The Importance of Probiotics (Part 2)
“The Importance of Probiotics” is a series of three articles on why probiotics support a healthy gut, how to incorporate them into your diet, as well as a no-nonsense shopping guide. This is the second installment, which delves into the probiotics and prebiotics consumer guide.
Not all probiotics are created equal. Just like there’s a quality difference in a McDonald’s hamburger compared to a grass-fed burger from Wholly Cow Burger, there’s a quality difference in various probiotics on shelves.
A true probiotic, designed by nature, is a species found in our environment, as well as in our digestive system. Unfortunately, approximately 95 percent of probiotic products on shelves today do not meet these criteria. Yes, this includes the yogurts that claim they have probiotics. In actuality, you’d have to eat about 25 servings of that one yogurt to get the probiotics they claim. Many probiotics sold in stores (as well as food sources of probiotics) are simply watered down versions of the “real deal,” and if anything, a waste of your money. Get the quality bang for your buck and your bod with these quick-hit shopping tips:
1) Lactic-Acid Bacteria Probiotics
Lactic-acid bacteria is the most common type of probiotic people take—since it is found in the vast majority of supplements on shelves. It is also the type of bacteria found in fermented foods, like sauerkraut, kombucha, fermented veggies and some quality pharmaceutical grade probiotics.
2) Broad-Spectrum Soil-based or Spore-Based Probiotics
Soil-based and spore-based organisms are a “newer evolution” of probiotics consisting of soil-based or spore-forming strains of bacteria found in nutrient-rich soil. Soil-based bacteria (SBOs) have the ability to “seed” the digestive tract with bacteria that will flourish and support a balanced microbiome overall. Unlike other probiotics not derived from soil, soil-based and spore-based probiotics are generally well-tolerated by most people, and are very stable (i.e. they don’t need any special coatings or preservatives to ensure a clinically relevant amount reaches the appropriate areas of the gut).
I often recommend soil-based organisms because of their superior tolerability and colonization of the G.I. tract, coupled with food sources (fermented foods) to consume a variety of lactic acid bacteria. Win-win.
Look for this on the label:
The list and names of probiotic strains. If the specific names of the strains of probiotics are NOT listed on the label (i.e. it just says “live organisms), steer clear. As for the “top” probiotic superstars, strains names to look out for these names on your bottle:
- Soil-based Organisms (with strains listed on it)
- Lactic Acid Bacteria (especially with Saccharomyces boulardii, and possibly Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Bifidobacterium bifidum, Bifidobacterium breve, Lactobacillus plantarum,and/or Bifidobacteria infantis)
- Fermented Foods with “live and active cultures”
- Probiotic “CFU” Count: CFU stands for “colony forming units” and is used to quantify how many bacteria you will receive per dose. Probiotics come in varied “CFU counts”—anywhere from one billion CFUs to 100-billion (or more) CFUs. Generally speaking, the higher the CFU, the more likely more (healthy) bacteria are to house in your gut. CFU count is most important to consider in lactic acid bacteria supplements. Look for a potency count (CFUs or “colony forming units”) of 50 billion or higher.
Paying $10 to $20 for your probiotic? Chances are, you’re not getting the real deal. Remember, you get what you pay for. While this doesn't have to mean going for the most expensive variety, it does mean that the majority of varieties sold on shelves at H-E-B or Nutrishop may not be worth your dollars.
Mix It Up
Variety is the spice of life and probiotics are like snowflakes—no two are alike. They contain hundreds and billions of different strands that can be beneficial for the sake of all-around gut microbiome balance. Just like your body would miss out on multiple nutrients if you were to eat only eggs everyday for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day as your protein source, the same goes for the bacteria you feed your gut. Every one to three months, rotate your top brands of probiotics to keep your body guessing.
Any time you start a new probiotic, it’s typically best to introduce it gradually to your body, as there is often a “healing” or even “die off” reaction that can be experienced—sometimes making your body feel worse before it feels better. (This is a good sign though.) With whatever formula you choose, consider dosing up by starting with one capsule every other day, then progressing to one capsule daily the next week, then on to upwards of two doses of probiotic supplements daily, along with fermented foods.