I eat yoghurt, why do I need a supplement?

Some brands of yoghurt actually contain live cultures and some do not. Almost all yoghurts start with pasteurised milk, but once the live cultures are added and the milk fermented, the yoghurt is again a live, active source of good bacteria.

However, many supermarket yoghurt brands also pasteurise the yogurt AFTER it's been fermented (cultured), although the best ones, particularly organic ones, do not.

The high heat involved in pasteurisation sterilises or kills the potentially harmful bacteria, but also most of the beneficial ones, and therefore reduces most of the benefits. They may have been live at the beginning of manufacture, but not at the end. The key is that you need to look for "live and active cultures" on the label, or another wording that indicates the probiotics are still active.

The amount of probiotics in yoghurt varies widely based on the brand and type, but the estimates are from 1 billion to 5 billion CFUs (colony-forming units) per single-serving pot.

Another reason not to rely solely on yoghurt for your probiotics is the lack of variety of probiotic bacteria in yoghurt - usually no more than one or two different probiotic strains.

Finally, very many yoghurts are artificially flavoured and highly sweetened with either sugar or other sweeteners, which can work against the positive action of the probiotics.

Generally speaking, the number of probiotics in a specially formulated supplement will be much higher, and of more variety, than those in a yoghurt.

How can beneficial bacteria make a difference?

Scientific research on positive gut bacteria confirms their role in healthy digestion, immune function and restoring the levels and variety of beneficial flora within the microbiome after antibiotics.

A well balanced microbiome supports colon health, helps prevent traveller’s diarrhoea, fights instances of candida overgrowth and may even reduce stress.

As gastroenterologist Lisa Ganjhu of New York University puts it:

"Probiotic supplements are especially useful when your body's normal bacterial balance is interrupted—which can happen when you're stressed, ill, traveling, or taking antibiotics."

What is the 'microbiome'?

It refers to the trillions of bacteria you are ‘host’ to - most of which are in your digestive tract or ‘gut’. Your microbiome includes 'good' bacteria that are literally vital for your health, immune system, digesting food and producing some essential vitamins.

Your microbiome, however, also includes pathogenic 'bad' bacteria that can cause illness and long term disease. So a key function of the 'good' bacteria is to fight and crowd out the 'bad'.

Some 70% of your immune system is located in your gut and the role of the billions of friendly bacteria is to ensure your microbiome is healthy – which in turn keeps you healthy. See full report here.

Does age affect my need for probiotics?

Older people absorb nutrients less effectively from food. A healthier microbiome may help support better nutrient absorption.

At least 70% of your immune system is located in your gut. Your intestinal system can only support optimum immune health if there is a proper balance between the good and bad types of bacteria in your gut.

Unfortunately, the good bacteria don’t last for ever and need constant replacing via the foods and food supplements we eat. Especially as we get older and absorb nutrients from food less efficiently.

The right probiotic and prebiotic foods can normally replace and nurture the good bacteria, but not always. And there are times when your natural beneficial bacteria can be degraded – for example by antibiotics (both prescribed and as residual traces in non-organic foods), and by stress, excess dietary sugar and even antacids.

When the delicate balance of bacteria in your gut is disturbed – a condition that health researchers call ‘dysbiosis’ – it can lead to an overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria, a compromised immune system and health problems. One fairly common result is candida.

Taking high-quality good bacteria in supplement form can help create a healthier balance.

Do I need to take a microbiotic supplement all the time?

Not necessarily.

We recommend 60 days of supplementation during and after antibiotics, to support any medication in the event of a thrush or candida episode and at times of digestive upset. And if you are travelling to a country where foods are very different or food hygiene standards are lower. Some experts also recommend a supplement at times of extra stress and during a weight-reducing diet. See report.

However, as a general booster for your microbiome, because beneficial bacteria colonies do not last for ever, we do encourage a 60-capsule course of MicroBiotic Plus 3 times a year.

Why do you include prebiotic plant fibres?
Every capsule includes a unique mixture of prebiotic 'resistant' plant fibres inulin and fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) that we as humans can’t digest, but the ‘friendly’ bacteria use as their food source. These not only nourish the good bacteria within the supplement, which is important if they are to form a colony, but also help the good bacteria already in the gut to flourish. The two types of ‘resistant fibre’ each feed different strains of good bacteria, which colonise in different parts of the gut.
If I eat fermented foods regularly, do I still need a supplement?

If you are one of the rare people who eats fermented foods like sauerkraut, kefir, miso, tempeh and unpasteurised cheese every few days, the answer is probably no.

Even so, your best health depends on having a range of good bacterial strains, so an occasional boost from a multi-strain supplement could still help to support a healthy microbiome.

What else should I do to improve my microbiome?

Probiotics may be the ‘stars’ of gut health – but stars need support.

A truly healthy microbiome needs an average of about 8 grams of prebiotics a day to feed the probiotics.

Prebiotic-rich foods include avocados, peas, wholegrain breads, asparagus, beans, lentils, chickpeas, allium vegetables like garlic, onion, leeks, artichokes, chicory, bananas, apples with skins on, oats and intriguingly dandelion leaves.

This suggests a quick and easy way to boost your prebiotic intake is via soups and smoothies.

Click here to see recipes for 5 filling, prebiotic-rich dishes. They are all perfect if you are looking to feel full with few calories – yet get a big nutritional boost.

Since each recipe contains at least 20 grams of prebiotics, you don’t have to consume the soups or shakes every day.