Gut health is a topic we have explored quite relentlessly in our blog.
From 10 Kitchen Habits That Are Damaging Your Gut to the links between gut health and B12 status, via 6 Signs of Poor Gut Health and 3 Key Factors You Must Consider to Improve Diversity, we have produced thousands of words, referenced countless studies, and communicated the myriad benefits of a rich microbiome to anyone who’ll listen for the last decade.
During the same time period, we’ve witnessed the probiotic industry explode like a hydrogen bomb with more manufacturers releasing patented probiotic formulas that they claim will solve everything from hay fever to psoriasis.
There have also been many books published on the topic, and it’s fair to say that the importance of gut health is now well established in the field of preventive medicine and clinical nutrition.
But a question that continues to rear its head is this: are multi-strain probiotics preferable to single-strain? And if so, why? It’s a query we intend to answer, once and for all, in today’s blog.
Bacteria: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
The human microbiome is home to thousands of species of bacteria, which have evolved with us over the course of thousands of years.
Actually, that number could be an understatement. The SILVA sequence database contains “hundreds of thousands of bacterial operational taxonomic units (OTUs).”
Whatever the true figure, the human microbial gene catalogue is nothing if not extensive.
Everyone’s microbiome is as unique as their fingerprint, and dependent on a complex matrix of factors including genetic, dietary and environmental.
Interestingly, the latest research indicates that the microbiomes of people living around the world tend to alter depending not only on host lifestyle (exercise levels, dietary customs, vitamin D status, etc) but also on the level of industrialisation.
Depending on the species, bacteria may acquire anywhere between 10 and 100 new genes on an annual basis.
While there are thousands of individual bacterial species, the actual number of microbes living in the human gut is anywhere between 30 and 40 trillion.
This fact alone proves the folly of taking a probiotic supplement containing a mere 10 or 20 billion Colony-Forming Units. It’s a drop in the ocean.
Bacteria are often bracketed into two categories: beneficial (so-called good bacteria) or harmful.
While beneficial bacteria have a host of functions, including helping our bodies digest food, absorb nutrients and manufacture vitamins, harmful organisms are linked with everything from food poisoning (e.g. Salmonella) and pneumonia (Streptococcus pneumoniae).
Of course, it’s not as simple as eliminating all harmful bacteria and making our guts a factory of net-positive microbes, such as lactobacillus acidophilus.
So-called harmful bacteria can circulate in the body at low levels and not cause us any problems.
It’s more about cultivating a diverse and balanced microbiome, and feeding the good gut bugs that can counteract the ill effects of their relatives.
Why Multi-Strain Probiotics Are Superior
According to a 2015 paper published in the journal Bioengineered, “to survive the stomach and arrive to the intestine in optimal numbers, probiotic strains must be able to adhere to intestinal epithelium and/or mucus, persist and multiply in the gut to maintain its metabolic activity, and confer their probiotic properties in the human body.”
That plural is instructive: strains. While some probiotics contain one or two (Yakult, for example), the majority contain multiple in acknowledgement that diversity is the objective.
In the main, these belong to the genera Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, which have a lengthy history of safe application.
Of course, it’s also worth considering whether you have introduced the correct combination of strains.
The best protocol is to research strains accordingly and introduce them in sufficient number.
For some species, a comparatively low quantity is needed while for others, you need to go with a higher dosage.
Interestingly, a 2012 study by the University of Reading determined that “in many cases a probiotic mixture is more effective at inhibiting pathogens than its component species when tested at approximately equal concentrations of biomass.”
In other words, strains work better in combination!
Best Sources of Multi-Strain Probiotics
Dietary probiotic sources are plentiful, encompassing foods positively brimming with “live” cultures.
The best examples are yogurt, kefir, tempeh, sauerkraut, kimchi, traditional buttermilk, kombucha, miso, natto, aged cheese, brine-cured olives, and dill pickles.
OK, so for the most part, these foods are somewhat obscure. Shopping for gut health is a little more challenging than, say, shopping to lose weight.
But adhering to a gut-healthy diet is incredibly rewarding, with noted benefits for immune health, digestion, even body composition.
As well as eating a range of probiotic-rich foods, it’s a good idea to eat prebiotic foods. Prebiotics are indigestible fibres that function as “good” for the good bacteria growing in our gut.
Thankfully, prebiotic food sources are easier to come by. They include garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, barley, apples, burdock root, flaxseeds and seaweed.
Of course, if you’re keen to shake up your system with some impactful, high-strength probiotic supplements, a multi-strain formulation is the way to go. We recommend the Progurt brand.
Progurt Probiotics offer by far the highest dose on the market, at a cool 1 trillion beneficial bacteria in each sachet. What’s more, the bacteria is human-derived – meaning it’s intuitive to the human gut. Simply disperse a sachet in a glass of water and drink.
Maintaining a diverse microbiome is absolutely critical to ensuring proper gut health. But it’s about more than eating probiotic and prebiotic foods.
To quote from one of our previous blogs, “The gut is a garden – and it’s our role to provide the water, soil, sunlight and nutrients needed to make sure it blossoms.”
Sunlight (vitamin D), water (mineral-rich, contaminant-free), nutrients (probiotics, prebiotics, omega-3, polyphenols, fibre) and soil (avoiding antibiotic overuse, getting plenty of rest).
On top of which, you should strive to maintain a sound level of fitness. Not least because there are distinct, health-promoting bacteria associated with physical fitness.
Because the microbial benefits of exercise are thought to be transient, it’s important to maintain good physical fitness to keep the microbiome primed.
Well, there you have it. With a little application, you can ensure peak gut health for years to come. And remember, multi-strain is the way to go.
Water for Health Ltd began trading in 2007 with the goal of positively affecting the lives of many. We still retain that mission because we believe that proper hydration and nutrition can make a massive difference to people’s health and quality of life. Click here to find out more.
Everyone’s microbiome is as unique as their fingerprint, and dependent on factors including genetic, dietary and environmental.