What are Probiotics?

There are hundreds of nutrition supplements on store shelves. In fact, the supplement industry is a multibillion dollar industry with reported revenues upwards of 96 billion dollars in 2012, and 104 billion the following year (source).

From weight loss to muscle building and from heart health to immune boosters, there seems to be a supplement to treat any ailment you may be suffering from. Probiotics have come into the spotlight over the last few years due to their promise with a variety of health conditions. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) began a project in 2008 called the Human Microbiome Project (HMP) to characterize the human microbiome and analyze its role in human health and disease (source).

My interest in probiotics peaked when I started reading Brain Maker by Dr. David Perlmutter.

brain maker

The book explores the relation of gut health to neurological disorders and diseases. There are some fascinating stories of patients who had tried various traditional medical treatments with no success, but after adding a probiotic supplement, their disease was markedly improved. In addition to GI health and neurological disease, the gut bacteria has a large role in in proper development of the immune system by protecting against bad bacteria and ensuring proper digestion and absorption of nutrients (source).


So what are probiotics? Probiotics contain bacteria that is normally found in the human GI tract. By taking a probiotic, you are supplementing your existing GI bacteria with additional “good” bacteria. This helps to maintain the appropriate balance of “good” and “bad” bacteria. When there is a reduced amount of good bacteria, there is more of an opportunity for the bad bacteria to cause illness. If you have ever taken an antibiotic, you have decreased your good bacteria, as antibiotics kill both the good and the bad bacteria.

What are prebiotics? Prebiotics are essentially the food for the probiotics Some foods that contain prebiotics include fruits, vegetables and grains- specifically artichokes, apples, bananas, barley, quinoa, oats, berries and legumes.

Where can you find these magical bugs? Probiotics are naturally found in fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, kimchi, kombucha etc. Supplements in the form of capsules and powder are also common ways to get a daily dose of good bacteria. Oftentimes, probiotic supplements will also contain prebiotics, to ensure the probiotics have food to work.


How do you pick which supplement to take? Each probiotic supplement contains different strains of different “families” of bacteria and have varying number of live microbes, referred to as CFU. Some of the most common strains with documented benefits are lactobacillus and bifidobacterium. According to Dr. Perlmutter the following five species are the most beneficial: Lactobacillus planetarium, lactobacillus acidophilus, lactobacillus braves, bifidobacterium lactose, and bifidobacterium longum.

I started taking this supplement- it contains three of the five strains recommended by Dr. Perlmutter, as well as probiotics to fuel the probiotics.

ultimate friendly flora


When looking for a supplement, always choose a trusted manufacturer, look at the strains, CFU, serving size and storage conditions as some require refrigeration. As always, check with your doctor before taking any supplements to make sure they are safe for you to take!

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  1. Laura, could you source a good pro/prebiotic in Canada? I would appreciate it very much.

    • HealthyBites says:

      Hi Trish, Thanks for your comment! We will do some research and get back to you. Have a great weekend!

  2. I have heard that some probiotics can’t survive the environment of the stomach and therefore don’t provide their purported benefit. Do you have any information on that?

    • HealthyBites says:

      Hi Regina,
      Thanks for your comment! Every probiotic supplement is different, but many have an enteric coating that helps to protect against stomach acid. I have also read that it is better to take probiotics on an empty stomach with liquid, as there is less stomach acid present when the stomach is empty (its not digesting anything). Liquid also moves faster throughout the stomach, therefore less exposure to stomach acid. One thing Dr. Perlmutter does mention is that chlorine in water can kill the probiotics, therefore taking them with filtered water is best to ensure maximal effectiveness.


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