What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics are friendly bacteria, also known as "good bacteria" that keep the body healthy.
By definition, a probiotic is “denoting a substance which stimulates the growth of microorganisms, especially those with beneficial properties (such as those of the intestinal flora).”
Put simply, a probiotic is an alive microorganism that can have a positive influence on the diversity, balance and function of the body’s microbiomes.
There are trillions of these healthy microorganisms in the digestive tract that help the body function at its best. These microorganisms outnumber human cells ten to one. In fact, you have more microbes in your guts than there are stars in the universe!
We tend to associate the gut microbiome with most probiotic supplements and probiotic foods. Many of us are seeking solutions to improve gut health. However, the body also has the oral microbiome and additionally, women have the vaginal microbiome.
Trillions of bacteria, fungi, parasites, mites and viruses all cohabit these biomes, and when the right diversity of these bacteria are in balance, they help keep the body functioning properly.
Science has proven that taking probiotics is great for your gut health and overall wellbeing. However, the average person most likely isn't getting enough nutrients from their diet. That’s why supplementing with organic probiotics is a smart thing to do.
Probiotic products are available in many forms including pills, probiotic powders, probiotic liquids and are found naturally in fermented foods.
But not all probiotics are created equal.
Sadly, there are many poor quality probiotic products on the market right now. It’s important to understand which probiotic supplement and/or probiotic foods are right for you.
This article is going to explore the benefits of probiotics, how probiotics work, the benefits of probiotics for men, the benefits of probiotics for women, probiotic supplements vs food-based organic probiotics and more.
Table of Contents
How Do Probiotics Work?
When it comes to probiotics, there are two important areas to understand how probiotics work.
The first is that some probiotics are transient. This means they enter the body and make their way through the gastrointestinal tract (GI) and to a degree, influence the existing microorganisms by communicating and alleviating symptoms. However, they do not actually colonize in the gut.
Other probiotics colonize the GI tract. Once they make their journey from the mouth to the gut, they remain in the intestines and positively influence the diversity of bacteria within the microbiome.
We can liken the gut to a giant checkers board.
If you’ve ever played checkers, you understand there's different colors for different players and there’s only so many spaces that we can place our a checkers pieces on. That's the gut.
To keep it simple for explanatory purposes, different colours are different species of bacteria. Common bacterial species include Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus, Staphylococcus, Enterococci, and Propionibacterium.
In an ideal healthy gut, it’s populated with all these different species in varying amounts to ensure that dysbiotic bacteria and yeasts are unable to overgrow and cause dysbiosis.
It’s the presence of these “good guys” (healthy bacteria) that keeps the “bad guys” (harmful bacteria) at bay. This is one of the reasons why we eat or take organic probiotics. They help us establish alpha diversity and ensure a healthy, functioning, non-leaky gut.
Overall, probiotics work to keep a healthy balance of good and bad bacteria. There’s a few reasons for why we may not have a healthy balanced gut:
- Antibiotic use
- Food poisoning
- Poor diet
- Food additives, heavy metals, pesticides, mycotoxins
- C-section birth (when women have a natural vaginal birth, the baby's GI tract is inoculated with beneficial bacteria from the vaginal microbiome. This helps create and establish the baby's microbiome.)
The above list are the key factors that knock good bacteria out and enable the rise of dysbiotic bacteria to elevated levels and cause bacterial overgrowth and other gut health issues and imbalances.
How Do Probiotics Help to Keep You Healthy?
The benefits of probiotics keep the body healthy through their regulation of gut permeability (or leakiness) and the production of short chain fatty acids (SCFA).
When we say probiotics, we’re referring to the numerous species of beneficial bacteria that naturally live in the gut and help keep the body functioning at its best.
The gut microbiome plays the most crucial role in regulating the sex hormones, immune function, metabolic function, energy and mood. Hippocrates, the Father of Modern Medicine stated thousands of years ago that “all disease begins in the gut.” Therefore, supporting a healthy gut really is the secret sauce to an overall healthy body.
