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Probiotic Power: Are you Getting the Right Bugs?

by Penny Crowther(more info)

listed in colon health, originally published in issue 118 - December 2005

The word probiotic is Greek and means 'for life' as opposed to antibiotic which means 'anti-life'. Probiotics are beneficial, lactic acid producing bacteria which inhabit our intestines. We can see their effect, for example in milk which, when soured is turned into a health-giving, live culture by the action of bacteria. Human intestines contain around a kilo of bacteria. The key is to make sure that the beneficial bacteria predominate over the less desirable, disease-causing bacteria.

Unfortunately, an overgrowth of the 'bad' bacteria is all too common. Medication, especially antibiotics and steroids (including the contraceptive pill), and stress all do their bit to upset bacterial balance in favour of the bad bugs. Chemotherapy patients will have a particular need for intense probiotic therapy. Some doctors now recommend probiotics when prescribing antibiotics.

The food we eat greatly affects the quality of the gut flora. A diet high in vegetables and fruit and wholegrains, especially rice, encourages healthy bacteria. Sugar (ironically, added to some probiotic drinks) and fat rich junk food on the other hand contribute to a less than healthy flora.

Research is continuing to reveal more and more exciting benefits of probiotics. They help regulate female hormone balance by recyling oestrogen and bind to cholesterol in the gut, reducing excess levels. A healthy gut flora is also of paramount importance for the synthesis and absorption of B vitamins[1] including folic acid, vitamins B3 and B6 and biotin and vitamin K and the absorption of minerals, particularly iron and calcium. This has important implications for conditions involving lack of B vitamins or mineral deficiency such as for example, osteoporosis. In such cases, improving the gut flora with a probiotic as well as supplementing the individual nutrient is highly beneficial.

Probiotics promote healthy bowel movements and relieve constipation,[2] produce antibiotic-like substances[3] which can kill viruses, yeasts and bacteria and some species even produce anti-tumour substances.[4]

If you're travelling abroad, Professor Glenn Gibson, head of microbiology at Reading University, using various studies, suggests that taking probiotics for five days before and during your stay, results in a 30% reduced likelihood of picking up bugs.[5]

It seems that probiotics may also have a role to play in protecting against the infamous hospital Superbugs. Leon Chaitow, a well-known probiotic expert, believes that the real threat of the Superbugs is their interaction with a compromised immune system overrun with yeast organisms, such as Candida and a depletion of beneficial bacteria. In such a case the immune system will be less likely to resist the bug.

Of great interest is research that suggests an important role for probiotics in the reduction of allergy and food intolerance. Probiotics are known to manufacture lactase, an enzyme that helps the digestion of lactose in dairy products.[6] In addition, it seems that the wrong sort of gut bacteria can trigger allergic inflammatory reactions. Inflammation is a characteristic not only of food intolerances but also of many chronic health problems, including asthma, eczema and irritable bowel syndrome.

A recent study[7] by probiotic specialists at a Finland university involved giving infants with atopic eczema/ dermatitis and suspected cow's milk allergy, a probiotic and elimination diet. The infants given the probiotic, in comparison to the control group, had higher levels of IgA, the protective antibodies found in the intestinal mucosa and they also had lower levels of inflammatory markers. Another study[8] found a correlation between the count of undesirable gut bacteria in infants and the extent of early onset eczema. Supplementation with bifidobacterium lactis (also known as b.infantis) was found to reduce the numbers of the undesirable bacteria and reduce the eczema.

Exclusively breast fed infants have a gut flora which should be dominated by beneficial bifidobacteria. Formula fed infants, on the other hand have less of the bifidobacteria and higher numbers of E.coli and other undesirable bacteria. However, even in breast milk the bifidobacteria count is on the decline. One study[9] suggested that the gut flora of breast fed infants today was in a similar state to that of bottle fed infants 40 years ago.

