Q&A: 5 things to know about probiotics

Virtual care · Nov 18, 2021

From tubs of yogurt in the grocery aisle to refrigerated supplements at your local pharmacy, probiotics are touted as a convenient way to help maintain a healthy gut. But do we really need them? We asked Head of Clinical Services for TELUS Health Virtual Care, April Stewart NP-PHC, to help us gather the facts on probiotics.

1. Why would someone consider taking probiotics?

Probiotics, often referred to as

, help to maintain the balance of good vs. bad bacteria naturally present in our gut. These microorganisms help our body digest food, absorb nutrients and defend itself against infections caused by harmful bacteria or other germs. Although more research into the topic is needed, some people will also take probiotics to help alleviate certain gastro-intestinal symptoms such as diarrhea, gas, bloating and constipation. 

2. Who should not take probiotics?

It is not advisable to take probiotics without consulting with a medical provider first. This
especially applies to patients who are immunocompromised, such as patients with autoimmune diseases or cancer. It is also important to note that some probiotics contain non-medicinal ingredients, such as dairy or soy, that may not suit a patient’s dietary restrictions or even potentially trigger an allergic reaction. If you’re unclear on whether or not a probiotic supplement is right for you, consult with a clinician on

or your local pharmacist.

3. What factors should you consider when choosing a probiotic?

Every probiotic formulation is different, however the two most common species of bacteria found in probiotics are species of

. Though both exist naturally in our bodies, they can be supplemented to help maintain or improve digestion.

Probiotic supplements also take many different forms—tablet, capsule or powder—so select one that best suits your lifestyle and preference. It is also important to select one that has an expiry date. A clinician on TELUS Health Virtual Care will be able to advise on which one
would be best based on a patient’s individualized treatment plan.

4. Is it possible to meet your needs in terms of good bacteria with fermented foods alone?

The challenge with obtaining dietary sources of probiotics is not knowing the exact dose you are getting. Taking a probiotic supplement enables patients to take more consistent and measurable dosing. However, there are many foods loaded with these cultures of good bacteria that can be added to a person’s diet with the help of a trained dietitian.

Some examples include:

  • Yogurt

  • Kefir

  • Fermented vegetables (pickles, tempeh, kimchi or sauerkraut)

  • Sourdough

  • Miso

5. What are some other supplements that help build or maintain good gut health?

There are many different vitamins and supplements available that can also contribute
to good gut health.

, for example, has been linked to helping reduce the risk of colon cancer and may be beneficial for sufferers of
Crohn’s disease
. Patients who may lack
dietary fiber
in their diet can consider increasing their intake with fiber supplements. Again, it is important to consult with your medical provider to make sure that these choices are right
for your particular situation.

If your goal is to alleviate gastro-intestinal symptoms, there are many over the counter products that can help, such as

that are commonly used for heartburn,
tablets for flatulence or bloating, and
stool softeners or laxatives
for constipation. Consult a clinician on TELUS Health Virtual Care to get advice on what the best treatment plan for your symptoms would be.

This article was created for informational purposes only, and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have or for any medical assistance you may need.

TELUS Health Virtual Care offers on-demand access to primary physical and mental health care to help Canadians across the country live healthier lives. TELUS Health Virtual Care gives members access to trained and compassionate clinicians who can help guide them at every step of their health journey. For more information on our virtual care services, visit


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