Do you take a probiotic to improve your health but sometimes wonder if your supplements are working, or if the friendly bacteria are just passing straight through your digestive tract? Probiotics improve health in a variety of ways and many consumers notice the improvements gained by probiotic supplements right away, but others worry that their supplements may not be working, and they have no idea if they are literally flushing their money away.
If you take a probiotic supplement and wonder if it is working, or if a stool analysis shows low bacteria counts, you may have questions.
Question: “I had my Stool Analysis done and it said I was low in L. acidophilus even though I am taking a probiotic that contains this organism- how is that possible?”
Many labs ask that you stop taking probiotics and other supplements for two weeks before submitting a stool sample for analysis. In the research world, scientists refer to this as a “washout period” in which your body gets rid of all the supplements you have been taking. Researchers do this to eliminate the effects of the supplements on the test and obtain a baseline reading of the body.
If you stopped taking probiotics before submitting a stool test, it would not be surprising for the lab to find low L. acidophilus – you started taking probiotics because you had insufficient bacteria in your gut. Stopping the supplements merely returned you to a state of inadequate probiotics.
In addition, a stool analysis is a snapshot of the bacteria that your body is eliminating. We regularly shed bacteria in our daily bowel movements, but what remains uncertain is if the bacteria passed in our feces is a true reflection of the bacteria still living in the depths of our gut. Is it possible that you test low for L. acidophilus, even though you are taking it because your body is using it and it is colonizing? We simply don’t have all these answers yet. One stool testing company has indicated that the bacteria in your stool sample can grow while in the mail to the lab company and potentially take over your fecal sample; the bacteria that grows well outside of your body is likely very different from the bacteria that grow optimally inside your body, and that growth can be hard to account for, meaning your stool sample could be completely skewed by the time it reaches the lab for testing.
Individuals have also reported sending samples from the same excrement to two different stool analysis companies and receiving completely different results on their reports. Microbial testing through stool analysis is a relatively new offering, each company has a different approach to the testing and individual laboratories are still working out the details. uBiome, one company that offers this type of testing, reported four different ideas as to why the results might have differed so much from one lab to the next and noted the potential for “…huge differences in results.”
Finally, the bacteria in your gut vary with your diet. Fiber, in particular, fuels and sustains your gut microbiota. If you aren’t consuming enough fiber in your diet the probiotic bacteria may have a difficult time thriving. This is why we always suggest taking probiotics as just one step in an overall health approach that includes an appropriate diet and exercise for your individual needs.
Instead of focusing on stool test results we suggest listening to your body and really tuning into how you are feeling. Are you feeling better?
Question: “Are there any studies that show probiotics work even if they do not colonize?”
Colonization is only part of the picture. Probiotics do a lot more than just colonize and the human body benefits from the effects of these other functions. Here are eight beneficial functions of probiotic bacteria and you’ll notice that many of them do not rely on colonization for optimal effect.
Gut microbiota testing is a relatively new concept that is still being fine-tuned. It remains uncertain if the bacteria we pass in our feces provide a true reflection of the bacteria that are alive and flourishing in our gut. We known that our gut microbiota responds to what we eat, what we drink and much more. Researchers at Rush Medical College in Chicago stated that, “…colonization may be unnecessary to achieve positive results in probiotic therapy,” and “…during such passage, the probiotics continue to be metabolically active, thus providing health benefits to their hosts.” Sometimes we don’t have to have all the answers to know that something works; the positive effects of taking probiotics have been well documented in hundreds of clinical trials. The beneficial bacteria found in probiotics provide a number of health benefits and this is why we take our probiotics daily!