These beneficial bacteria that create SCFA fall primarily under the big phylum category of Bacteroidetes–including Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium species etc.
Bacteroidetes take our fibre, resistant starch and polyphenols from the plant foods we consume and create valuable SCFA– butyrate, propionate and acetate.
SCFA then fuel and feed our intestinal cells–enterocytes and colonocytes–as well as supporting liver cell function as they’re released into circulation.
Within the gut, there is this symbiotic relationship between the bacteria that lives there and our own cells that assimilate nutrients from the food we eat and send it into blood circulation.
SCFA have been shown to decrease gut inflammation, improve intestinal barrier integrity, support healthy mucus production within the gut, decrease risk of colorectal cancer, modulate the immune system and even support the gut-brain axis and neurotransmitter production (1).
Probiotics also help us maintain healthy by preventing dysbiotic and pathogenic bacteria from overgrowing and causing dysbiosis, leaky gut, gut inflammation, immune dysregulation, metabolic issues and GI diseases and distress.
When an individual has an unhealthy gut with unbalanced bacteria, this may cause allergy symptoms, mood imbalances, low energy, fatigue, metabolic issues, cardiovascular disease, hormonal imbalances, skin issues, accelerated ageing and autoimmune conditions (2).
Overall, probiotics, or healthy bacteria, support our entire health and wellbeing and should be considered to be taken regularly.
What are the Best Food Sources of Probiotics?
The best food sources of natural probiotics are ferments. Fermented foods contain the live microorganisms, or healthy bacteria, which are called probiotics.
Some of the best gut-healthy fermented foods include:
- Sauerkraut / Kimchi / Pickled Vegetables
- Sourdough bread
- Fermented cheeses
Lab Grown Probiotics vs Natural Wild Fermentation
Lab grown probiotics refers to probiotics strains that are manufactured for supplements and commercial products. This is what most people think of when they hear “probiotic”.
In respect to lab grown probiotics, we also have a new genre of probiotic supplements called spore based probiotics.
Spore based probiotics are encapsulated in the spore form, enabling them to survive the GI tract (as our stomach is super acidic with a pH of 2.0 and is designed to kill pathogens and bacteria).
Spore based probiotics have also been shown to colonise the GI tract not just be transient bypassers as generic shelf or fridge probiotics are, and act like fertiliser to the microbiome enabling healthy probiotic bacteria to colonize.
There’s no doubt that refrigerated probiotics can have beneficial effects on the gut, however, they act more as a band aid solution or can sometimes worsen gut health.
Not All Probiotics Are Created Equal
Commercial probiotics are sometimes able to mitigate symptoms and provide relief to GI symptoms such as bloating, gas, diarrhoea and constipation, as they communicate and do have some positive influence on the gut if they survive the GI tract.
A lot of commercial probiotics do not contain the CFU (colony forming units) as stated on the label e.g 500 Billion CFU and also have been shown to not survive the GI tract and influence the gut (3).
Further, consuming or taking a commercial probiotic supplement daily can actually do more harm than good, with this constant addition / introduction of certain lab grown strains throwing out the natural balance of species within the gut.
Additionally, individuals who have SIBO may experience their symptoms worsening with the introduction of commercial probiotics.
When it comes to gut issues - we always need to address the underlying driver and really focus on food as a healing modality and this is where wild fermented natural probiotics can play a key role.
Natural wild fermented probiotics are functional foods. They’re the outcome of a natural fermentation process that occurs and produces wild strains of probiotics that are symbiotic with ourselves (we see in commercial probiotics strains such as Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG or Bifidobacterium lactis (BI-04) Bifidobacterium animalis ssp. lactis (BI-04)).
Wild fermented natural probiotics are designed by nature and are different with each batch and offer a wider spectrum of probiotic strains.
Bacteria is highly intelligent and their strength lies in working together in colonies (thousands in each colony) and communities, not on their own.
