Probiotics: Myth or miracle? What we should know about these friendly bacteria

SINGAPORE: Winnie Ong remembers being “very sceptical” about the well being advantages of kombucha, a fermented tea recognized to be wealthy in probiotics, when she was first launched to it.

But after brewing her personal kombucha and consuming it over a interval of two weeks, she noticed a marked enchancment within the eczema and rashes she was coping with on the time. “That’s how I became a believer,” she stated.

Today, she runs kombucha-making workshops at native brewery Craft and Culture, which she co-founded.

Probiotics, or reside bacteria and yeasts, now appear to be all the trend. They will be discovered on the labels on meals starting from cereal bars to hen merchandise.

According to market analysis agency Meticulous Research, the worldwide probiotics market is predicted to succeed in US$75.9 billion (S$105.9 billion) by 2027, at a compound annual progress charge of 5.6 per cent from 2020 till then.

But do probiotics actually work? Is it essential to take a every day complement? The programme Talking Point finds out.


It begins with the intestine, which incorporates the mouth, oesophagus, abdomen, small gut and huge gut.

The intestine has trillions of bacteria, viruses and fungi referred to as the intestine microbiome, which performs an necessary function in a single’s well being by serving to to manage digestion, the immune system and metabolism. It may even affect one’s temper.

Probiotics assist by secreting compounds that develop good intestinal bacteria and restore the steadiness between good and unhealthy bacteria within the intestine, in keeping with gastroenterologist Loh Poh Yen.

An imbalance can have a disruptive impact, whereby allergens, bacteria and toxins “cross into the intestine and subsequently activate the immune system in the bowels”, stated the physician from Farrer Park Hospital. “That can lead to a lot of diseases.”

These might vary from allergic reactions, equivalent to eczema and bronchial asthma, to situations like irritable bowel syndrome.

There are some issues to notice about probiotics, nevertheless, to reap essentially the most advantages.

One important consideration is whether or not the probiotics are nonetheless alive, and if that’s the case, what number of microbes there are within the meals merchandise, in keeping with William Chen, the director of Nanyang Technological University’s Food Science and Technology Programme.

To be labelled “probiotic”, famous the professor, the meals merchandise should comprise not less than a billion CFUs, or colony forming items, which symbolize the variety of bacteria in every serving.

But a probiotic product can lose efficiency if it’s not saved correctly or sits on the shelf for too lengthy.

“Ideally, the lower the temperature, the better,” he stated. “Bacteria grow more slowly at a lower temperature, but faster at a high temperature.”

The CFU quantity on the label is usually the quantity on the date of packaging, he added. But the corporate won’t be monitoring how lengthy a product was on the shelf earlier than it was purchased.

So “no one knows” what number of microbes is taken in on the time of consumption, stated Chen, who suggested listening to the expiry date. “Don’t buy too much and then put (the food) in the fridge for too long.”

As for the kind of meals to eat, usually, fermented meals are good for intestine well being as a result of they’re simpler to digest, in keeping with Jeremy Lim, chief government officer of precision intestine microbiome firm Amili.

The fermentation course of additionally permits probiotics to multiply.

WATCH: Probiotics — are they actually needed? (23.49)

Besides, these meals comprise “other goodness”, famous principal dietitian Bibi Chia from Raffles Diabetes and Endocrine Centre. For instance, kimchi has fibre and lactic acid, whereas yoghurt incorporates protein and calcium.

This is why she recommends towards favouring probiotic dietary supplements over the meals. But if one have been on the lookout for a complement, she steered that one should take into account the variety of completely different strains it incorporates.

“If you look at the bottle, it generally will tell you what the different types of strains are,” she stated. “Different strains mean they are of different bacteria … almost like different species.”

For common well-being, she added, the extra strains the complement incorporates, the higher. “But for certain health conditions, you might want to target the specific strains studied (that benefit) that health condition.”

Probiotics can’t be a one-size-fits-all answer, as Talking Point host Steven Chia found after he introduced a stool pattern to Amili’s laboratory as a way to decide his intestine well being.

According to the check evaluation, whereas his intestine was usually wholesome, there have been three areas for enchancment.

He was not producing a lot serotonin, a hormone that impacts temper and sense of well-being; he had a excessive stage of Trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), a chemical produced within the intestine that’s related to poorer coronary heart well being; and his total metabolism.

Accordingly, 4 particular meals that might profit him have been really helpful to him: Natto (Japanese fermented soya beans), miso soup, idli (a South Indian fermented rice cake) and Pu-erh tea. He was additionally prescribed dietary supplements formulated for his well being profile.

“When we talk about these probiotics, there are literally hundreds of different strains,” famous Lim. “Some of them can be good for you, (while) you already have enough (of some others).”


Chia included the meals into his food plan for 2 weeks, after which a second evaluation confirmed that whereas his serotonin manufacturing had not improved, his TMAO ranges have been introduced throughout the regular vary, thereby decreasing his danger of coronary heart illness.

The outcomes additionally confirmed that the effectivity of nutrient absorption in his intestine had improved.

Lim famous, nevertheless, that the check Chia took — referred to as Bio and Me — is a wellness check and isn’t meant for diagnostic analysis or medical functions.

“This is for those who are interested in how their microbiomes look like and how to live their lives to the fullest from a gut health point of view,” stated Lim, who can be an affiliate professor on the National University of Singapore’s Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health.

But is it needed to reinforce one’s food plan with probiotics?

If one has a balanced food plan and avoids smoking and extreme consuming, then probiotic dietary supplements are unlikely to be wanted, in keeping with Melvin Look, a common surgeon practising at Mount Elizabeth Novena Specialist Centre.

“If your gut is functioning healthily, it should be able to balance itself,” he stated. Some early warning indicators of an unhealthy intestine embrace irregular bowel habits and susceptibility to diarrhoea or meals poisoning.

But meals wealthy in probiotics are a “good idea”, he added, as they’re an “essential part” of a balanced food plan. And probiotic dietary supplements may help in occasions of sickness when one’s immunity is low.

While he famous that probiotics are protected — and shoppers can’t “overdose” on them — there could also be unwanted effects from consuming lots of fermented meals, whose excessive ranges of amines can irritate the mind and trigger complications in some folks.

Consuming lots of probiotic meals and dietary supplements may additionally trigger fermentation within the intestine, which might lead to belly bloating and discomfort in some folks.

Watch this episode of Talking Point here. The programme airs on Channel 5 each Thursday at 9.30pm.

Probiotics: Myth or miracle? What we should know about these friendly bacteria

Charmaine Tan

Sara Grosse

Lianne Chia

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