Probiotic Pills vs. Fermented Foods

Think about this........ The seasons are changing and it's getting colder here in Australia, typically this comes with colds and a run-down immune system for some (if not most of us). A lot of people this time of year start thinking about how they can boost their immune system to avoid getting a nasty head cold or even the flu! Some will turn to natural remedies such as boosting their intake of garlic, ginger and oregano and others will start to take a probiotic to boost the good bacteria in their guts.

I'm not here to say one is better than the other, I just want to point out that not all probiotics are created equal, be that in pill form or in fermented foods.

It's also worth considering that rather than waiting for the "flu season" if we eat a certain way all year round our immunity remains strong and we shouldn't have to think about it too much come this time of year. For example, if we ate something fermented with every meal or at least every day and had a variety of different fermented foods in our diets giving us a wide range of diverse bacteria we are adding to our microbiome each day then logic would say we would have ourselves covered! That's not to say we would never get sick but having a robust immune system would definitely help.

If we take just a moment to back up slightly we should also consider our prebiotic intake at the same time. Think of the gut as a garden. Prebiotics are the fertiliser, and the bacteria are the plants. Your plants need fertiliser to grow.

Fermented Foods

The great thing about fermented foods is that they contain a collection of bacteria. The CFU count typically isn’t high, and they die fast, but the variety of bacteria is unparalleled. Fermented foods collect bacteria from the air and whatever’s on the surface of the food to do the fermenting and sometimes to start a culture. Before refrigeration, fermentation was used as a storage technique to help foods last through the winter. The benefits of fermented foods are numerous. Studies have shown that fermented foods can improve mood and immunity and help down-regulate inflammation.

Here’s another benefit: Fermented foods are full of bacteriocins, which are antimicrobial substances produced by the bacteria doing the fermenting. These bacteriocins help stop pathogens from growing. Fermented foods directly help balance the pH of the intestines and increase stomach acid. However, fermented foods may be irritating to people with heartburn or GERD*.

It would be appropriate for me to mention here that not all store-bought fermented foods are created equal either! A couple of things you want to look out for particularly are that they are "raw" ferments and they aren't pasteurised or heat treated.

When jarred foods are heat treated the bacteria is immediately killed so while that $3 jar of Sauerkraut on the bottom shelf at your local continental store might be yummy it's actually void of any good bacteria you are looking for to add to your gut!

Always make sure the ferments you buy are from the fridge and have been traditionally prepared, try going to your local farmer's market or health food stores instead and still ALWAYS read the label!

For a table of fermented foods and their main constituents, you can go HERE

*Even though the increase in stomach acid is helpful, those with reflux problems can experience discomfort

Some reasons you may want to include a Probiotic into your diet;

  • Increase diversity in your microbiome 

  • Restore good bacteria to the gut 

  • Boost your immune system

  • Prevent urinary tract infections

  • Improve fertility

  • Clear up skin problems

  • Alleviate brain fog

  • Optimise digestion

  • Reduce the severity of asthma and eczema

  • Increase metabolism and help with maintaining a healthy weight 

Potential benefits of probiotics have been seen in the treatment or prevention of;

  • diarrhea

  • irritable bowel syndrome

  • ulcerative colitis

  • Crohn's disease

  • H. pylori (the cause of ulcers)

  • vaginal infections

  • urinary tract infections

  • recurrence of bladder cancer

  • infection of the digestive tract caused by Clostridium difficile

  • pouchitis (a possible side effect of surgery that removes the colon)

  • eczema in children.

If you're going down the Probiotic path, consider the following:

How to read the label of a probiotic supplement: Probiotic bacteria are named and categorised by genus, species, and strain. When looking at a label for a probiotic, you’ll find each bacterium in that formula listed. The genus is the first word in the name of a probiotic bacteria. The species is the second word in the name. The strain is a series of numbers or letters or a combination of the two. The strain follows the species name. This typically reflects the company that manufactured the strain. Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are the most common types of bacteria found in commercial probiotic supplements.

Let’s use the probiotic Lactobacillus reuteri 1063 as an example. Lactobacillus is the genus. Reuteri is the species. That particular strain of Lactobacillus reuteri is 1063.

How many CFUs does the supplement have? CFU stands for Colony Forming Units. This is the number of live bacteria contained in each dosage of the supplement. Many brands boast the number of CFUs as a selling point, but it has not been proven that more is necessarily better. Quality is better than quantity, so take some time to research the brand, rather than getting swayed by numbers alone.

What packaging is used? Packaging with encapsulation technology helps to ensure the survival of the bacteria. The product doesn’t have to be refrigerated, but it should be packaged well.

What strains are in this formula, and what research has been conducted on these strains? Choose strains that apply to your health goals. For example, some strains can support the epithelial barrier, promote neurotransmitter production, or downregulate inflammation. Do some research and look at studies specific to the strain or the number and letter next to the species name.

Are there any fillers? Do your probiotics contain any unwanted fillers, such as maltodextrin, artificial sweeteners, colours, and/or salicylates? These should be avoided.

Have they been tested for antibiotic resistance? This is something you can check when you look back to the letter and number attached to a strain. For example, L. plantarum W21 is a strain of L. plantarum that has been researched by a company called Winclove Probiotics. You can look up studies on this specific strain as it has been tested for antibiotic resistance. While antibiotic resistance may seem like a good thing in a probiotic due to the gene-transfer capability in bacteria, you don’t want to risk any pathogenic bacteria by picking up any antibiotic-resistant genes.

Are the strains non-GMO? This may be more of a problem in the future as companies look to optimise and alter bacteria. As more synthetic work is done, look for non-GMO certified probiotics and supplements.

Between our fast food, processed food, and our antibiotics, we’ve wiped out infection but invited in dysbiosis and chronic suffering. Many clients say that when they add more fiber to their diet, they tend to feel euphoric. And, fermented foods help the body feel cleaner – and, their digestion improves too! Perhaps, we’re on the verge of merging the best of the East and the West to create a new level of health and vitality and repairing our ecosystems. 

Are fermented foods a part of your diet? Are you more inclined to try some this week? If you would like more information you can always book in a consultation with me and we can take it from there, I'd love to help you!


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