This blog post was adapted from the webinar “Probiotics Explained” hosted by Dr. Trish Murray.

Watch this full webinar on our YouTube channel:

Welcome, everyone, to this talk entitled “Probiotics Explained.” I’m Dr. Trish Murray – physician, best-selling author, and the Health Catalyst Speaker. I’d like to welcome you all to this talk.

So, what are probiotics? Well, our bodies contain trillions of microorganisms. In fact, some scientists estimate that bacteria cells outnumber our own human cells by 10 to 1. Now, while that sounds a bit scary, you should know that many of these microorganisms help our bodies function properly, and without them we would not survive. Bacteria help break down food, bacteria destroy disease causing microorganisms, and they even produce vitamins. They also break down some of the foods that we eat, as I said, and produce substances that feed the cells that line our own colon. So, we live in a symbiotic relationship with bacteria. Many of the microorganisms in probiotic supplements are similar to the microorganisms that naturally exist in our bodies. They’re sold as supplements in a pill form or can be used topically in skin creams and also exist naturally in many, many foods. There’s a lot to know about probiotics, and we’re about to break it all down as best we can.

Now, what what’s the history of probiotics? Well, a Nobel laureate by the name of Elie Metchnikoff who was a Russian scientist and a Nobel Prize winner introduced the concept of probiotics in the early 20th century. He is known as the father of probiotics. He was the first to propose that consuming beneficial microorganisms could improve people’s health. In 1907, while working in Bulgaria, he was intrigued with why certain Bulgarian people lived much longer than others. They actually lived greater than a hundred and were what’s called centenarians. He looked for links to explain their age within their lifestyle, and he found that people living in the Caucasus Mountains drank a particular fermented yogurt drink on a daily basis. His further research went on to identify and classify multiple other species of probiotics such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium infantis, and pro-yeast Saccharomyces boulardii. The bacteria that was in the drink that they were drinking that yogurt was called Lactobacillus bulgaricus, and research obviously from that beginning continued to investigate and the term probiotic, or probiotics, was eventually brought into use.

Now, probiotics can contain a variety of microorganisms, but the most common ones belong to two groups or classes called Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Each one of these groups or classes includes many, many different species of bacteria.

So, how do probiotics work? Well, probiotics have a variety of effects on the body and can affect different people differently. However, these are some of them. What I’m going to talk about or list off for you now are some of the ways that probiotics might possibly work. The first is they maintain a more desirable and balanced community of microorganisms in your microbiome. Another is they may stabilize the digestive tract’s barriers against undesirable microorganisms or they produce substances that inhibit the growth of bad microorganism that would make you ill. They also can out compete, meaning the more you have of the better bacteria they’re going to out compete against the undesirable microorganisms.

Of course, another very important quest

ion is are probiotics safe? Now, in generally healthy individuals, probiotics have a fantastic safety record. Side effects, if they occur at all, usually consist of a mild digestive distress. However, if you have an underlying medical problem, have recently had surgery, or have a very weakened immune system, you should check with your health practitioner before beginning a probiotic regimen. But, probiotics have been studied particularly with inflammatory bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, and they did not cause increased illness in any cases, and in many cases were found to improve the condition. Obviously, these inflammatory bowel diseases are diseases of the GI tract.

Now, what about diet probiotics for diarrhea? A large meta-analysis, which is a big review of many, many studies looked at thirty-five studies and found that certain strains of probiotics can reduce the duration of infectious diarrhea by as many as twenty-five hours. It was also found that probiotics reduced the risk of traveler’s diarrhea altogether by eight percent and lowered the risk of diarrhea from any other causes by fifty-seven percent in children and twenty-six percent in adults. That was fifty-seven percent in children and twenty-six percent in adults.

An increasing number of studies linked gut health to mood and mental health. I don’t know if you knew this but with depression for example many of the classes of antidepressants are called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is very involved possibly in depression. Well, guess where serotonin is produced? It’s produced mostly, guys, in the gut! So, again, increasing numbers of studies link gut health to mood and mental health. Both human and animal studies have shown that probiotic supplements can improve mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, autism, and even obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Some research has found that certain probiotic strains may reduce the severity of eczema in children as well as infants. One study found that children of women who took probiotics during pregnancy had an eighty-three percent lower risk of developing eczema in the first two years of life. Now, in any study like this they would only have a person in the study change one thing such as taking probiotics and then study the outcome. That’s how clinical studies are done. You don’t want to change multiple aspects of people’s lives. You’re just looking at one thing, but I would like to emphasize here that supplements are exactly that. A supplement to your daily diet and lifestyle, it’s a supplement. It’s not something that, you know, people should be thinking is the only thing you need to do. Particularly in people with food allergies or food sensitivities, they should do it what’s called a comprehensive elimination diet first, followed by a systematic re-challenging of the different categories of foods to identify any person’s individual triggers. Especially someone with eczema or anyone coming into the functional medicine realm and looking at mental health or autoimmune health or an immune system problem like inflammation related to eczema, an allergy. Once identified, the trigger should then be avoided, and supplements like probiotics and others can help heal the gut and maintain more healthy function of the GI tract and the skin and all the other systems.

