When people hear the word ‘Bacteria’, many often think of infection or disease. On the contrary, probiotics are live microorganisms known as ‘good bacteria’ that can benefit your health and are found mostly in your gut. Your gut also contains “bad” bacteria and both good and bad bacteria retain a delicate balance. Ideally, the balance of gut flora should be around 85 percent good bacteria and 15 percent bad bacteria. When this ratio gets off balance it can lead to infections and disease. The term “probiotic” comes from the Greek term “for life,” and duly so because these friendly bacteria can help support your body in many different ways to fight off infections and disease. I will say there have been known to be a few side effects and safety precautions to consider before starting – continue below and always be sure to consult your physician before starting any new supplement!
In the following article, I am going to touch on all things probiotics! These are the questions I wanted answered when first starting my search for the best probiotic supplement – with the ultimate question being, what is the best probiotic supplements?
MAJOR HEALTH BENEFITS
- Inflammation: Probiotics reduce systemic inflammation, a leading driver of many diseases as well as pain.
- Depression and anxiety: Some probiotic strains have been shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression in people with clinical depression.
- Blood cholesterol: Several probiotics have been shown to lower total and “bad” LDL cholesterol levels.
- Blood pressure: Probiotics may also cause modest reductions in blood pressure.
- Immune function: Several probiotic strains may enhance immune function, possibly leading to a reduced risk of infections, including the common cold.
- Skin health: There is some evidence that probiotics can be useful for acne, rosacea and eczema, as well as other skin disorders.
- Gut health: Known to improve daily bowel movements and help with diseases like IBS, chrohns diease, celiac diease and other digestive issues such as antibiotic-associated diarrhea.
YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT
Food is your best source of nutrients for anything and probiotics are no different. Your gut flora is highly sensitive to your diet, and studies show that an unbalanced gut flora is linked to numerous diseases. These diseases include obesity, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, colorectal cancer, Alzheimer’s and depression. Consuming unpasteurized fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, lassi (Indian yoghurt), kefir (fermented milk), natto (fermented soy), and pickled cabbage, carrots, cucumbers, eggplants, onions, squash, and turnips will help provide you with beneficial bacteria to fight off disease. If you have a dairy allergy or sensitivity, there are many dairy alternatives like almond yogurt, coconut yogurt, and coconut kefir.
Even though food is your best source of nutrients, taking a probiotic supplement will enrich your diet and help you:
- Absorb minerals, eliminate toxins, and produce vitamins, particularly vitamin K and B vitamins
- Avoid allergies by training your immune system to differentiate between pathogens and non-harmful antigens
- Digest and assimilate certain carbohydrates and convert them into primary sources of energy and nutrients
- Kill harmful microbes and keep bad bacteria in your intestinal lining or mucosal barrier under control
- Support your immune system, 80 percent of which lies in your gut
When searching for a probiotic supplement, a multi-strain probiotic formula reflecting a diversity in both number of species (the types of bacteria strains) and number of genera (groups of bacteria strains) is recommended. If you choose more delicate strains like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, a massive CFU (measured in-colony forming units; I.E. the amount of bacteria) count is needed to guard against the harsh conditions associated with transportation and storage that can greatly diminish and damage the microorganisms. Alternatively, you could try Soil Based Organism (SBO) probiotic strains which are naturally resistant to heat and acid environments. Because of this, the CFU number you see on an SBO probiotic label is usually accurate.
So, how do you pick the best probiotic for you? Well, first let’s look at a quick overview of the benefits of each strain and then you can better find a probiotic specifically tailored to your needs:
Best probiotic for: Acne, Vaginal health, Diarrhea
Best Probiotic For: Eczema
Best Probiotic For: Inflammation
Best Probiotic For: GI support, Brain function
Best Probiotic For: Immunity
Best Probiotic For: Constipation, Brain Function
Best Probiotic For: Immunity, GI support
Best Probiotic for: Anti-aging
Best Probiotic For: Skin support
MY TOP RECOMMENDATION
Best bang for your buck – If you are looking for an excellent probiotic that contains almost all of the bacteria strains listed above – I highly recommend Hyperbiotics PRO! After you read the facts below, you’ll understand why :). And it’s very affordable! **Note: If you have difficulty swallowing pills, there is a powder form! Check it out here.
+ 15 Targeted Probiotic Strains because bacterial diversity is key when it comes to gut health. The strains in PRO-15 include: Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus fermentum, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium infantis, Lactobacillus casei, Bifidobacterium longum, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Bifidobacterium lactis, Lactobacillus reuteri, Lactobacillus salivarius, Lactobacillus paracasei, Lactobacillus gasseri, Bifidobacterium bifidum, Bifidobacterium breve, and Streptococcus thermophilus.
+ 5 Billion Colony Forming Units per BIO-tract pearl, which is equivalent to 75 Billion CFU (colony forming units) of standard probiotic capsules!
+ Easy to Swallow. This tiny pearl is a fraction of the size of standard capsules. No wasted fillers, just micro-packed goodness. You’re welcome.
+ Naturally Derived Prebiotic (FOS) included in each pearl to help feed the probiotics for increased potency. Prebiotics are fibers that encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria throughout your colon.
+ Long Shelf Life & No Refrigeration Necessary. With the patented LiveBac manufacturing process, we offer an extended shelf life with zero refrigeration. Many probiotics don’t provide a date of any kind because their organisms die so quickly after being manufactured.
+ Only Once per Day. That’s it. Because with time-release delivery, the benefits are being delivered deep inside your gut hour by hour.
+ Made in the USA. Our probiotics are manufactured in Washington and Colorado in facilities that are GMP certified through NSF. We adhere to the strictest quality control and FDA guidelines and perform rigorous testing on every lot to ensure they are survivable and as the label states.
