The term probiotic has become a popular ‘buzz’ word with research touting how these beneficial bacteria and yeasts may improve a number of conditions from immune function to gut health and more. Probiotics can help keep disease-causing microbes at bay, play a role in immunity, break down certain food components, and synthesize specific nutrients. They work through several mechanisms and the beneficial effects are based on the strain used and the dosage.
So how do you know which one is right for you? There are many sources of probiotics. Whether you take probiotics as a supplement (tablet, capsule, powder, or liquid), or in food (yogurt, soy, miso, tempeh, kimchi, sauerkraut, dairy-buttermilk, cheese, kefit), these are the criteria that should be considered.
1.Probiotic strain: There are many strains, therefore it is important to match the specific strain with your condition.
- Align brand probiotic supplement contains Bifidobacterium infantis 35624, which has been shown to reduce symptoms such as bloating, cramping and stool frequency in those with irritable bowel syndrome.
- Bio-K+ supplement contains both Lactobacillus acidophilus CL 1285 and L casei which have been clinically shown to lower the incidence of antibiotic-associated diahrrea (AAD).
- Culturelle supplement contains Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG ATCC 53103 which has been shown to reduce the severity and duration of acute infectious diahrrea and antibiotic-associated diahrrea in both children and adults.
- Florastor supplement contains a yeast called Saccharomyces boulardii which may be effective in preventing antibiotic-associated diahrrea and traveler’s diahrrea in children and adults.
- Mutaflor supplements contain E coli Nissle 1917, which can act as an anti-inflammatory for those suffering from colitis.
- VSL#3 is a probiotic medical food that contains 8 different strains of bacteria: Lactobacillus paracasei, L plantarum, L acidophilus, L delbrueckii subsp. Bulgaricus, Bifodobacterium longum, B breve, B infantis, and Streptococcus thermophilus. It is available in pediatric and adult powder packets, double-strength powder packets (available by prescription), and adult capsules. In multiple studies, VSL #3 has been shown to be effective in alleviating symptoms of IBS, ulcerative colitis, and pouchitis.
- The strains: bifobacteria and lactobacillus rhamnosus have been noted to have a positive effect on: ezcema, food allergy development, and progression. More research is needed, however, to truly understand the effects of how these strains and potentially others may play a role in the area of food allergies.
2.Quality and Quantity: Probiotics can be effective at varying strengths. Scientific studies have determined health benefits from 50 million to more than 1 trillion CFUs per day. A probiotic with higher colony forming units (CFUs) doesn’t necessarily equal better quality or effectiveness. Choosing a supplement with CFUs in the billions can be effective over a short-term period, however, dietary choices are best as a long-term option.
3.Proof of effectiveness: It is worthwhile to do some research about the probiotic supplement that you are selecting. It must be tested and shown to be effective for the particular condition that you are experiencing. Contact and website information should be on the label.
4. Package information: The strain, quantity of CFUs, serving size, health benefits, proper storage conditions, expiration dates, and contact information should all be on a label.
Probiotics can offer a safe and effective way for individuals to restore the natural balance of their digestive systems, especially those suffering from constipation, diahrrea, abdominal discomfort, urgency, gas, and bloating. Be sure to spend some time doing your research before you take a supplement as you will want to consider all of the above criteria in addition to the potential for cross-contamination with allergens that you might need to avoid.