Chances are that even if you haven’t used probiotics, you have heard of them. With gut health being all the rage lately, these tiny yet powerful buggers have made quite a few headlines. Foods, supplements, drinks; they’re all the rage! But what are they, do you need them, and how the heck do you choose which one is best? Let’s find out.As always, run everything by your doctor first.
What are probiotics?When we think of bacteria, we often think of germs and all the things that make you sick. But your body is home to trillions of beneficial bacteria that you need to live a healthy life. We’re actually made up of 90% bacteria - woah!
Probiotics are the friendly bacteria that live in our digestive tract and are beneficial to our health. These bacteria make sure that the digestive system is running smoothly by assisting in digesting food, along with destroying harmful pathogens and producing vitamins we need to live a healthy, happy, and balanced life. An easy way to remember this is that antibiotic means “anti-life” (killing off bacteria) and probiotic means “pro-life” (promoting the bacteria growth).
We are naturally born with probiotics in our colon but with modern living, full of antibiotics, antibacterial products, and poor diet and lifestyle choices, these healthy forms of bacteria are being wiped out and causing major health problems.
Taking a probiotic helps to top up the existing good bacteria, aids in converting the bad bacteria to good, and promotes a healthy balance between the good and the bad bacteria in our gut flora. This ultimately helps to heal digestive issues and has even been seen to relieve mood disorders and autoimmunities.
This is why picking a probiotic tailored to you is important. Supporting healthy gut bacteria ultimately means supporting a healthy life, and we’re all about living our healthiest lives!
Bifido-what?When you first embark on the probiotic hunt, you’re going to find billions (literally billions- with a B) of different strains. This is where the confusion starts to set in that usually can lead to many of us just giving up on choosing. Let’s simplify this process for you so you can gut going.
There are three major probiotics available today that have been found to provide health benefits: Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Saccharomyces. These are the things you want to see on the label when choosing a probiotic.
Lactobacillus bacteria predominantly live in your small bowel and are responsible mostly for supporting digestion and immune function. The most beneficial species are L. acidophilus, L. plantarum, and L. paracasei.
The Bifidobacteria bacteria, predominantly found in your colon or large intestine, are responsible for producing the short-chain fatty acid butyrate. Butyrate regulates a variety of metabolic processes. The most beneficial of the Bifidobacteria are B. lactis and B. longum.
Finally, we have Saccharomyces. Saccharomyces is a friendly yeast that supports the gut lining from the effects of dysbiosis that can happen after taking a round of antibiotics, which can lead to leaky gut syndrome. This is why Saccharomyces should be taken when given antibiotics.
Choosing the right probiotic for youNow that we understand what a probiotic is, let’s chat about who should be taking a probiotic. Raise your hand if you are someone that: has taken antibiotics in recent years, eats processed foods, lives in an urban area, struggles with stress, or lives in this modern world.
Then you should be taking a probiotic supplement.
And even if you live a generally healthy lifestyle, you can benefit from taking a probiotic. The people that are better off NOT taking a probiotic are those with SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) and people with compromised immune systems.
As always, run everything by your medical practitioner first.
When buying a probiotic you want to ensure that it is high quality. I highly recommend not skimping when purchasing a probiotic supplement. Due to the lack of regulation within the supplement world, you need to do your research and make sure that the product you’re investing in is actually doing something.
And since the gut is the powerhouse to your overall health, it makes sense to make the investment, right?
Research has shown that some strains seem to be more effective than others for treating certain conditions, so it’s important to keep in mind what exactly you’re trying to resolve when buying your supplement.
How to tell which probiotic to buy
- Brand quality — Look for reputable brands with quality customer reviews.
- The number of CFUs (colony forming units) — You’ll usually see millions and billions, which seems like a lot. But, Billions is best. 5 to 100 billion colony-forming units is what you want to aim for. Start small and work your way up.
- The number of various strains — Generally, you want to aim for 10–30 different strains. If you’re looking to heal a certain symptom (depression, anxiety, IBS, leaky gut, etc.) search for a probiotic supplement that has certain strains to heal that.
- Survivability — There’s no point in buying a high strength probiotic if it doesn’t survive the trek from the supplier to your stomach! Check the label to see how many cultures survive the journey. Look for strains like Bacillus coagulans, Saccharomyces boulardii, Bacillus subtilis, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, and other cultures that ensure probiotics make it to the gut and are able to colonize.
- Research — Do your homework and look for brands that have strains that support your specific needs. Look for products that have been clinically trialled with a proven health benefit.
How to gut started with probiotics
Probiotics are generally recognized as safe, but if you have a compromised immune system or suffering from SIBO you’ll want to work with your medical practitioner.
For those looking to boost their gut health, I suggest starting with 30 to 50 billion CFUs and working from there. The process of finding the right probiotic can take a bit of trial and error. I suggest taking your probiotics on an empty stomach once a day for 3 months and then tuning into how you’re feeling since you first began. This is why when working with clients I have them use a gut tracker.
The more imbalanced the gut, the more CFU’s you’re going to need to get it back into balance. In cases like this, you’re going to need closer to the 200 to 400 billion CFUs.
If you’re looking to better understand how to find a specific strain and dosage that works for you, I recommend working with a practitioner.
Potential side effects
Although probiotics are usually seen to improve gut health, you may experience some uncomfortable symptoms when you first start taking a probiotic supplement. This is due to something called “die off”. This can show up as gas, bloat, changes in stool and moods.
“Die Off” is a sign that the good bacteria are killing off the bad bacteria, producing detox-like symptoms. If the symptoms are causing too much discomfort though, try lowering your dosage and then slowly working your way up. If that doesn’t work, then it is possible that the strain that you are taking isn’t suited for your body. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach as we are all different so it takes a bit of experimenting
Keep in mind that probiotics should be seen as a preventative, not as a treatment to any condition and that it’s important to make sure you’re consuming a healthy diet and practicing other health-promoting lifestyle choices as well. Otherwise, you can’t expect probiotics to provide much benefit.
Is yogurt enough?
Simply put, no. Although in my programs I encourage fermented foods within the Rule of 5 plate, I encourage you to still get a quality probiotic. Think of fermented foods as the cherry on top of your sundae, you still need the delicious sundae first.
You can find a easy to follow sauerkraut recipe that you can toss into your daily diet here: 3-Ingredient Sauerkraut