help with strain-specific probiotics for a particular health need.
Sneaky ways to include natural probiotics in your diet
- Add yogurt, kefir or buttermilk to your morning smoothies, granola, porridge. For non-dairy try homemade coconut yogurt.
- Top your scrambled eggs with fermented salsa.
- Slice and dry sourdough bread and use to dip in fermented hummus.
- For kids lunches add cut-up veggies with a kefir dill dip.
- Add chopped fermented pickles to tuna, salmon, or ham salad sandwiches.
- Use fermented mayonnaise in place of store-bought mayonnaise.
- Add sour cream or buttermilk to soup
- Make tacos and top with sliced fermented jalapeños and cultured sour cream.
- Have a small portion of raw sauerkraut with dinner. It goes well with just about anything. Start with a tablespoon and slowly increase the amount to avoid gastro-intestinal discomfort.
- For salads, try making your own ranch dressing using lacto-fermented mayonnaise and cultured buttermilk or Italian dressing made with kombucha.
- Serve some fermented chutneys with dinner entrées.
- Make fun and fizzy water kefir sodas or lacto-fermented ginger-ale.
- Serve a probiotic-rich dessert like fresh fruit with kefir
Purple Sauerkraut (Irena Macri)
¼ of large purple or white cabbage head
1 medium carrot, grated
1 garlic clove
½ tsp coriander seed powder
1 ½ tbsp sea salt
- Sterilise a medium glass jar with boiling water and let it dry.
- Thinly slice or shred the cabbage. Using your hands, squeeze and mix cabbage, carrot, garlic, coriander and sea salt in a large mixing bowl.
- Use a meat hammer or wooden spoon to pound the mix for a few minutes to release the juices
- Place the cabbage mix tightly in the jar, pressing it down with a spoon or your clean hand to release more juice to the top.
- Leave a 2cm space between the top of the jar and the cabbage. Make sure the cabbage is completely covered with brine
- Cover tightly and leave at room temperature for about 3 days before moving to the fridge. The vegetables will soften and change colour slightly and when you open the lid it should smell acidic and sharp
If any mould forms on the top, gently remove it. The sauerkraut can be eaten straight away or left in the fridge for months.