Because probiotics can inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria it may also help your immune system and give it a boost. An extensive review found that taking probiotics reduces the likelihood and duration of respiratory infections. Another found that children taking Lactobacillus GG, one particular species of Lactobacillus, reduced the frequency and severity of respiratory infections by as much as seventeen percent.

Now, taking probiotics might help even with weight loss through a number of different mechanisms. Let’s take a look at these different mechanisms. Some probiotics prevent the absorption of dietary fat in the intestines excreting it through the feces rather than storing it in the body. Some can help you feel fuller longer, resulting in more calories burned and less fat stored. In one study, dieting women who took Lactobacillus rhamnosus for three months lost fifty percent more weight than women who didn’t take that particular probiotic. Another study of over 200 people found that taking even low doses of Lactobacillus gasseri for twelve weeks resulted in 8.5 percent reduction in belly fat. Take note that not all probiotics aid in weight loss. Some studies found that certain probiotics such as Lactobacillus acidophilus can even lead to weight gain, so it depends on the species, and it depends on the purpose of the mixture of the probiotics.

Now, a person can research which probiotic strains are best for different health goals, but this can also cause one to go down kind of a proverbial rabbit hole of information. The best suggestion I can make is to use a probiotic that is high quality, that has a good variety of the many different probiotic species within the two classes of both Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, and that you do not always take the same one forever. It’s actually good to mix it up and switch probiotic varieties and strengths at different times because the most healthy people actually have the largest variety of beneficial bacteria in their microbiome. We want a large variety and mixture of beneficial bacteria.

Now, we’ve touched on probiotics, but there’s another term called prebiotics. Now, the most straightforward way to describe prebiotics is fiber, meaning when we ingest fiber, we do not digest it. A more accurate description is that they’re a non-digestive fiber, meaning prebiotics are not broken down by our intestines and our gut. Instead, fiber and these non-digestive products of fiber pass to the colon where it is fermented to feed your gut microbiome, your microflora, the bacteria living in relationship with you in your colon. In other words, prebiotics are a food source for beneficial bacteria in your colon and can help them survive and thrive in the gut microbiome.

Beyond this, when the good bacteria are fed the right foods and the right fibers, they will then produce short chain fatty acids. Short chain fatty acids are what the cells that line our colon need for food or nutrition. This process of us eating prebiotics to feed our microbiome so that our microbiome can then produce what our cells need to thrive is the best example of the synergy and dependence we have with the microorganisms or bugs that live in us and on us.

These days kombucha, most of you listening are probably familiar with and you may see it in the grocery store or health food stores and so on. Kombucha is a popular drink. It’s usually made of either black or green tea that gets fermented by a friendly colony of bacteria and yeast. I actually am always fermenting a new batch of kombucha on a regular basis at my home. It’s not very difficult to do. To do this you need to start out with, you know, in the fermenting or making a probiotic you need what’s called the mother in order to start, meaning it’s a culture of bacteria. In the kombucha world that mother is called a SCOBY. A SCOBY is a symbiotic culture of by bacteria and yeast. A SCOBY is a biofilm, or as I said, a community of more microorganisms that have surrounded themselves with a protective film.  You can literally pick up and hold in your hand a SCOBY, and it floats typically at the top of your Mason jar where you are producing your kombucha. The bacteria and the yeast that’s in the SCOBY are what is the mother and initiates the process of fermentation of the tea water with sugar in it. So, seeding tea and sugar with a SCOBY will initiate the fermenting process. Once the mixture is put together in a large Mason jar it simply sits up in your cupboard for anywhere from three to four weeks, and then you have a new batch of kombucha. You can obviously drink that, I drink it, or I put it in my smoothies on a regular basis.

What you do is once you have fermented the kombucha fully, let’s say over a four-week period you then would take the SCOBY out, put it in a new Mason jar with new tea water with sugar and it will then start fermenting your new jar that you put up in your cupboard for the next three to four weeks. And you have the Mason jar you just took down and took the SCOBY out of to start drinking. Making your own fermented foods or drinks like kombucha will provide you with the most abundant and naturally created probiotics filled with more

varieties and numbers of beneficial bacteria than any possible supplement pill could ever provide. So, it’s not that hard, folks, to learn how to make probiotic foods, whether that’s coleslaw or whether that’s kombucha or whether it’s kefir or other types of things. So, you know, you may want to look into this and learn how to do it. Kombucha is extremely simple. You can’t really make a mistake!