Many probiotics on the market isolate one bacterial strain as opposed to multiple strains that balance the whole system and allow the colonies to support and communicate to each other. The body requires ‘healthy and alive’ bacteria colonies working together throughout the entire body.
The solution is to look for our probiotic supplement that contains multiple strains of bacteria.
What Are The Benefits of Probiotics for Men?
Probiotics can benefit men's health in a variety of ways.
Probiotics for adults support men's gut health and digestion, improve sexual health and reproductive function, boost immunity and brain health, may support heart health and more.
Gut Health and Digestion
Probiotics benefit men through the regulation of a healthy gut microbiome, which in turn improves immunity, cardiovascular health, weight, libido and reproductive function.
Numerous men experience GI distress - whether it’s reflux, indigestion, bloating, IBS, constipation, brain fog - all of which are directly tied to the diversity within the microbiota and function of the digestive system and gut.
Supporting the gut through probiotic consumption can make a positive influence on these symptoms and quality of life.
Probiotics for Sexual Health and Reproductive Function
Probiotics are helpful for men in regulating libido, sperm quality and fertility. We know systemic stress is a key causative factor of infertility within men, with studies showing that lifestyle factors and stress decreases sperm quality and testosterone levels (14).
Probiotics are able to help mitigate further internal stress and support the production of SCFA which are beneficial to overall health, libido and reproductive function.
Probiotics for Immunity
Research has shown that 90% of the immune system is located within the gut. For men, consuming probiotics regularly helps to support a healthy, robust immune system.
Whether it’s helping to recover from influenza or the “man flu”, adding in beneficial bacteria and supporting the colonisation and replication of such beneficial species, improves immune system function and is also beneficial in autoimmune diseases.
Probiotics for Cognitive Health
The gut-brain axis or what is also known as enteric nervous system is a bidirectional communication in the body between the microbes in our gut and our neurons in our brain.
Science has revealed that 90% of serotonin, dopamine and 50% of noradrenaline, and the production of GABA is all manufactured in the gut. These important neurotransmitters and hormones directly influence cognition, thinking, memory and most importantly, mood elevation.
Adding in probiotics naturally supports the production of these neurotransmitters to the brain which benefits overall cognitive health.
We also know that neurodegenerative diseases are heavily linked to glucose imbalance and gut inflammation. Supporting a healthy gut may in turn prevent the evolution of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Dementia.
Probiotics for Heart Health
When it comes to healthy cardiovascular function, the microbiome plays a pivotal role in healthy cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
New research is emerging that the bacteria that lives within the gut have the ability to influence metabolic function via the trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) pathway (5).
The TMAO pathway is a molecule that’s synthesised by the gut microbes from choline, betaine and carnitine (often rich in red meat).
Elevated TMAO levels are a marker of increased risk for major cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke, linking gut microbial function and cardiovascular health (5).
Adding in probiotics for men can help relieve these symptoms, improving nutrient absorption, energy, recovery and modulate inflammation and support healthy immune function.
It’s important to mention that probiotics need to exist alongside a prebiotic rich diet.
Many prebiotic food sources come from plants – vegetables, fruits, legumes, wholegrains, nuts and seeds.
Therefore, consuming more plant foods is how we’re able to ensure the survivability and colonisation of beneficial probiotics and improvements in gut health, fertility, libido, immunity, cardiovascular and cognitive function.
What Are The Benefits of Probiotics for Women?
Probiotics can benefit women's health in a variety of ways.
Probiotics for adults support women's gut health and digestion, improve vaginal health and hormone health, boost mood and immunity, may nourishes the skin, improves sleep and more.
Gut Health and Digestion
Just like men, a daily probiotic offers incredible support for women’s gut health and digestion.
When the gut is healthy in a woman's body, they experience a strong immune system, reduced bloating and better elimination, increased energy levels, healthy hormone function, better mood and less stress.