A supplement of b.infantis is highly recommended, at the very least up to weaning and often beyond. It is not advisable to introduce other strains of bacteria such as acidophilus until after the age of one when this bacteria starts to colonize in larger numbers in children.

Adults can take Probiotic Plus, two capsules daily. Probiotics are best taken on an empty stomach before breakfast. A gap of a few hours should be left between a probiotic and an antibiotic when they are being taken concurrently.


1. Alm L et al. Effect of Fermentation on B Vitamin Content of Milk in Sweden. Journal of Dairy Sciences. 65: 353-359.
2. 5.Koebnick C, Wagner I, Ising K, Stern U. Ernaehrungs-Umschau. 48: 392-396. 2001.
3. Hamdan I. Acidolin and Antibiotic Produced by Acidophilus. Journal of Antibiotics. 8: 631-636.
4. Reddy G. Antitumour Activity of Yoghurt Components. Journal of Food Protection. 46: 8-11. 1983.
5. Black FT, Andersen PL, Orskov J, Orskov F, Gaarslev K, Laulund S. Prophylactic efficacy of lactobacilli on travellers' diarrhoea. Travel Medicine. Conference on International Travel Medicine 1. Zurich. Switzerland. Berlin. Springer 333-5. 1989.
6. Alm L. Journal of Dairy Sciences. 64(4): 509-514.
7. Viljanen M et al. Probiotic effects on faecal inflammatory markers and on faecal IgA in food allergic atopic eczema/dermatitis syndrome infants. Pediatr Allergy Immunol. 16(1): 65-71.
8. Kirjavainen PV et al. Aberrant composition of gut microbiota of allergic infants; a target of bifidobacterial therapy at weaning? Gut. 51(1): 51-55. 2002.
9. Grutte F. Human Gastrointestinal Microflora. Barth Verlag Leipzig. J: 39-44. 1980.


  1. heinrich said..

    Can you please advise me on which bacteria strain is the best
    To supplement with? Currently using Lactobacillus Reuteri

  2. Penny Crowther said..

    Heinrich, Bio Nutri's Ecodophilus contains 4 strains of well researched lactic bacteria, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium lactis, lactobacillus Kefir and Lactobacillus bulgaricus. More information here I hope this helps.

  3. Polly maggot said..

    Hi there, can you advise me on the best probiotic for female hormone balance? I work in a healthfood store and would consider knowing the answer to this question a valuable working tool. Many thanks.

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About Penny Crowther

Penny Crowther BANT CNHC qualified as a nutritional therapist in 1997 and has been in clinical practice ever since. She has seen several thousand clients over the years, at her practice in London and online. Penny now specializes in nutrition for women in their 40s and beyond, particularly around peri and post menopause. Mid Life for women can be a time when fluctuating hormones play havoc with your wellbeing. In the midst of all the publicity around HRT, it's easy to forget just how powerful diet and lifestyle changes can be when it comes to navigating the menopausal years.

Penny will guide and support you through specific changes to your diet, targeted to you specifically, in midlife. She provides practical, easy to follow menu plans with easy and delicious recipes. The food you eat affects every cell and system in your body. It optimizes how you look and feel, both mentally and physically.

To book an appointment view consultation options here >>

As well as being a regular columnist for Positive Health, Penny has written for Holland and Barrett, and contributed to articles for the Daily TelegraphThe Times Literary supplement, Pregnancy & Birth and Marie Claire. She has been featured in the Daily Express, Daily Mirror and on local radio.

Penny is a registered nutritional therapist with standards of training endorsed by BANT (British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy) and CNHC. This includes completing 30 hours of continuing professional development, annually.

Penny’s approach to health is holistic, and takes into account emotional, mental and environmental factors as well as nutrition. She has trained in coaching and studied many complementary therapies before qualifying as a nutritionist, which provides a broad foundation of knowledge in her nutrition practice. Penny may be contacted on Tel: 07761 768 754;

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