Probiotics: help milk drinks, kefir and kombucha your gut? | Right away

In the supermarket, it is full of probiotic milk drinks that promise to strengthen your immune system. Are they really healthy for you? Six questions for immunologist Ger Rijkers of University College Roosevelt in Middelburg.

What are probiotics anyway?

“Probiotics are bacteria that promote health. Many of these bacteria occur naturally in our guts. These are trillions of single-heavy bacteria that together form the so-called microbiome. They influence each other. Some make proteins that can suppress other bacteria. This leads to disturbances or balances. Probiotics can contribute to the balance sheet.”

“It is possible that kefir and kombucha lead to improvements in health on an individual basis, but it can also lead to a deterioration.”

Ger Rijkers, immunologist

Why is balance important?

“A balanced microbiome is important for our health: it helps to digest nutrients, suppresses disease-causing bacteria, produces vitamins and stimulates the immune system. Probiotics have been shown to be effective in intestinal inflammation and possibly also in irritable bowel syndrome. They also have a good influence on the immune system.”

Do the milk drinks help in the supermarket?

“People who take milk drinks to get the probiotic effect often do so for prevention. They hope to strengthen their microbiome so that they become ill less quickly. There wasn’t much research on it.’

“In any case, probiotic milk drinks often contain only one of the thousands of different bacterial strains that make up the microbiome. So in theory, they only help if you are just a lack of these bacteria. In addition, the drinks often burst out of the sugar. And that’s not healthy for you. In this regard, it is better to take probiotics in supplement form.”

Does there be any research on probiotics in supplement form?

“We have done research on probiotics and antibiotics. Antibiotics kill many bacteria. This creates an imbalance. Patients often experience diarrhea. Our research shows that probiotics with the bacterium Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (LGG) can prevent that because they restore balance. You’re also less likely to have recurring infections because your defense is better.”

“This bacterium is usually not used in milk drinks from the supermarket, but in some additions for sale in the reform shop or online.”

Are prebiotics also a type of probiotics?

“No. Prebiotics are not bacteria, but food for the gut bacteria. They are shaped like fibers. They are contained in vegetables, fruit, legumes and whole grains.”

Some people take kefir or kombucha, also probiotic products. Do they help?

“Kefir and Kombucha contain living microorganisms that are able to influence the composition and functionality of gut bacteria. It is possible that this leads to an individual improvement in health, but it can also lead to a deterioration.”

“Some of the many living lactobacilli in Kombucha and Kefir have been studied, but almost all research has been conducted in vitro or in animal studies, not humans. Kombucha also contains a little alcohol. As far as I am concerned, you can no longer really make a health claim to it.”

Dr. Ger Rijkers is an immunological researcher and professor of biomedicine and life sciences at University College Roosevelt in Middelburg and St. Elisabeth Hospital in Tilburg.