Probiotics For Vaginal Health
Probiotics are also very important for vaginal health. In addition to the gut microbiome, women also have the vaginal microbiome.
The vaginal microbiome is a very important part of female anatomy that protects the vagine from invading pathogens (as all microbiomes are predominantly involved in immune function).
We often hear the benefits of probiotics for vaginal health but it’s valuable to explore why you need probiotics to support vaginal health.
If you’re a woman (anatomically), ask yourself these questions:
- Do you consume large amounts of sugar and starch which causes candida overgrowth and recurring thrush and bacterial vaginosis?
- Do you use harsh, pH disrupting vaginal washes?
- Do you take medications and/or consuming large amounts of alcohol that negatively impact the vaginal microbiome?
- Do you have a history of taking antibiotics?
All of these factors can potentially disrupt the vaginal microbiome.
In order to support a healthy vaginal microbiome, we need to reduce refined sugars and carbohydrates, ditch the chemical body washes and soaps, keep well hydrated, take a daily probiotic and eat a diet rich in prebiotic fiber, protein, fats, and antioxidants.
Probiotics for Hormone Health
Regular probiotics help support healthy hormone levels in women.
The microbiome is involved in the excretion of estrogen and sex hormones. When these hormones are balanced and operating efficiently, there’s an improvement in mood, energy, libido, fertility and weight loss.
Probiotics for Mood
The gut produces 90% of serotonin – a key hormone that regulates mood, appetite, and is a precursor to melatonin, the sleep molecule. Dopamine and GABA are also produced in the gut by bacteria.
These neurotransmitters are involved in regulating mood, reward systems, calming the nervous system and our thoughts – enabling better mood.
We also know the estrobolome can either metabolise completely or unconjugated estrogens. When women have elevated estrogen levels, it’s more common to see symptoms of anxiety, worry and overthinking.
Probiotics for Immunity
Probiotics are helpful for supporting immune function in women. We know 90% of the immune system is located within the gut.
Therefore, supporting the colonisation and placement of beneficial bacteria helps prevent leaky gut and keeps our tight-junctions tight. This reduces the chances of an immune response as food particles, bacteria and compounds can leak out of our gut and into our bloodstream.
Probiotics also help modulate the immune system and have been shown to be beneficial in supporting autoimmune conditions in which women are far more likely to experience in their lifetime.
Probiotics for Skin Health
The gut is the most important aspect of our skin health. A healthy gut corresponds with bright, glowing and healthy skin.
If the gut is compromised due to inflammation, a lack of beneficial bacteria, dysbiotic or overgrown with pathogenic bacteria and yeasts - this disruption will show in the skin.
Probiotics are so helpful in repairing skin conditions as it helps to restore balance to the flora and can reduce inflammation and acne seen in the skin. Numerous studies show benefits in eczema and psoriasis when the gut is healthy and thriving.
Probiotics for Sleep
GABA and serotonin production occurs within the gut. GABA is the calming neurotransmitter and serotonin is the precursor to melatonin–our master sleep conductor.
Probiotics are able to help with the production of these essential neurotransmitters and to help promote relaxation, winding down and restorative sleep.
Probiotics for Weight Loss
Probiotics are able to help assist in healthy weight management.
Studies have shown when Firmicutes bacteria–the main phyla of bacteria–are overgrown, there is an increase in body weight and metabolic dysfunction occurs. (4)
Firmicutes bacteria increase intestinal inflammation and cause a greater energy extraction from food.
Further, unhealthy and over-processed foods feed Firmicutes tying in the importance of a diet rich in whole foods for a healthy microbiome.
Is it Just as Good to Take Probiotic Supplements?
A lot of probiotic supplements and probiotic foods are marketed to be “probiotic-rich” but unfortunately, many of those products are unfairly mislabeled.
Sure, companies add probiotic strains in their products(s)–usually in small amounts–and use their inclusion as a marketing tactic to make consumers associate that product with being a healthy solution for better microbiome health. However, this isn’t always true.