So, yogurt is one of the best forms of probiotics as the process of making yogurt consists of fermenting milk and friendly bacteria. Now, when choosing a yogurt, look for those long Greek names of live cultures listed as ingredients. Also make sure to choose a yogurt that’s low in sugar or actually zero in sugar. No sugar is what you really want. Now, closely related to yogurt is kefir, which is a fermented probiotic drink that contains both friendly bacteria and yeast. If you have an allergy or sensitivity to dairy, folks, these days there are many alternatives to choose from, such as yogurts made of almonds or coconut milk or cashew milk. Now, a fun fact – the word kefir allegedly comes from the Turkish word keyif, which means feeling good after eating.

Now, fermented cabbage such as sauerkraut and kimchi has been eaten for centuries all over the world and for good reason. Both sauerkraut and kimchi can bring tons of health benefits. Sauerkraut, which is a European staple, is a probiotic-rich and it is rich in fiber as well as high in vitamin C, vitamin B, and vitamin K. Additionally, it contains minerals like iron and manganese, and it has antioxidants such as lutein and zeaxanthin.

Kimchi, which is sauerkraut’s cousin from more east is a spicy Korean side dish or condiment. It’s made with a mix of seasonings such as red chili pepper flakes, garlic, ginger, scallions, and salt. It contains the lactic acid bacteria entitled Lactobacillus kimchi, as well as, of course, other lactic acid bacteria that can benefit your digestive health.

Have you ever heard of tempeh? This is a fermented soybean product that is formed into a patty and is used worldwide as a high-protein meat supplement. Through the fermentation process, soybeans are broken down to lower the amount of what’s called phytic acid. Phytic acid is a compound that impairs the absorption of minerals like iron and zinc. What you want to make sure you do is ferment and soak different soybeans or different kinds of beans because when the germination process begins that decreases the phytic acid that tries to protect the seed.

You’re likely familiar with miso soup, but did you know that it contains probiotics? It contains protein, and it contains fiber as well as vitamins and minerals and plant compounds such as vitamin K, manganese, and copper. In Japan, miso soup is typically consumed at breakfast time. To incorporate some into your diet, you can buy miso as a paste (it usually comes in a jar) and create a broth. You can sip it on a regular basis.

So, probiotics and antibiotics. You’ve likely been prescribed antibiotics to treat bacterial infections like strep throat or an open wound in the past. While antibiotics play an essential role in treating severe disease or severe infection, they also come with an adverse side effect. Antibiotics, guys, kill all of the bacteria in your body, beneficial or harmful. This includes the microbes that are helping your body operate your microbiome. So, if children or adults are given antibiotics over and over and over it really throws off your microbiome and can set you up for chronic illness because in addition to killing disease-causing bacteria, antibiotics can destroy healthy bacteria, too. This drastically affects the amounts and types of bacteria living in your microbiome. In fact, only one week of antibiotics can change the makeup of the gut microbiota you have living in your colon for up to an entire year.

Take a probiotic during and after an antibiotic dose to help restore some healthy bacteria that have been destroyed. Just remember, the probiotics are bacteria too, so they can be killed by antibiotics if taken together. Therefore, take antibiotics and probiotics a few hours apart. If you’re taking antibiotics during the day, you may want to take a probiotic at bedtime or something.

When someone’s microbiome has gotten out of balance, such as typically is the cause of people dealing with something like irritable bowel syndrome or IBS, it can be beneficial to take antimicrobial herbs. You wouldn’t need an antibiotic, but you might want to use antimicrobial herbs to shift what gangs of microorganisms are running your microbiome. Some examples of antimicrobial herbs consist of things like oregano oil or grapefruit seed extract, or something called caprylic acid that comes from coconut. I many times recommend people go on a GI protocol of particular supplements, and one of the categories within that GI protocol includes antimicrobial herbs and probiotics, but I do make a point for these not to be taken at the exact same time of day. I recommend taking the antimicrobial herbs, for example, with your meals like let’s say breakfast and dinner and the probiotics away from that time at, let’s say, bedtime so the antimicrobial herbs you’re taking aren’t just killing the probiotics you’re trying to take.

