Updated: Apr 11
Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that when consumed have been shown through various research studies, to give us various health benefits and as a result can improve our quality of life. These bacteria strains are usually found in natural yoghurts, fermented foods, or taken as probiotic supplements, they are often described as containing "good" or "friendly" bacteria.
The main purpose of consuming a probiotic is to reach our gut and to deliver these good probiotic bacteria strains. Once they are in the large intestine they help us by improving our digestion, helping aid the absorption of nutrients, and improving our immune system. Historically it has been difficult to prove these probiotic products would even reach the gut 'alive' as when consumed they had to pass through our stomach acid which may have damaged the live bacteria along the way. This is where Symprove comes in, Symprove claims to be able to deliver the probiotic bacteria to the gut without the stomach and digestive processes damaging the bacteria in the delivery process.
Symprove’s claim has been verified from an independent study from UCL which tested the probiotic's ability to reach the gut. Upon reaching the gut, this is where the strains work their magic by delivering the healthy bacteria 'alive'. In doing so Symprove has since gained a reputation in the nutrition and dietetic world for its evidence-based testing as their approach reassures users that the bacteria they purchase remains intact when it reaches the gut.
Before we go further, why would we take probiotics – what are the benefits?
Sadly, we have in past been overprescribed the use of antibiotics for certain conditions that perhaps didn’t require them. Antibiotics work by killing the bad bacteria that makes us sick which then helps us recover but sadly a course of antibiotics will also kill a lot of the beneficial bacteria in our gut.
Beneficial bacteria in the gut are essential for us to absorb and make certain vitamins. Good bacteria consumption has been linked to an improved immune system, improved quality of sleep, and helping us feel generally healthier. Also fundamentally having a better balance of good vs bad bacteria can improve our digestion, reduce constipation, and reduce the incidence of loose stools.
Are probiotics and prebiotics the same?
You may have heard of the terms pro and prebiotics. Think of prebiotics as food for probiotics the ‘pre’ biotics create the food for the probiotics to eat when in the gut. Prebiotics are present naturally in foods such as onions, vegetables, and a variety of whole grains.
Probiotics by contrast are a collective term to describe the ability to deliver healthy bacteria into the gut. There are many strains that are bacteria and it is thought each strain has different benefits for each individual.
Do I need probiotics/prebiotics or can my diet accommodate this?
If you eat a healthy balanced diet with plenty of whole grains, vegetables and fruits then you should be naturally consuming enough prebiotics. Probiotics however have been harder to prove that they can reach the gut which is why choosing a supplement that can reach the gut still intact can be beneficial.
Fermented foods, natural yoghurt and fermented drinks such as kefir and kombuchas all contain healthy bacteria but the bacteria strain and active numbers present all play a role in the benefits of consumption meaning a dose-dependent relationship (you may have to drink a lot of kefir to deliver the same numbers as a concentrated probiotic supplement).
Now the question I wanted to uncover was does Symprove actually work? For me personally, I’ve had digestive issues for a considerable length of my adult life which until recently were compounded by a diagnosis of coeliac disease and lactose intolerance. So understandably, I was very excited to get the opportunity to try Symprove's 12-week program. Symprove sent the 12-week program to me on the basis that I would kindly review the product whether positive or negative.
So, what is Symprove and what does the evidence say?
Symprove is made from an extract of germinated barley where they cultivate there 4 strains of probiotic bacteria are produced at their site in Surrey. The probiotics within Symprove are 4 live strains of bacteria as seen in the image below. The more diverse and varied the strains of good bacteria the more balanced our gut microbiome or environment.
Symprove is water-based which enables the bacteria to avoid activating from the digestive processes in the stomach. This means that a large number of bacteria reach the gut and have a far better opportunity to deliver the live bacteria to where it’s needed. Unlike Symprove, some supplements are freeze-dried to ensure the bacteria within them survive through the stomach. However, this means the bacteria have to be reactivated within the stomach to have any effect, and many pass right through your digestive system before they’ve had a chance to wake up and work.
University College London carried out an independent study on eight leading products containing bacteria. The study subjected each product to three tests. These assessed if the bacteria arrived in a live state, survived stomach acid transit, and thrived in the target area of the gut. Symprove was the only product to pass all three tests.