Most probiotics on the market use lab-grown and synthetic bacteria. When a company states they have billions of bacteria in their products (CFU – Colony Forming Units)–that’s a sign they are synthetic and made in a laboratory.
While the idea of consuming billions of healthy bacteria in one pill sounds convincing, the reality is this marketing tactic is often misleading to the consumer. Here’s why:
There’s no guarantee at the time of purchase that a probiotic product has that same amount of good bacteria it lists on its label.
From the moment most probiotics are manufactured in the lab, they begin to degrade. This bacteria is extremely sensitive and volatile. These probiotic products must be constantly refrigerated to prevent the good bacteria from dying.
Good bacteria are only useful if it remains alive. Synthetic bacteria are also not as strong as naturally fermented probiotic foods.
The other problem is that when consumed, most probiotics today don’t make it through the digestive tract alive to colonise the gut. This defeats the purpose of consuming a probiotic at all. If a probiotic is so fragile that it requires refrigeration, how do you expect it to survive the high temperatures and naturally acidic conditions of the stomach?
The purpose of probiotics, therefore, must be to arrive alive in the intestines to perform their necessary function and also be commensal to the gut.
I’d be hesitant in consuming other food and beverage products that have added probiotics. Always read the ingredients to see if it aligns with your nutritional values.
As we’ve explored, the use of commercial probiotic supplements isn’t always beneficial or necessary. As a holistic nutritionist that regularly orders stool and microbiome tests for my patients, unless there’s evidence that you’re low in specific species of bacteria. Instead, I’d focus on wild fermented foods or naturally fermented gut products such as our Mushroom Probiotics blend.
Always aim to consume prebiotic-rich plant foods regularly to nourish the existing microbes in your gut to help them grow and multiply.
Why Do We Need Prebiotics and Probiotics Together?
Studies show consuming prebiotics and probiotics together provides the best opportunity to improve gut health.
What is the difference between probiotics and prebiotics?
Probiotics are healthy bacteria that live in your body naturally–strains such as Bifidobacterium spp. and Lactobacillus spp.–that help your intestines break down the food you eat.
Prebiotics don’t actually contain bacteria. They exist as a food source–special fibres in food–that act as the fuel to help good probiotic bacteria grow in the body.
Researchers have found that prebiotics is helpful in increasing the good probiotic bacteria already in the gut, improving general wellbeing and reducing the risk of disease.
Prebiotics are mostly found in plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes. When we eat these prebiotic-rich foods their specific compounds fuel healthy bacteria and enable probiotics to grow and multiply in the gut.
Some of the most important prebiotic-rich foods include;
- Green bananas
- Cooked and cooled potatoes
- Chickpeas, red kidney beans, black beans, lentils
- Chicory roots and more.
Adding these best prebiotic foods into your diet daily enables the probiotic species to thrive and produce their beneficial SCFA which fuel enterocytes, reduce inflammation, enable serotonin production and so much more.
While these beneficial foods feed the good bacteria in the gut, inversely, junk food, refined sugars, carbohydrates, alcohol, food additives, saturated fats and trans fats feed the “not so good” bacteria and negatively impact gut health.
It’s important to learn what to avoid and what to consume to support a healthy gut is a super important part of anyone's health and gut journey.
Are Probiotics Safe?
Probiotics are safe and have no known dangers associated with them.
Probiotics are not harmful, however, the wrong probiotic supplement can indeed throw off the natural balance of flora within the gut which may cause dis-ease, dysbiosis and potential gut issues and other associated symptoms.
Humans poop out bacteria every day–and since most probiotics are transient–we excrete them through the bowels, preventing any possible way of not being safe.
A key example of this is post-antibiotic probiotic therapy. Researchers have demonstrated that including probiotics after an individual has completed a course of antibiotics actually stunts the return of a healthy diverse microbiome. This goes against previous thought knowledge and earlier research that we need to “replenish” the bacteria killed off by antibiotics (7).