Now, everyone’s gut microbiome, folks, is unique, which means that some of the effects that probiotics have on one person may not present the same way in another. Based on the balance of bacteria in your gut, you might react differently to foods like kimchi and kombucha. You may not feel results after your first bottle of probiotics. Keep in mind that most of what we discussed today are not steadfast rules that apply to every single person. Your journey to better health and a more balanced gut is personal to you. This is why it can be important to work with a functional medicine trained practitioner as they can work with you on your personal journey if the things you’ve been doing do not seem to be getting you to where you want to be.

Now, when you decide to pick out a probiotic, picking the right one can make a world of difference. Keep these tips in mind as you you’re standing in the local health food store or health store for supplements. Always choose a probiotic with at least 10 billion live organisms per dosage. Keep in mind that the probiotics should ensure in writing that you will continue to receive this number throughout the shelf life of the probiotic, meaning you don’t want the probiotic, the bacteria in the probiotic to all be dead. Probiotics now are dosed by how many organisms are in each pill. This can range from millions up to numbers of billions, such as 5 billion, 10 billion, 20 million, or even up as high as 100 billion colonies per pill. Another tip is look for probiotics with a wide array of different bacteria. The most excellent products contain up to as many as ten different strains of bacteria.

One last tip – take your probiotics first thing in the morning or at bedtime when your stomach acids are low because, of course, stomach acid will also kill bacteria. Now, they do make a product within the probiotic world that’s called a spore probiotic. What that is is that the beneficial bacteria are supposedly protected by these spores, and when you take them as a capsule, they’re more protected in the stomach so that the stomach acid can’t get through the spore and destroy or kill the beneficial bacteria. The theory is that they get further past the stomach without killing so many beneficial bacteria and they’re able to get to your colon better. So, you know, they’re marketed, and the theory is that they’re actually providing your colon with a larger number of active species of bacteria.

So, we’ve covered a lot of material in this talk, and if you thought of anything that we didn’t cover or that you’re curious about, share it in the comments or the chat. Write any questions there now and after I’m finished in just a moment, I’ll be happy to answer any questions.

Now, please remember that we always post after these webinars the resources we’ve used for you if you want to go and do further research on your own. We post it usually the day after the presentation in our Discover Health Facebook Group. If you are already a member of our Discover Health Facebook Group and you use Facebook you’re going to get access and you’re going to see this come up tomorrow. If you’re not already a member of our Discover Health Facebook Group, all you need to do is go to my Discover Health Functional Medicine Center Facebook page and look for the link just at request to become a member of our Discover Health Facebook Group. It’s very simple. Everyone is welcome! We list all these resources. Also, Health Coach Trish does, many times, a weekly Coach’s Corner and people ask questions there. It’s just a great place to be able to have dialogue around your health questions and to learn more from these resource lists.

So, thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy day to join me. I hope each of you has gotten some useful information out of our time together. Now, if any additional questions come up later after we’ve signed off from our time together, feel free to email us at or give my office a call at 603-447-3112. Now, there is also a great deal more educational information on my website

My last announcement for tonight also is that and for those of you who are familiar with my Discover Health Podcast, all of these webinars get also turned into a podcast. My podcast over the last probably four or five years has interviewed many people, and I’ve given talks on many different subjects. I’m announcing tonight that this will be my final episode of particularly the podcast that I do. Discover Health Functional Medicine Center, however, will continue to provide this monthly webinar that I’ve been doing for quite some time.

I also want to announce tonight that in the future, our health coach at Discover Health Functional Medicine Center, Trish Chaput, will start to present these webinars every other month, meaning she and I will start to alternate the monthly webinar presentations. All of our educational presentations will also continue to be posted on our website in the Health Library. We will always also post them on our YouTube channel. If you didn’t know we have a YouTube channel, then please make sure you make note of that. The name of our YouTube channel is the name of the clinic – Discover Health Functional Medicine Center. There are years of material there as well!

Finally, Coach Trish and I will be starting our very first live “Ask Dr. Trish” gathering. It’ll be this month on Thursday, February 24th, and it’ll be held at the Valley Smoothie Shop, which is opened in our building, from 12:30 to 1:00 in the afternoon. So, if you need lunch, come by the Valley Smoothie Shop! Grab lunch, sit in the studio suite, the big room next to the shop, because the Valley Smoothie Shop is a new healthy place to eat in the same building as the clinic at 24 Pleasant Street in Conway Village. Come get a healthy gluten and dairy free

lunch because everything in the smoothie shop is gluten and dairy free. Then I’m going to talk about for a very short time, maybe five minutes, just talk about what is a leaky gut. The rest of the half hour or twenty-five minutes together, you can ask me questions about leaky gut as our main focus for this particular first one. We’re going to do again on Thursday, February 24 from 12:30 to 1 at the Valley Smoothie Shop.

So, that’s a wrap, folks!


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