By now you’ve probably heard about the numerous health benefits that come with taking a probiotic supplement. If you haven’t, probiotics are the healthy bacteria that live in the gut, and can also be found in raw, living and fermented foods.
Probiotics play a key role in one’s health. While consuming a healthy diet that contains plenty of fresh fruits and veggies, cutting out processed junk and exercising regularly are an important part of maintaining good health and well-being, this gut bacteria is often overlooked in that equation.
Probiotics actually have a number of essential roles, not just in the gut, but throughout the body.
Just a few of its tasks include:
- Fighting off colds and viruses
- Helping in the process of repairing injuries and tissue damage
- Aiding in regulating the appetite and managing weight
- Playing a part in the production of serotonin, the “feel-good hormone” and other hormones
- Helping to control one’s mood
There are trillions of these helpful bacteria living in your gut, playing a fundamental role when it comes to health and wellness. They’re collectively referred to as gut microbiome and include some 500 different species that each offer their own benefits.
There are millions of dollars invested every year, researching the gut in attempt to discover just how these so-called bugs play a part in preventing heart disease, diabetes and more. The more scientists find, the more they seem to discover just how important they really are to our health. Some experts have even started to refer to the microbiome as its own organ.
When we have an imbalance of good and bad bacteria, particularly when the bad outweighs the good, it can result in a host of different health problems. This hasn’t always been the case. That’s because most of our ancestors traditionally consumed raw and fermented foods, and those foods contain lots of beneficial bacteria. The reason we have so many problems today, is typically because of diets that are filled with “junk” or processed foods, especially sugar, as it disrupts the gut’s normally healthy composition. That good bacteria is pasteurized, irradiated, and often processed beyond recognition, which means much of the modern foods we eat today lead to an excess of harmful bacteria. The good bacteria starts to be depleted, which can cause that unhealthy, bad bacteria to take over, eventually resulting in any one of a long list of health conditions.
Symptoms of an imbalance of gut bacteria:
You may have a gut bacteria imbalance if you:
- Get sick more frequently than most people
- Feel depressed
- Are gaining weight without making changes in your lifestyle habits
- Experience breathing difficulties, frequent stuffy noses or respiratory infections
- Suffer from digestive issues such as bloating, constipation, diarrhea, gas and acid reflux
- Have energy levels that are low and/or you often feel fatigued
- Experience aching joints and/or muscular pain
- Breakout frequently or have acne
There are a number of ways you can be proactive in order to start improving your gut bacteria so that the good outweighs the bad.
- Avoid consuming processed, “junk” foods like cookies, chips, lunch meats, frozen meals and fast food.
- Limit sugar and alcohol intake
- Consume foods that offer probiotics, such as kombucha, kefir and plain, organic yogurt.
- Feed your healthy bacteria with prebiotics, which are found in foods like asparagus, garlic, onions, leeks, and artichokes.
- Get regular exercise
- Add stress-relief practices to your regular routine, like meditation, journaling or deep breathing.
- Avoid exposure to toxins– that means replacing chemical-filled cleaners with natural options like apple cider vinegar and lemon, switching out personal care products with chemicals for more organic, natural options, and staying away from cigarette smoke.
- Take antibiotics only when you absolutely have to.
When your gut is out of balance, it can cause anything from something as minor as a skin rash, allergies or indigestion to serious conditions like heart disease, depression or autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis or multiple sclerosis. While it’s important to eat a healthy diet that contains probiotic-rich foods, taking a high-quality supplement is a great idea to help repopulate the gut with healthy bacteria. But the question then becomes, what type of supplement to choose?
Understanding the benefits of the various probiotic strains and how they affect your health is a must in order to properly evaluate which probiotic supplement you should take.
Things to consider when choosing a supplement:
Probiotics are measured in what’s known as Colony Forming Units, or CFUs. You should see this number prominently displayed on the bottle or other type of container that you’re looking at. Ideally, it should be in the range of between 3 to 50 billion CFUs. If it’s at the lower end of that range, it’s generally considered to be a daily maintenance product, which means it’s a good choice for someone with an otherwise healthy digestive system who is looking to replenish probiotics lost from everyday, modern living. If you’re older, you may want a higher number, which indicates higher potency, because as we age, the microbiome loses probiotics at a faster rate. If you’re under a lot of stress, you may need something with stronger potency as well, as it will add extra reinforcement during these times when our immunity is more likely to be compromised. If you’re consuming a diet with more processed foods than you should or you have a compromised immune system, you need something more potent too.
Check to see if the potency guaranteed at the time of expiration. Is it guaranteed to have the same amount of CFUs up through expiration? For example, if that number advertises 50 billion CFS, is that the number when it was made, but it diminishes to 40 billion several months later? Be sure you’re getting what you’re paying for by closely looking at that label. It should have a clear statement on the packaging that reads: “Potency guaranteed until time of expiration.” It should also be shelf stable, which means no refrigeration is required in order to maintain its potency.
