Probiotics are everywhere these days. I’ve even seen them as an ingredient in tortillas! With digestive disorders affecting one out of every four Americans, the demand has never been greater for probiotic supplementation to help with regular elimination, promote GI health and support a healthy immune system.

Let’s answer some common questions many people have about probiotics and probiotic supplements.

What exactly is intestinal flora?
In the scientific literature, flora is defined as the microorganisms that normally inhabit a bodily organ. The natural flora found in the human intestines is referred to as native microbiotica. Microbiota are unique to each individual and affected by diet, lifestyle, and environment.

How are probiotics different than enzymes, and why do so many people get them confused?Probiotics and enzymes are similar in that they both support healthy digestion and a healthy immune system.

  • Digestive enzymes are proteins that help breakdown (digest) food into nutrients for absorption into the blood stream.
  • Probiotics are live supplemental microorganisms that support the native microbiota. 
Many probiotic strains are also known for their ability to secrete enzymes and/or metabolize food in the intestines, thereby assisting the digestive process.

What are probiotics?
“Probiotics” refers to a group of microorganisms that colonize the GI tract, where they live in symbiosis with their host. Within that symbiotic relationship, they provide several benefits to the host, including the synthesis of several important molecules and nutrients as well as the control of potentially pathogenic organisms.

The human gastrointestinal tract hosts over 400 species of mircroorganisms. Some of these are friendly to the human host as mentioned above, whereas others are potentially harmful, should they be allowed to grow uncontrollably.

Why do I need probiotics? 
Taking probiotics, like our Plantadophilus, offers many health benefits such as improved digestion, immunity, and elimination.

  • Digestion – Probiotics produce enzymes such as protease, lipase, and lactase to further assist with protein and fat digestion as well as reduce problems associated with lactose intolerance. Probiotics also produce B vitamins, particularly folic acid and B12, which are biocatalysts in food digestion.
  • Immunity – Intestinal microbes are a key factor in the development of the post-natal immune system and in acquired immune response and inflammation. Probiotics produce the natural antibiotic-like substance acidophilin and inhibit the growth of opportunistic microorganisms.
  • Elimination – Probiotics act as natural stool softeners and facilitate the healthy and timely elimination of waste.

Are most probiotics lactose free?
Lactobacillus denotes ”lactic acid producing” or “acid loving.” The term “Lacto” does not indicate a relation to lactose or dairy, as is commonly misunderstood. Lactose may be used in the medium to grow the probiotic culture; however, this is completely removed from the final product. Our probiotic formula, Plantadophilus, is lactose-free, and prefers a pH of 6.5 to 6.8.

Are Enzyme Essentials’ probiotics GI tract stable? 
Lactobacilli probiotics are GI tract stable by nature. That is a given according to an understanding of digestion and the nature of probiotics. Some of the bacteria will be lost in transit, but the vast majority survive the GI tract. This is especially true when taken during times when the digestive system is dormant, such as first thing in the morning or at bedtime. When digestion is not in progress, the stomach pH is closer to neutral. Only in the peak of digestion does it hit 2.0 – 3.0, and even then some probiotics survive.

Enzyme Essentials’ Plantadophilus probiotic is live bacteria and is assigned a one-year shelf life. The probiotics are manufactured under refrigeration and inventoried under refrigeration prior to shipment. The products are not shipped on ice as it has been determined unnecessary for short periods of time. However, to help preserve maximum activity for the longest amount of time, we strongly recommend that the customer refrigerate our probiotics to maintain activity once they have been received. You may occasionally come across some probiotics that use an enteric coating. We believe this is used to increase shelf life, and it may improve gastric survival but is not absolutely necessary. Enzyme Essentials prefers refrigeration over enteric coating to avoid the use of additives that provide no nutritional value.

When traveling, it is recommended to only take with you only the amount needed, perhaps in a separate container or pillbox. For short periods of time, non-refrigeration is acceptable. The probiotics may lose a slight amount of activity but do not go “bad” if left in warmer environments.

Why isn’t eating yogurt enough for probiotic repopulation?
Yogurt and fermented foods contain “live cultures” that can be beneficial, but they should not be compared to probiotics. Probiotics are specific genera, species, and strains of bacteria that have been isolated and identified with certain characteristics. The live cultures in most fermented foods have not been isolated and are not the same as probiotics. Additionally, the colony forming units (cfu) in a supplement are often much more concentrated than in food.

With so many probiotics on the market, how can I choose a good one for my family’s own situation?
We recommend you review the research available on the specific species and strain. The manufacturer and/or your health professional should be able to provide this information to you. There are many books that list which strains are helpful for specific conditions.

What is the difference between a pre-biotic and a probiotic?
Pre-biotics are carbohydrates that serve as food for the probiotics. Examples of pre-biotics are inulin or foods containing inulin such as chicory root and Jerusalem or Globe Artichoke. Some individuals can be sensitive to inulin and so this may be something to look to avoid in a probiotic supplement. Our Plantadophilus is inulin-free and FOS-free and consists of a single strain of L. Plantarum.

Do I need to take a probiotic for life?
Yes. Taking supplemental probiotics confers health benefits to the host by improving the environment and supporting the existing microbiota. The most current research is showing that the native microbiota is quite hardy and well established, however the probiotics are mainly transient (adhere to intestinal cells temporarily), giving rise to the need for continual supplementation.

If I am on an antibiotic, is it pointless to take a probiotic?
No. In fact, it is very beneficial to take probiotics while on antibiotics. They support the growth and maintenance of the native microbiota, and many of the strains being studied are actually resistant to antibiotics. Several studies show the beneficial effects of probiotic supplementation, in particular its ability to reduce antibiotic diarrhea.

Can I take too many probiotics?
The general answer is no, however the species, strains, and activity per dose should be suited to the individual’s health needs.

 Some health studies about probiotics health benefits:

Probiotics’ Potential — Research Suggests Beneficial Bacteria May Support Immune Health

Probiotics Help Lower High Cholesterol