Probiotics 1-0-1 - What do probiotics do for us?

May 25, 2023

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are defined as ‘live microorganisms’, which when ingested in the right amounts can lead to health benefits. So, essentially, probiotics are small bacteria that work with your body to improve your health. 

Not all probiotics are the same either. The effects of probiotics depend on the strain they come from. One strain of lactobacillus, for example, might really benefit your gut health, whereas another won't. 

Studies show us that probiotics we take rarely end up staying in our guts permanently. There are some instances where this might happen, say, if our indigenous microbes have been wiped out by an extensive or prolonged course of antibiotics.

What researchers believe is that when we ingest probiotics, the microbes interact with the ones already present in our gut, affecting their function and metabolism, for example by promoting the production of short-chain fatty acids (substrates which are beneficial for gut and overall health).

Emerging research shows they can support the body to recover from bouts of exposure to stress, helping you to build resilience and supporting you in the moment and in the long term (as effects are the result of long-standing gut health).

Why and when should we take probiotics?

The truth is, you don’t have to take probiotics. Not if you don’t want to. Natural probiotics can be found in foods and there is an overall agreement that eating to support the microbiome is crucial. Or, you may have been instructed to take probiotics by your doctor, following a bacterial infection such as Clostridium difficile, antibiotics and in some cases IBS.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t, or won’t, feel the benefits of a probiotic though. Generally, when people take probiotics they do so to improve or support their gut health. Doing this could support and cultivate a better stress response system in the body.

So, if you want to take probiotics to help support your gut health, you totally can. And, if you don’t want to, then you don’t have to. But, if you’d like to become more stress resilient, then taking them could help you.

How do probiotics help us become stress resilient?

In our Gut Health 1-0-1 article, we go into a lot of detail about the gut-brain axis, or the GBA. But, to recap, our gut and brain are connected and are constantly exchanging information through immune, hormonal and neurochemical pathways. This is a two-way street known as the gut-brain axis. 

The gut microbiome plays a pretty major role in the way the gut-brain axis communicates. There are studies that show the link between the microbiome and mental well-being. In its most simplest form, looking after your gut’s microbiome can positively affect our psychological health.

Studies on rodents have yielded pretty radical results. They’ve shown that intervening with the animal's microbiota (the tiny organisms that live inside the gut microbiome) changes their behaviour in high-stress situations. 

In human studies, probiotic supplements have been shown to improve stress-related physical symptoms, as well as psychological distress. (If you want to know more about stress, read our article on Stress 1-0-1 to learn about good and bad stress). 

Further studies using brain imaging have even suggested that probiotic intervention could affect emotional processing in the brain. 

As exciting as all this is, because the gut-brain axis is such a complex network, there’s no way to pinpoint exactly how or why it works. But, what we do know is that probiotics can alter the composition and/or activity of our gut microbiota, which produce a variety of metabolites (such as short-chain fatty acids), hormones and neurotransmitters (including serotonin - the happy hormone). This has a knock-on effect on the signaling pathways of the GBA. 

Probiotics also have the ability to reinforce the gut lining and help to stop harmful bacteria, or other pro-inflammatory particles from leaking into the bloodstream, which can drive up inflammation throughout the whole body.