Did You Know Different Probiotic Strains Do Different Things?

Carla Oates
Carla Oates

At The Beauty Chef, we’re crazy about probiotics—it’s our bread and butter, after all. But aside from developing a range of inner and outer beauty formulas that contain an abundance of probiotics (as well as prebiotics and postbiotics!), we’re also super passionate about educating our community on what probiotics actually are, the effects of probiotics on our immune function, skin health, gastrointestinal health and wellbeing—as well as the myriad of other health benefits they offer. What you may not know is that there is also a building body of research that illustrates how different probiotic strains do different things—meaning we can begin to become even more targeted in how we take care of our health, beauty and wellbeing.

To fully comprehend the benefits of probiotics however, it’s important to get a broader understanding of what they actually are and how they function. Typically probiotics have been described more simply as ‘good’ bacteria, but this is perhaps a little misleading as instead of thinking of the microbes in our digestive tract as either ‘good bacteria’ or ‘bad bacteria’, we need to think about them holistically in terms of how they serve us. There are bacteria we want, bacteria we don’t want (pathogens) and bacteria that are also fairly neutral—but it’s the balance of microorganisms that’s important as well as understanding the specific species and different strains that we as an individual may need more (or less) of. And as with most facets of our health, there’s no one size fits all approach or ‘best probiotic’—despite what clever marketing campaigns might tell you!

Here’s what you need to know…

What Are Probiotics?

In a nutshell, probiotics are the live bacteria that we can consume—either via probiotic supplements or probiotic foods—that help to support our overall health and wellbeing. And aside from their reputation for supporting optimal gut health and helping to ease and ameliorate digestive symptoms like constipation and bloating, probiotics have also been shown to improve our immune system, metabolic health and support those with allergies or intolerances.

Given that the beauty and wellness markets are also now saturated with dietary supplements and probiotic products—in every possible form—it can be understandably overwhelming as a consumer to discern which formula, type of probiotic or probiotic strain is going to be the most effective for you. With our gut microbiome and its bacterial blueprint being entirely unique to us—choosing a probiotic is not quite as simple as grabbing a product off the shelf and heading on our way. Our microbiome is smarter than we think and although there may be exceptions to the rule, when shopping for a probiotic, here are a few quick tips to consider:

Number of probiotics isn’t as vital as you think
One of the greatest marketing tools used to sell probiotics is the claim that a formula contains a certain number of probiotics—often found on a label as something like ‘3 billion probiotics per serve’ or ‘this formula contains X amount of CFU per capsule’. While CFU (which stands for colony forming units) is one indicator of quality and accounts for how many live or active probiotic bacteria are contained in a single serving—what’s more important than quantity, is the diversity and bacterial strain combination of a formula, as well as how the probiotic is actually delivered (because while a supplement may contain billions of probiotics, how many live microorganisms actually arrive alive and well in our digestive system where they are most needed is something else entirely!). But perhaps most importantly, despite the number of probiotics in a formula, it’s essential that the species or strains it contains are based on evidence.

Species & strains are not the same thing
Probiotics certainly have pretty tricky names—but even if you can’t master the correct pronunciation, what’s more important to understand is that when speaking about probiotics, species and strains refer to different things. To put it simply, think of species as the ‘family’ name for a collective group probiotic ‘strains’. While species (and all the bacterial strains that come under that name) tend to have similarities, the benefits of a probiotic get more specific and targeted when you look at just one strain of bacteria 

Different species & strains offer different benefits
As touched on above, what is arguably the most important factor when considering a probiotic supplement is to determine whether the species or strains contained within it are based on scientific evidence and target the specific health conditions or beauty issue that is relevant to you. Specific strains of Lactobacillus (such as Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus casei and Lactobacillus reuteri) and Bifidobacterium (like Bifidobacterium longum), for example, are now recognised as probiotic species that support digestive health and provide benefits for those with skin inflammation and atopic dermatitis, while certain strains of Lactobacillus also produce neurotransmitter, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which helps to decrease anxiety, stress and improve sleep. And as a brand, it’s this ever-growing area of research that is so exciting because we are able to begin to tailor products even more effectively to target specific health, wellbeing and beauty concerns.

Diversity is key
Above all, however, it’s important to remember that there is no single perfect probiotic profile—so no matter our supplement regime, what’s actually going to be most beneficial for our microbiome is to focus on diversity, at every opportunity—beginning with our diet. A nutrient-dense, wholefoods-based diet which includes lots of lovely fermented foods (which are naturally bursting with a variety of species and strains of probiotic bacteria), as well as colourful fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates is going to nourish our microbiome and encourage the healthy bacteria in our bellies to proliferate. This is because while consuming probiotics (either through food or supplements) is undoubtedly vital for the health and happiness of our gut—we also need an abundance of prebiotic fibre to feed these beneficial bacteria and the best source of fibre comes from plant-based foods.

So you see, while it’s super important to nourish your gut microbiota with probiotics—what’s even more important is to dig a little deeper and determine which species and strains of probiotics are going to provide the most benefit to you. If you’re yet to discover a product that meets your health, beauty and wellbeing needs, we invite you to take our simple Your Remedy quiz for a tailored inner beauty prescription that will support you from the inside out.

As always, please speak to your trusted healthcare practitioner, a gut health expert, dietitian or naturopath before making any dietary or lifestyle changes.

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