I surprised myself this past week. I forked over almost $40 for a month’s supply of probiotic supplements. This decision came after reading a systematic review from the Journal of the International Society of Sports nutrition called “Exercised-induced stress behaviour, gut-microbiota-brain axis and diet.” For this week’s blog, I plan on explaining what probiotics are and why you should consider taking a probiotic supplement.

Our gut harbours more than 100 trillion microorganisms (how mind blowing is that?). These bacteria are vital for our health. They promote food digestion and absorption, produce vitamin K, keep the immune system healthy and make various neurotransmitters and hormones. I could write countless blogs on the role of gut bacteria alone.

What we eat influences our gut bacteria. In fact, genes only account for about 12% of these bacteria, while dietary changes can account for up to 57% of gut bacteria changes. For instance, prebiotics, a non-digestible carbohydrate, act as food for these bacteria and help them grow and remain in our gut. Examples of foods high in prebiotics include artichokes, bananas and onions.

While prebiotics act as food for bacteria. Probiotics are actual bacteria and are often added to food. You’ve probably seen yogurt labeled “probiotic” in the grocery store. Probiotics are also available in supplemental form. Different products contain different probiotics. For instance, Activia contains the probiotic Bifisus regularis while Align probiotic supplement contains the probiotic stain Bifidobacterium infantis. Each probiotic strain has different health benefits.

The benefit of probiotics for those with various health conditions is well supported by research. For instance, probiotic consumption has been shown to:
• Improve the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome
• Improve the symptoms of irritable bowel disease (ulcerative colitis and crohns)
• Lessen diarrhea caused from antibiotics

While athletes can certainly suffer from any of the above, the systematic review that I read highlighted the benefits of probiotics for athletes. Athletes are constantly putting both physical and emotional stress on their bodies through exercise. During exercise, blood flows away from the gut to working muscles. This can cause disruptions to the intestinal barrier in our gut followed by an inflammatory response. Ensuring a healthy gut through a probiotic supplement can benefit athletes by:

• Improving the intestinal barrier
• Ensure an appropriate stress response to the physical and emotional stress of exercise
• Control mood disturbances, fatigue, insomnia and depression associated with exercise induced stress

As mentioned before, each probiotic strain has different health effects. As a result, it’s hard to give specific recommendations for probiotic supplementation. The best results have been for Bifidobacterium strains, which are common to the human gut. This is why I selected the Align supplement, which contains Bifidobacterium infantis.

I’ll be honest; I haven’t noticed any differences since starting this supplement. However, it’s only been a week, so I’ll keep you updated if I notice any changes!