As always, Nature knows best.
To find the best probiotics, we recommend selecting a natural wild fermented probiotic food or probiotic powder that contains both healthy probiotic bacteria and prebiotics.
This is a more beneficial and safer way to restore balance and replenish good bacteria within the gut.
Mushroom Probiotics for Women and Men
Teelixir created Mushroom Probiotics–a carefully formulated blend of medicinal mushroom prebiotics and organic superfoods that nourish the gut and support healthy digestion.
The prebiotic components originate from organic lectin-free grains–millet, hemp, amaranth and quinoa.
Medicinal mushrooms Turkey Tail, Maitake and Shiitake mushrooms are also rich in probiotic fibres and provide anti-microbial, antifungal properties making them “bacteriostatic”–preventing the overgrowth of dysbiotic bacteria and yeasts.
Mushroom prebiotics feeds the beneficial microbes in our gut, which in turn create nutrients such as Vitamin K and SCFA (short-chain fatty acids) that repair enterocytes (intestinal wall cells) and fuel cellular energy production.
Our unique bio-fermentation process, using fourteen strains of organic bacteria (not lab-grown), creates a powerful prebiotic + probiotic whole-food blend.
Mushroom Probiotics benefit men and women by nourishing the existing microbiome and growth of beneficial strains, whilst modulating dysbiotic and unfriendly bacterial strains - helping to support a diverse microbiome alongside a diverse healthy diet.
This potent formula works to balance your gut microbiome, support digestive function, reduce gas and bloating, increase energy levels, boost immunity, lower stress and anxiety, elevate mood and nourish skin health–all in an easy-to-consume daily probiotic powder.
You may also be interested in the gut-supportive benefits of Lion's Mane mushroom.
What did we learn from this probiotics 101 article?
Probiotics are living microorganisms that colonize and function symbiotically with our own cells to enable a healthy, functioning, thriving human being.
A gut microbiome thriving with healthy probiotic bacteria helps reduce bloating, improve digestion and bowel movements, increase energy, boost mood and nourish the hair and skin.
Nature knows best which is why when selecting the best probiotics for you, we recommend a wild fermented probiotic product that contains both probiotics and prebiotics food to give you the best chance of improving gut health.
Probiotics are also present in fermented foods or from whole food-based supplements and prove to have the safest and most beneficial long-term benefits for men and women.
- The Role of Short-Chain Fatty Acids From Gut Microbiota in Gut-Brain Communication - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7005631/
- Dysbiosis of the gut microbiota in disease - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4315779/
- In vitro test to evaluate survival in the gastrointestinal tract of commercial probiotics - https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2665927121000320
- The Firmicutes/Bacteroidetes Ratio: A Relevant Marker of Gut Dysbiosis in Obese Patients? - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7285218/
- Gut Microbiota in Cardiovascular Health and Disease - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5390330/
- Implication of Trimethylamine N-Oxide (TMAO) in Disease: Potential Biomarker or New Therapeutic Target - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6213249/
- Post-Antibiotic Gut Mucosal Microbiome Reconstitution Is Impaired by Probiotics and Improved by Autologous FMT - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30193113/
- Probiotics 101: A Simple Beginner's Guide - https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/probiotics-101
- Probiotics: What is it, Benefits, Side Effects, Food & Types - https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/14598-probiotics
- Probiotics: What You Need To Know - https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/probiotics-what-you-need-to-know
- What Are Probiotics? - https://www.everydayhealth.com/probiotics/guide/
- Probiotics for women: what are the benefits? - https://www.livescience.com/probiotics-for-women
- 5 Benefits of Probiotics for Men - https://ancientnutrition.com/blogs/all/probiotics-for-men-benefits
- Lifestyle and fertility: the influence of stress and quality of life on male fertility - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6260894/
- Probiotics: What You Need to Know - https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/probiotics-what-you-need-to-know