How to take Symprove?
It’s recommended to undertake the 12-week program as it takes this long for the full effects of the bacteria to do their job. However, prior to receiving the 12-week program, I did purchase the 1 month 4 pack just to ensure I would tolerate the supplement.
Once your 12-week order is placed, the order process is quite seamless. Your 12-week program arrives via DPD as next-day delivery. The bottles can be stored at room temperature until they are opened and then they need to be stored in the fridge to maintain the active properties of the bacteria. Symprove comes in two flavours – original and a mango flavour. It’s down to personal preference, but I personally preferred the mango as it had less of an aftertaste.
The difficulty or point to note is that you have to take Symprove before any water or other food in the morning. Symprove comes with a measuring cup and you give the bottle a shake and then pour the Symprove up to the 70ml mark and then simply take it like a shot.
You then need to wait 10 minutes before eating and drinking anything else, so it’s wise to time it at first just until you get into a habit. A suggestion is to use this free time to get ready rather than sat waiting for your usual cup of tea or coffee.
Drinking Symprove at the correct dosage won’t cause any immediate negative reactions so if you have visions or worries of running to the toilet, rest assured this will not happen. It is a gradual programme that takes days to weeks for your gut to rebalance its bacteria and adjust the good to bad ratio.
What did Symprove do for me?
Over the years my digestion has been a contentious issue. For years GPs diagnosed my symptoms as simply IBS and as such, I have usually been prescribed fibre sachets and natural laxatives. However, (especially as studying nutrition at university ), I felt that GP's never really helped diagnose the cause as it wasn’t like I was eating unhealthy and I always made sure to include lots of variety, plenty of fibre, plus test whether soluble or insoluble fibre made a difference. Roll on nearly ten years of frustration and experiments later, I found lactose played a key role in causing severe bloating exacerbating my constipation. I then was found to have a family history of coeliac disease. However, despite this, my constipation was still there and getting worse.
Prior to starting Symprove I was following a healthy balanced gluten and lactose-free diet but my bowel habits were still at best once every 2-3 days.
So, what did the first month look like?
Surprisingly for me, during week 1, I started to have daily movements which for anyone that rarely goes to the toilet, not only made me feel happier but gave me more energy and felt in general more upbeat. This continued for me for the first month, however, after a few rich meals and eating out - this once-daily effect started to return my bowel habits to every 2-3 days.
How did I feel after the 12-week programme?
After finishing the 12-week programme and just purely for the benefits I felt in the first 4 weeks I would recommend it to anyone with similar digestive problems. I feel I have a complicated digestive history as I am coeliac and have lactose intolerance. Despite my background and my chronic constipation, Symprove did give me improvements with more healthy and regular bowel movements.
However, being a nutritional scientist at heart I will now abstain from taking Symprove for approx. 12 weeks and then re-introduce it after the gap to see how this has affected me for the second time. I would be keen to see if the first reaction was because my body was reacting to the new healthy bacteria strains and if the effects dampened down once reintroduced.
New comment: 18th Oct 2020
I have restarted taking Symprove for the past 2-3 weeks after a few months off. During this gap, I have tried a few other probiotics ( tablets) and which didn't really seem to improve my symptoms.
I also added flaxseed to my breakfast cereal and this really helped at first to ensure my digestion was as regular as it could be.
I have to say, I would still recommend anyone who has IBS, digestive issues, or chronic constipation to follow a step-by-step approach to your care:
Drink 2 Litres of water
Aim for plenty of fruit and vegetables
Aim for 30g fibre per day - test the different types of soluble or insoluble
Try and walk 30 minutes per day
Try a gut massage/ gut yoga
Try a probiotic supplement (++ especially if you have had antibiotics). I would recommend Symprove based on the research but also encourage you to research which strain of probiotic is best for your personal gut symptoms.
I hope this helps you with your digestive symptoms. Please reach out to us if you are still in discomfort as we can review your overall diet and make simple, practical suggestions. Contact us and a member of our gut health team and learn more about how diet and nutrition can help you feel better.
Symprove provided the 12-week sample on the basis of a review. We have provided our personal opinion of the product and have not been endorsed in any other way.