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by Cath Lilburn

April 2021


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Probiotics: more than just tzatziki and kombucha!

Fermented foods including, yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, have stimulated a lot of talk about the benefits of probiotics in our diet.

The word probiotic comes from the Greek word for life! During the early 20th century, the Russian scientist Metchnikoff won the Nobel Peace prize for his study into immunology. At the same time, he publicly encouraged the consumption of yoghurt for health and longevity. Scientific research studies based on Metchnikoff’s original work is providing valuable data on the benefits of a variety of Probiotic and Prebiotic strains.

What is your preferred brew?

So how do you like to get your probiotic hit? Are you more a Kefir or Kombucha drinker? I love both these drinks and have been known to brew my own Kefir and have a couple of exploding bottles and volcanic Kefir eruptions in my time! Then there are the fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, sour dough and of course yoghurt.

How do they work?

There is a theory that probiotics work like a car park and that spaces in the gut can be filled with either good or bad bacteria. However, now proposed theories about how probiotics work in the gut, indicate that it is probably more complex. Probiotics interact with immune cells, they have anti-inflammatory qualities, strengthen the intestinal barrier, alter brain chemistry and metabolism, and reduce sensitivity in the gut (as is the case in IBS).


What do they help with?

We’ve tended to know intuitively that probiotics are helpful for all sorts of gut issues including IBS, constipation, bloating, reflux. Now we are discovering a wide range of health

issues that might be aided by incorporating certain probiotic strains into the dietary regime, such as allergies, eczema, obesity, high cholesterol and anxiety.


Different strains – research 

Dorothy Hall was talking up yoghurt in the mid 1990s when I studied with her. Studies on probiotic yoghurt show that Vaalia yoghurt is a valuable source of the probiotics strain Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (LGG) which has now become one of the most well researched and most useful strains of probiotics in the world. (Hawralak, 2020)

Image by Harrison Kugler
Image by Tiard Schulz

By understanding that individual probiotic strains have different effects on the body; For Example, some probiotic strains slow down bowel transit time so can be more helpful for diarrhoea (LGG), while other strains speed transit time, so can help with constipation. There are specific strains that can help with urinary tract infections, candida, SIBO and infant colic (BioGaia drops). 

The Probiotic Advisor is a useful website for searching for strain specific health information. 


Myths that have been busted by Probiotic Advisor researcher Dr Jason Hawrelak:

  • Do not take probiotics at the same time as antibiotics: 

‘DO TAKE THEM at the same time to help reinoculated your gut with the good guys!’

  • Best to take probiotics on an empty stomach. 

‘NO, best to take them with food. Dairy is best.’

  • Probiotics will permanently colonise your gut. 

‘NO, they will only stay in your system for a few days, so you either need to keep consuming the probiotics or encourage the healthy maintenance of gut flora with prebiotic fibre.


Where to from here?

We are on the cusp of a tidal wave of research and understanding of probiotics (and prebiotics) and the microbiome more broadly. It’s exciting times for everyone interested in the gut and its role in health. We have always known the importance of the gut and what we eat, and this new knowledge is providing a beneficial method of supporting and/or rebuilding the biome environment. 

I am just going to go and brew some Kefir, drink some Yakult and then make some miso eggplant for dinner ☺



Jason Hawrelak, chapter on Probiotics in Textbook of Natural Medicine by Joseph Pizzorno and Michael Murray (2020).

Image by Micah Tindell
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