How To Choose the Best Probiotic Supplement
Probiotics are one of the newest and most popular additions to the health food world. That being said, it can be overwhelming to try and pick one off the shelf when there are so many different strains and varieties available. In this article, we’ll take you through the basics of probiotics and what you need to know to choose the best probiotic supplement for you.
What are probiotics?
At the most basic level, probiotics are “good” bacteria that you can ingest through foods, drinks, or supplements which help out the naturally occurring “good” bacteria in your gut.
Oftentimes, probiotics are found in fermented foods. Starting at birth, the bacteria in your gut begin to multiply through a process known as colonization and continue to develop to build a healthy microbiome in your gut. In order to give those bacteria a boost, you can consume probiotics that help maintain you maintain a healthy bacterial equilibrium and fight off “bad” bacteria.
It’s important not to confuse probiotics with prebiotics, which are the food source for the bacteria in your gut. Prebiotics are often fibers that cannot be digested and therefore pass through your system to your gut where they are consumed by the bacteria.
What are the different probiotic strains?
Although “probiotic” is the umbrella term for these beneficial bacteria, there are several strains of prebiotics that you should know about. Usually, you can buy prebiotic supplements in powder, tablet, or capsule form. The form of prebiotic doesn’t matter, but the strain of bacteria contained inside the powder or capsule does.
When you turn your supplement packaging around to read the ingredient list, you’ll likely be looking at a list of unrecognizable words that seem almost impossible to pronounce. For this reason, we’re going to take a look at the three main families of bacteria that you’ll encounter: Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Saccharomyces (it’s worth noting that this is actually a type of yeast, not a bacteria like the previous two).
Lactobacillus bacteria are “good” bacteria that live in your small intestine and support both your digestive and immune systems. The small intestine is the part of your digestive system that comes after the stomach.
Although there are several species of Lactobacillus, the most beneficial ones are L. acidophilus, L. plantarum, and L. paracasei. The benefits of these types of probiotic bacteria are wide ranging. Studies have shown that consuming Lactobacillus can help regulate gut inflammation, improve the symptoms of occasional bloating and diarrhea induced by antibiotics, and can even make you feel more relaxed via the gut-brain axis.
Bacteria that belong to the Bifidobacteria family live, for the most part, in your colon and large intestine. If you’re looking to take a Bifidobacteria supplement, the most beneficial strains are proven to be B. lactis and B. longum.
The Bifidobacteria that live in your body produce a short-chain fatty acid known as butyrate. This important acid serves as an energy source for your colon cells and is absorbed by the body with the aim of regulating metabolic processes. When butyrate is absorbed, it can help regulate your sensitivity to insulin and memory formation (again, the gut-brain axis at work!). Taking Bifidobacteria supplements will help the naturally occuring Bifidobacteria to perform these tasks and has been proved to help control food intake and body mass.
Saccharomyces is a beneficial yeast that can support your gut lining. This additional support can help counteract the negative effects of antibiotics which sometimes lead to leaky gut syndrome. Saccharomyces can also fight off unhealthy yeast that may be living in your gut and causing disturbances.
Tips for Choosing the Best Prebiotic
Now that we’ve taken a look at the most common bacteria and yeast contained in probiotics, let’s dive into some tips for choosing the best probiotic for you!
Look for Supplements with Multiple Bacterial or Yeast Strains
Given that your gut microbiome contains a wide variety of bacterial and yeast strains, it’s a good idea to take supplements with a diverse array of prebiotics.
For the most part, brands that are less reputable will sell supplements with only one strain of bacteria. You can see how many strains are included in the supplement, and what those strains are, by reading the packing carefully.
Prebiotic Supplement Dosage
Each prebiotic supplement is measured in CFUs, which stands for Colony Forming Units. Although the amount of CFUs you want in your probiotic supplement varies depending on the bacteria or yeast and your intended use, a good rule of thumb is to look for products with at least 1 billion CFUs.
It’s a good idea to start with a lower dose of CFUs and gradually increase as you feel necessary if your body is reacting well to the current dose.
Check the Verbiage on the Label
Another trick to use when looking for a high-quality supplement, is to make sure the packing says the strains of bacteria or yeast will be live at the time of use, not the time of packaging.
Given that these microorganisms need to be packaged and preserved in specific environments to stay alive, it is important to look for brands that have taken measures to keep the microorganisms alive.
How can I tell which probiotics are high-quality?
Given that probiotic supplements do not have to be as meticulously reviewed and approved by the FDA the same way drugs do, it’s really important to make sure you are buying high-quality supplements.
The microorganisms living inside probiotic supplements need to be stored and packed correctly so that they survive long enough to make it to your gut. It’s a good idea to look for prebiotic supplements that use bioshield capsules. This type of encasement is more likely to be able to survive the stomach acid to make it to the intestine.
It’s also important to buy from professional brands that are endorsed by healthcare professionals and allow their products to be tested by third-party researchers.
A good way to ensure the quality of your supplement is to ask your doctor for brand recommendations. It’s also a good idea to avoid buying prebiotics supplements in bulk or at a bargain price because it is likely that the microorganisms will be dead in these supplements by the time you get to them, rendering them useless.
Side Effects of Prebiotic Supplements
Of course, the most important side effect of prebiotic supplements is that they improve your gut health and give your immune system a boost. That being said, given that everybody is different, it is possible to have a negative reaction to a prebiotic supplement if it is not the right one for you.
The most common sign that the supplement you’re taking is not right for your body is if you experience bloating after ingesting the prebiotic and increased symptoms of bowel disturbance.
If either of these occur, stop taking the probiotic and look for a new strain that will be more compatible with your gut.
Probiotic supplements can work wonders on your body if you choose the right one. Given that they are so many available, picking the right one can seem like an overwhelming task.
However, you can easily find the right supplement for you by paying attention to the bacterial strain or strains contained in the supplement, reading the packing carefully, and consulting your doctor.
Once you find the right supplement for you, taking it regularly can improve your digestive system, immune system, and your overall health.
Plus, if starting off with a supplement is a little intimidating, you can always start off with a delicious probiotic drink to get you on the path to better gut health, one can at a time!