If you’ve watched any television recently, read a newspaper or magazine, or even browsed the internet, you’ve no doubt encountered some sort of advertising for probiotics. If you’ve done at least a little research, you might even be interested in seeing what a probiotic can do for you. Here’s a probiotics guide that will hopefully steer you in the right direction, so you can find the product that meets your needs.
What’s the Big Deal?
You might have a bit of knowledge of probiotics and how they are purported to help maintain digestive health. There are trillions of microbes that reside in the gastrointestinal tract, or “gut.” The “gut flora” is the term given to these microbes, which consist mainly of bacteria but also contain some types of yeast.
In a healthy gut, there is an abundance of beneficial bacteria that help to keep things working properly. But these good bacteria are always in a struggle with harmful bacteria, and these “bad guys” can do a lot of damage. They can lead to problems such as a weakened immune system, constipation, diarrhea, and more.
When there is an imbalance between bad and good bacteria, that’s when the body needs an infusion of beneficial microbes. These reinforcements are known as probiotics. You can get them in several types of food, such as sauerkraut and yogurt, but most people use supplements. Capsules are the most popular form of probiotic supplement, but they also come in powders, drinks, and even gummies.
There are an incredible number of products out there manufactured by companies that claim they can help improve your digestive health. In fact, there are so many that it can be extremely confusing to choose just one. That’s why you need a probiotic guide to help make the process easier. Here are few tips to help you make the right decision:
Always Read the Label
There are a few pieces of information that the label of a probiotic product should always contain. These include:
- The names of the different types of bacteria that are included in the product. These should include the genus, species, and strain, most of which will be in Latin. For example, Lactobacillus acidophilus Rosell-52, or Saccharomyces boulardii. As you’ll find out a bit later, there are different benefits associated with different kinds of bacteria and yeasts.
- The number of microbes contained in each product. Probiotics contain a certain number of colony-forming units (CFUs). This is basically the number of beneficial microbes you’ll be putting in your system to help battle the harmful ones. Most high-quality probiotics will contain anywhere from 10-30 billion CFUs.
- Storage information is also important. Probiotics usually need to be kept in a cold environment, such as a refrigerator, so they live as long as possible. However, there are some probiotic products that are manufactured in a way that they can stay in your kitchen cabinet for an extended period of time and still work, as long as the environment is cool and dry. The label needs to let you know how the product needs to be stored.
- If a label states only that the bacteria were viable when the product was manufactured, look for something else. The reason is that it’s very likely the bacteria in that particular product are dead and will not provide you any benefits. If, on the other hand, the label says that the bacteria will be viable for the shelf life of the product, then you should be fine.
- Look for probiotics that come in capsule form, because they will provide the best chance that the bacteria inside will make it to your gut so they can do their jobs. A lot of products are poorly made, and as a result, their bacteria die due to stomach acid.
- Third-party certification is another thing to look for on a label. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate most probiotic products on the market. As a result, you might not be getting what you pay for if the label doesn’t clearly state that the product underwent third party testing from an independent laboratory.
What’s with all the Latin?
As we previously mentioned, the types of bacteria contained in the probiotic products you’re considering are very important. Many probiotics contain multiple strains of bacteria in order to provide as many benefits as possible. Although the names of these strains are typically in Latin, you don’t need to be a scholar to understand their benefits.
The jury is still out from a scientific standpoint regarding exactly what strains offer exactly what benefits. But there are a few that have been shown to help with certain conditions. For example, the Saccharomyces boulardii yeast can help reduce the symptoms of some forms of diarrhea.1 The Lactobacillus bulgaricus bacterium can help improve digestion of dairy products that contain lactose.2
The Bifidobacterium infantis 35624, Bifidobacterium bifidum MIMBb75, and Lactobacillus plantarum 299V bacterial strains can help relieve the pain, bloating, and gas associated with irritable bowel syndrome.3,4,5 Lactobacillus rhamnosus HN001 and Lactobacillus fermentum VRI-003 PCC have been shown to be effective in reducing the symptoms associated with eczema.6,7
The Role of Prebiotics
There are several probiotic products out there that also contain prebiotics, which are non-living substances that help fuel beneficial microbes. Gut bacteria thrive when they have ample supplies of prebiotics. The body can’t digest them, but bacteria can. You can also find prebiotics in foods such as bananas, garlic, sauerkraut, and whole grains.
Talk to Your Doctor
We hope this probiotics guide has been helpful when it comes to deciding which products may be right for you. But before you put your money down, talk to your doctor to make sure you won’t suffer any health problems by introducing probiotics to your gastrointestinal tract. Some people with intestinal issues, for instance, may experience worsening symptoms, so make sure you get the “all clear” before you buy any kind of probiotic supplement. If you do, there’s a very good chance that you will enjoy substantial benefits.