You may have heard that probiotics can be beneficial for the health of our gut microbiome. While this is true, not all probiotics are created equal. In fact, different types of probiotics, also known as probiotic strains, actually have different functions in the body. You’ve probably read these almost unpronounceable terms before on the back of your yoghurt tub but it’s time to find out about the major role they play in our health.

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are the ‘good’ bacteria that are commonly found in our gut microbiome. Probiotics are also found in fermented foods such as yoghurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir and miso, or consumed in a variety of supplement forms such as powders, capsules and liquids.

What are probiotic strains and what do they do?

A probiotic strain refers to the subtype of bacteria or yeast. There are a variety of probiotics strains including lactic acid producing bacteria, non-lactic acid producing bacteria, and different types of yeast. Each of these probiotic strains can have different functions in the body. Below are a few of the common strains of probiotics and the benefits they provide.

1. Lactobacillus

The Lactobacillus species is one of the two main types of bacteria used in probiotics and is commonly used in fermented foods. Some of the beneficial effects of Lactobacilli include:

  • Reducing diarrhoea associated with infections as well as antibiotic associated diarrhoea
  • Potential benefits in treating irritable bowel syndrome (also known as IBS) and preventing colon cancer and inflammatory bowel disease (also known as IBD)
  • May be effective in reducing body weight
  • Inhibits the growth of pathogenic bacteria by creating an acidic environment in the gut

Specific strains:

  • Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG reduces the duration of infectious diarrhoea and antibiotic associated diarrhoea.
  • Lactobacillus acidophilus reduces the symptoms of IBS and the duration of infectious diarrhoea.
2. Bifidobacterium

Another widely used probiotic is the Bifidobacterium species. This has been shown to survive in the challenging conditions of the digestive tract making it effective to consume as an oral supplement and in food such as yoghurt, olives, sauerkraut, salami, and cheese. Some of the health benefits of Bifidobacterium include:

  • Effective in treating constipation, traveller’s diarrhoea and antibiotic associated diarrhoea
  • Reducing of inflammation and eczema
  • Some strains can lower blood cholesterol levels

Specific strains:

  • Bifidobacterium breve and Bifidobacterium longum have beneficial effects in patients suffering from IBS.
3. Lactococcus

Lactococcus is a type of bacteria which is commonly added to dairy products such as milk and cheese.

Specific strains:

Lactococcus lactis is beneficial in the treatment of antibiotic-associated diarrhoea and has antimicrobial properties.

4. Escherichia

Escherichia is a type of bacteria which is commonly found in the large intestine.

Specific strains:

Escherichia coli is beneficial in treating constipation and IBD.

5. Saccharomyces

Saccharomyces is also known as brewer’s yeast of baker’s yeast, commonly used in beer, wine, kefir, and kombucha as well as supplements. Since it is a strain of yeast and not bacteria, Saccharomyces can be administered at the same time as antibiotics, potentially reducing the negative side-effects of antibiotics.

Specific strains:

  • Saccharomyces boulardii reduces the duration of infectious diarrhoea and antibiotic associated diarrhoea. It is also beneficial for improving IBS, IBD and ulcerative colitis.
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae has beneficial effects in people with IBS.

Since each strain can have specific benefits, consuming a wide variety of probiotic-rich food can help you to get greater results.