Diversity of strains & purchasing suggestions:
Understanding the diversity of strains is essential to choosing a probiotic. Some contain a multitude of different strains, in an effort to appeal to consumers who believe they’ll benefit from all of that diversity. But keep in mind that they may not necessarily be helpful – when you buy a probiotic with more than 20 strains, just a small portion of those will actually benefit your health. And, there are even some strains, like spore forming ones, that don’t naturally exist in abundance in a healthy gut, but are actually sourced from dirt. You want strains that are found naturally within a healthy digestive system.
L. acidophilus is one of the most important strains of the Lactobacillus species. It colonizes most densely in the small intestine. That’s where it aids in maintaining the integrity of the intestinal wall. It also ensures that nutrients are properly absorbed, and supports overall healthier digestive functioning.
This strain is specifically known to help treat eczema, especially when combined with lifestyle changes. It also addresses constipation, no matter what the cause, from poor chewing to insufficient hydration and poor bile flow from the gallbladder. Probiotics in general are considered to play an important part in helping to stimulate movement, and secretions that help bowel movements be more regular and normal. If you have a baby suffering from colic, you may want to speak with your pediatrician about utilizing this probiotic strain to relieve your child’s pain as it’s been found to help that condition as well.
- PhiNaturals offers its Probiotics 1030 Supplement on Amazon. It’s one of the most popular options and features 30 Billion CFUs of High Strength Probiotic For Digestive Health with 10 Strains of Acidophilus and Bifidobacterium.
- Also highly rated is Omnibiotics’ Renew Probiotics with 34.7 Billion CFU, 14 Unique Strains + Acidophilus DDS-1.
This probiotic strain is known for its ability to survive getting through the GI tract. It’s also believed to be one of the best Lactobacillus strains for vaginal health. If you plan to travel, it’s a great option, as an analysis of studies found that those who traveled from New York City to developing countries after taking this strain, had a 3.9 percent rate of developing diarrhea as compared to 7.4 percent in those who did not take a probiotic.
This strain can also help relieve constipation, ease eczema symptoms, and help reduce the risk of diarrhea that’s associated with antibiotic use. Those who’ve taken it with their antibiotics have been found to experience a more than 60 percent lower risk of diarrhea, according to a meta-analysis of more than 30 double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized studies that included over 4,100 people. It’s also good for treating colic.
- Look for Nutrivee Advanced Probiotic with 5 Billion CFU and 9 strains, including L. rhamnosus.
- Another good option is the 100 Naturals Upbiotics Advanced Probiotics Blend with 11.5 Billion CFU. It contains L. acidophilus, L. rhamnosus, L. plantarum, L. Caise, B. longum, B. breve, B. subtilis.
This strain produces potent antioxidants that can help neutralize some of the toxic products created in the gut during digestion. It’s also been isolated to show that it exhibits activity against foodborne pathogens. L. fermentum is great for overall digestion and detoxification as well. This is also one of only a few strains that have been tested and found to be effective for treating mastitis, a painful condition that sometimes develops when breastfeeding – one of the worst times to have to deal with pain.
- PrimoNature offers PrimoNature Probiotic MULTI BOOST, Best 15 Strains 30 Billion CFU on Amazon. In addition to L. fermentum, it contains: L. Acidophilus, L. Rhamnosus, B. Longum, B. Breve, L. Casei, B. Coagulans, B. Lactis, L. Plantarum, S. Thermophilus, L. Bulgaricus, B. Infantis, L. Gasseri, L. Reuteri, and S. Boulardii.
- Another good option is the Garden of Life Probiotic Supplement for Women. It contains 50 billion CPU and includes L. fermentum along with Lactobaccilus acidophilus, bifidobacteria, L. reuteri and more.
This strain colonizes in the intestine and oral cavity, and has been found to support immune health as well as oral and digestive health. Tests have shown that it can relieve reflux as well.
- Nature’s Way offers Primadophilus Reuteri, which guarantees potency of at least 5 billion CFU through to its expiration date. In addition to L. reuteri, it contains lactobacillus bifidobacterium to help support healthy immune function.
- Microbiome Plus sells the Microbiome Plus Gastrointestinal Probiotics L Reuteri NCIMB 30242 and Prebiotics scFOS. It provides 7 billion CFU, and combines L. reuteri with natural prebiotic fiber to help maintain the balance of healthy bacteria in your gut and support normal digestive function.
One of the more common strains of Bifidobacteria in the GI tract, this strain offers digestive benefits that are derived from its ability to break down carbs and neutralize toxins in the gut. Some research has suggested that it’s the antioxidant properties in B. longum include the chelation of metal ions, copper in particular, as well as scavenging of free radicals. It’s great for supporting immune health and even anxiety too – you might be surprised to find that the digestive tract actually has a profound effect on mood and anxiety.
- Hyperbiotics sells PRO-15 Advanced Strength Probiotics which contains 15 strains, including B. longum as well as lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. It also adds kiwifruit powder into the mix to further promote colon and gut health.