Can a bacteria toothpaste really fight decay? It’s not just yoghurts that contain ‘probiotics’… now they are in an essential bathroom product too
Probiotics — so-called ‘good’ bacteria — are key to a healthy microbiome: the trillions of microorganisms that live in the colon, mouth and skin, which are linked to digestion, immunity and inflammatory skin conditions.
Probiotic products used to come mainly in capsules and yoghurts, but now you can get snacks, toothpastes and drinks, too.
JO WATERS asked experts to assess a selection and we then rated them.
Probiotics — so-called ‘good’ bacteria — are key to a healthy microbiome: the trillions of microorganisms that live in the colon, mouth and skin, which are linked to digestion, immunity and inflammatory skin conditions
Bioglan Biotic Balance Chocballs, £14 for 30 balls, tesco.com
Bioglan Biotic Balance Chocballs
Claim: Dark chocolate balls containing up to three billion live cultures of two probiotics, Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium lactis, plus inulin, a ‘prebiotic’ fibre [meaning it is a food source for good bacteria]. There are fewer than 13 calories in each ball and the recommended ‘dose’ is two a day.
Expert verdict: ‘A growing body of high-quality research in humans shows that people who have high numbers of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium have better health than those who have lower amounts,’ says Sophie Medlin, a registered dietitian with citydietitians.co.uk.
‘They are associated with improved gut health and immunity, but the chances of three billion live cultures reaching the colon are pretty slim. However, the bacteria may benefit the microbiomes in the mouth and the gullet, which may play a role in the immune system.
‘Note, while the front of the packet states there are three billion live cultures in each ball, in smaller print on the back it says ‘up to three billion’, which is a big caveat. The three billion figure refers to the number of live cultures present when it left the factory, not when you open it: some could have died off in the intervening time. I also worry that the probiotics would be destroyed by stomach acid. A bag is also expensive.’
Chuckling Goat Sensitive Kefir Lotion, £18 for 150ml, chucklinggoat.co.uk
Chuckling Goat Sensitive Kefir Lotion
Claim: A lotion made from water, goat’s milk and kefir (a combination of ‘good’ fermented Lactobacillus bacteria and yeast), marketed for sensitive skin. Other ingredients include oat oil and rice bran oil.
The maker says: ‘Our live culture kefir balances and nourishes the bacteria on the surface of the skin, helping to protect and improve its appearance.’
Expert verdict: ‘Ingredients such as oat oil and rice bran oil, which are both moisturisers, may be soothing for sensitive skin,’ says Dr Justine Hextall, a dermatologist at the Tarrant Street Clinic in Arundel, West Sussex.
‘We know there are changes to the skin microbiome associated with conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and rosacea. However, we don’t know enough yet to confidently recommend products for the skin microbiome.’
Oralgen Nupearl Probiotic Whitening Toothpaste
Oralgen Nupearl Probiotic Whitening Toothpaste, £7.79 for 113g, biovea.com
Claim: This contains the probiotic Lactobacillus paracasei, as well as sea salt, turmeric, peppermint oil and calcium carbonate. The maker says the product ‘balances healthy oral bacteria’, ‘gently whitens teeth’, ‘fights plaque’ and ‘freshens breath’.
Expert verdict: ‘Lactobacillus paracasei has been shown in studies to inhibit the growth of a bacterium called Streptococcus mutans, which is associated with dental decay, but this effect has not been sufficiently demonstrated yet in humans,’ says Anna Middleton, a dental hygienist from londonhygienist.com.
‘Also, this toothpaste doesn’t contain fluoride, which is toxic to bacteria such as Streptococcus mutans. It does contain whitening agents such as calcium carbonate, which aim to lift staining, but these ingredients may be abrasive. You can get a decent fluoride toothpaste for 50p. I’d advise sticking with that.’
…And a spray for pooches!
Skouts Honor Probiotic Itch Relief Spray
Skouts Honor Probiotic Itch Relief Spray, £11.99 for 236ml, vitalpets.co.uk
Claim: Dogs can develop itchy skin conditions and this product claims to contain a ‘live colony-forming kefir culture that supports protective layers of beneficial bacteria to help soothe itchy dry skin’.
Expert verdict: ‘While it’s healthy for dogs to have a covering of protective bacteria on their skin to help keep nasties out, there’s no evidence that using kefir probiotic spray would provide any that are lacking,’ says Caroline Reay, joint head of veterinary services at the Blue Cross animal charity.
‘If a dog is itching, it’s far more likely to be fleas or an allergy than an imbalance of bacteria.’
