When my father lived in an assisted living facility, I wanted him to be receiving a probiotic which needed to be ordered by the facility physician. I remember the doctor sitting at his desk writing the order and at the same time quipping that “all probiotics are the same!” The comment took my breath away because this was only a few years ago, and most health care providers should know that probiotics are not all the same! There is plenty of research available on how probiotics are both similar and different-and there is plenty to consider when purchasing a probiotic.
Our gastrointestinal tract contains hundreds of different species of bacteria and these bacteria are referred to as intestinal flora. A healthy functioning gastrointestinal tract has a healthy balance of bacteria. Occasionally, that balance of bacteria becomes unbalanced due to antibiotic use, illness, stress, or even a poor-quality diet.
Research on the health benefits of probiotics is vast. Researchers are evaluating how probiotics may affect mental health, lipids, weight, and various GI conditions. Even our pets are taking probiotics!
Here are 5 tips to keep in mind when making a probiotic supplement purchase:
- Packaging. Probiotics need to be alive to be effective in your body. If they are dead on arrival in the bottle or purchase package, they will be useless to your gut. Take a good look at the packaging. Many probiotic strains need to be refrigerated to stay alive, or they may be sold in blister packaging to assure viability. If the product needs refrigeration, be sure online shippers are shipping the product with dry ice during warm weather to protect the product. With blister packaging, there is no need to refrigerate. Keep in mind that the companies selling the probiotics are doing their own regulation, so you might want to use a name brand product to help assure the organisms are alive upon purchase.
- Dosages. Potency is usually noted on the label as CFU which stands for “colony forming units”. The recommended intake for probiotic supplements varies by the strain and intended therapy. For general use, it would be recommended that the CFU be at least 1 to 10 billion. Many reputable brands have much higher dosages which are still deemed safe.
- Strains. Contrary to the thoughts of my father’s former physician, bacterial strains do matter. For instance, for antibiotic-related diarrhea, it may be advisable to start taking a common drugstore brand such as Culturelle which contains Lactobacillus GG. Other research suggests that it may be even more effective to take a probiotic with multiple species of organisms. In adult women with IBS, Bifidobacterium infantis has been shown to reduce pain, bloating, and bowel movement difficulty. For cholesterol reduction, Lactobacillus reuteri may be therapeutic for LDL-Cholesterol reduction.
- Dosing. If you are taking probiotics for overall wellness, keep in mind that the organisms only survive for a few days to weeks, so it is necessary to keep taking them. Speaking of surviving, some probiotics have an enteric-coating to ensure stomach acid survival and intestinal delivery.
- Food. Many foods also contain probiotics. Think yogurt, kefir milk, and kombucha. And, nutrient dense foods are usually great sources of prebiotics-the food probiotics use. Those microorganisms need their own fuel and fiber rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are the fuel of choice for probiotics.
Has probiotic use helped your health? Share your thoughts!