+ Premium Probiotic Supplement. This formula is vegetarian, non-GMO, and free of lactose, gluten, and yeast. There is also no soy, sugar, iron, nuts, artificial flavors, artificial colors, or preservatives.
+ We know the importance of sustainability. We consider the impact of our probiotic formulas at every turn, from the ingredients we choose, to how they’re made, the bottles we use, and how they’re delivered to you. We’re on a mission to replenish living ecosystems – from human microbiomes to the delicate and endangered ecosystems of our planet.
IS MORE REALLY BETTER?
When it comes to probiotic supplements, many retailers want you to believe that the more bacteria count (measured in colony-forming units, or CFUs,) the better the product. However, it’s still uncertain whether more bacteria are actually better for you in general. Instead, focus on the strain, storage and expiration. However, in theory, it’s good to aim for counts greater than 1 billion, especially for the more delicate strains as mentioned before.
PACKAGING AND DELIVERY MATTERS
Understanding the different ways that manufacturers package and deliver probiotic supplements is perhaps the most important factor in ensuring the bacteria remain alive and healthy while being delivered to you and your gut.
Probiotic supplements aren’t always easily absorbed but the good news is there has been a lot of advances in their delivery systems. You can now find probiotic products that offer controlled-release tablets (or caplets) which keeps the strain from being destroyed by the stomach acids.
STORAGE AT HOME
You need to protect the bacteria from too much exposure to light, heat, and moisture. Avoid probiotics sold in clear glass bottles. Instead, go for the darker, thicker glass bottles or white plastic bottles packaged inside of a box as these reduce the amount of light exposure. Blister packs are also a great option as well which is what I use. At home, always store your supplement in a dark, cool place and away from direct sunlight. Most people’s medicine cabinets are in their bathroom but if you think about it, that is where you take showers and frequently create a moist environment. Dairy based strains like Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium need to be refrigerated.
It’s important to look at the expiration date on the probiotic supplement. This is the manufacturer’s promise that the bacteria in the product will remain active and potent—at the levels specified on the label—until that date. Usually the expiration date is based on formulation and stability testing data, which means a company is paying attention to those matters. Be leery of purchasing products that don’t have an expiration date on a product label.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
Timing is everything, and in the case of probiotic supplements, how and when you take it is the difference between absorbing the “friendly bacteria” and wasting away an entire supplement. The common misconception is that the best time to take a probiotic is first thing in the morning and on an empty stomach (I thought this too at first!!). Probiotics are living organisms and very much like living organisms they need food, water and warmth to survive and multiply. Makes sense right?
The absolute best time to take probiotics is with your meal. Right before or just after the meal is best for getting the most out of our probiotics as the food acts as a buffering system for the supplement against the harsh environment of the stomach and ensures its safe passage through the digestive tract. Aside from protection, food also provides the friendly bacteria in your probiotic the proper nourishment to ensure it survives, grows and multiplies in your gut. Which is what we want! Let the good flourish :).
CHILDREN AND PROBIOTICS
Probiotic supplements are great for kids and babies. If you are giving probiotics to a baby under two years of age, you need to get specific strains that are better suited for such young microbiomes including: Lactobacillus rhamnosus, casei, paralisei, gasseri, salvarius. And for Bifidobacterium: infantis, bifidum, longum, breve, lactis. For breastfeeding mothers, you can put probiotics on your breast, or heat up formula and put probiotics in it, or wet your finger and dip it in probiotic powder and let your baby suck on your finger. Always be sure to consult your pediatrician first.
Good probiotic choices for children include:
- Bio-Kult Infantis
- Udo’s choice children’s blend probiotic
- ReNewLife Ultimate Flora Kids Probiotic
- Nature’s Way Primadophilus Children
SAFETY AND SIDE EFFECTS
The most common side effect is mild stomach problems, especially the first few days you start taking them. You might have stomach upset, gas, diarrhea, or bloating. Those symptoms usually go away after your body gets used to them.
If you have an immune system problem or another serious health condition, you may have a greater chance of issues. Some reports have linked probiotics to serious infections and other side effects. The people most likely to have trouble are those with immune system problems (ironically), people who’ve had surgery, and others who are critically ill. Don’t take probiotics if you have any of those issues without consulting your physician first.
PROBIOTICS AND ANIMALS
An increasing number of traditional vets, pet owners and caretakers are using probiotics to:
- Treat diarrhea
- Help cats and dogs in shelters manage the stress of abandonment and confinement
- Alleviate GI upset while pets are being boarded
- Reseed the gut with beneficial bacteria after a round of antibiotics
- Calm digestive upsets caused by travel and dietary changes
- Improve digestion and stool quality in large and giant breed dogs
- Boost immune system function, especially in pets that are very young, elderly, or have compromised health
When using products intended for pets, follow label suggestions for dosage. When using human products, give the full dosage to pets weighing 40 pounds or more. Reduce the dosage for smaller pets or if you see loose stools. Also, when using a human product – ensure the sweetener XYLITOL is not in the ingredients as this is very dangerous for your pet. Always be sure to consult your veterinarian first.
Top probiotic choices for pets:
- Doctors Foster & Smith Probiotic for cats and dogs (consumer lab approved)
- Purina’s Fortiflora (my personal favorite! And consumer lab approved. We call it ‘kitty and doggy crack’ at the clinic as pets love it 🙂 ) – the link I provided is for the canine version. If you are looking for the feline version, go here.
THE TAKE AWAY
Maintaining a healthy gut is about more than taking a probiotic supplement. Living an active lifestyle and diet are just as important since many lifestyle factors impact your gut bacteria.
However, probiotic supplements offer a wide range of benefits with few side effects — so if you’re interested in improving gut health, probiotics may be worth trying. I personally feel as probiotics have greatly improved my digestion and immune health.