Proven Probiotics Fit For School Sticks
Proven Probiotics Fit For School Sticks, £7.95 for 14 sachets, provenprobiotics.co.uk
Claim: These sachets of soluble powder you mix with a cold drink contain a combination of 12.5 billion Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lab4, a Bifidobacterium, plus vitamins C and D and a prebiotic. The maker says it ‘reduces school absenteeism by 30 per cent’ (based on a study in 1995 that found Lab4 and vitamin C reduced cough and cold duration).
Expert verdict: ‘The claim of reducing absenteeism will be based on research into vitamin C, which has been shown to shorten cold symptoms in some groups, but there’s no evidence that probiotics alone will reduce the length of a cold,’ says Sophie Medlin.
‘This powder contains a good broad spectrum of probiotic strains, which are more likely to have a beneficial effect because the healthiest microbiomes have greater diversity.
‘It also has a protein coating that protects the bacteria against stomach acid, meaning they are more likely to get to the gut. This could be used with a view to shortening the duration of coughs and colds in children — but based on its vitamin C and D content rather than the probiotics, as those benefits are as yet unproven.’
Vite Body Bar Ginger And Apple Flavour, £25 for 12 x 45g bars, vite.co.uk
Claim: Each bar contains five million live probiotics, plus chicory root to provide a prebiotic food source for the bacteria. The maker claims it acts to ‘aid digestive discomfort and encourage optimal gut health’. A bar provides five strains of live bacteria.
Expert verdict: ‘The bar contains a broad range of gut-friendly bacteria, but I don’t think many would survive stomach acid,’ says Sophie Medlin. ‘I think it’s expensive, too, and at 228 calories, with 7g of sugar in each bar, I wouldn’t even say it was a healthy snack.’
Vite Body Bar Ginger And Apple Flavour
No.1 Living Gut & Immune Kombucha Health Shot, £19.99 for 10 x 60ml, no1living.com
No.1 Living Gut & Immune Kombucha Health Shot
Claim: These shot drinks contain two billion active live cultures (of just one probiotic, lactic acid bacillus) and prebiotic fibre in a kombucha base (a fermented fizzy tea). The shot also contains vitamins C and D. The maker says the product ‘supports gut health and immune function’.
Expert verdict: ‘Kombucha [which contains probiotics] is a live culture grown from a ‘mother’ substance called Scoby (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast — which is a bit like a sourdough starter),’ says Sophie Medlin.
‘The probiotic here, lactic acid bacillus, is helpful for gut and bowel function, as among other things it helps to regulate the acid/alkaline balance in the gut.
‘Again, I doubt whether the live bacteria would reach the colon. But it is low in sugar, and one shot has fewer than 22 calories.’
Biomel Love Your Gut Probiotic Shots
Biomel Love Your Gut Probiotic Shots, £21 for 14 x 125ml shots, biomel.life
Claim: These vegan shots contain coconut milk and strains of non-dairy bacteria that the company claims are ‘proven to support digestive and immune health’, including Bifidobacterium, Bacillus coagulans and Lactobacillus plantarum.
The firm says that each serving contains billions of live active cultures, B vitamins, vitamin D and calcium, ‘proven to support the normal function of the digestive and the immune system’.
Expert verdict: ‘Normally probiotics are fermented from milk, so I presume in this vegan drink they are made by extracting bacteria from elsewhere,’ says Sophie Medlin.
‘The bacteria in this are present in a healthy gut microbiome, but as they don’t have the protective protein covering that dairy products have, it’s likely many of them would be killed off by stomach acid. I am not aware of any evidence that a non-dairy probiotic can have an effect on the gut microbiome. I can’t see any discernible health benefit from taking this.’
Claim: These contain the probiotic Lactobacillus plantarum and are inserted into the vagina. The company that makes them says the probiotic strain is ‘selected for its capability to adhere to the vaginal mucosa and protect against vaginal infections, such as thrush and bacterial vaginosis’.
One capsule should be taken for six consecutive days, and then one capsule per week for four weeks.
Expert verdict: ‘Good quality research shows that Lactobacillus plantarum taken orally can increase ‘healthy’ bacteria in the vagina, forming a protective barrier on the vaginal walls,’ says Tania Adib, a consultant gynaecologist at The Lister Hospital in London.
‘This may help to prevent recurrent infections such as thrush [which is caused by an overgrowth of yeast] and bacterial vaginosis [caused by an overgrowth of bad bacteria], both of which can cause vaginal discharge.
‘The probiotic may restore pH balance and prevent the overgrowth of ‘bad’ bacteria, reducing the chances of recurrent infections to which some women are prone. Applying it directly into the vagina may be a more effective way of ensuring that the bacteria reach the place where they are needed. However, this product is not a treatment for infection.’
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