I thought I’d provide you with a GUIDE TO PROBIOTICS as it’s something I get asked about a lot.
As many of you know from my previous blog posts, I am a huge advocate of “gut health”. I truly believe that taking care of your gut, and the friendly bacteria that reside there, may be one of the single most important things you can do for your health. Over the past few years I’ve been trying to introduce my family and friends to fermented foods as well as getting them to commit to taking a daily probiotic. I started looking after my gut as soon as I came across research highlighting the significant role that gut bacteria (or the microbiome) has in supporting the immune system – along with much broader benefits for general health and wellbeing. I was also fascinated to learn about the potential role certain strains of bacteria seem to have in boosting Anti PD1 (my specific cancer treatment). Pretty amazing, right?
Which Probiotic To Pick?
It can be a little daunting choosing a probiotic when you are staring at rows upon rows of probiotics in a health food shop. You’ll notice that some are kept in the fridge, some not, some are incredibly expensive, and some much cheaper. Then there are the varying CFU numbers and bizarre sounding names of bacteria to consider. In order to decide on which probiotic to buy, it’s important to remember that the whole point of taking a probiotic supplement is to introduce beneficial bacteria into your gut. The problem is that even if you remember to take a probiotic everyday, if you aren’t taking a good quality one, then there is pretty much zero chance that it will actually make a difference to the type and amount of bacteria in your gut.
There are several key things to look out for when choosing a probiotic:
▸ Check whether it has an acid proof delivery system. It is crucial that the contents of the capsule actually arrive (alive) in the gut (rather than being destroyed by the stomach acid).
▸ Check that it includes the key strains Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium – these two strains are most likely to survive the acidic environment of the stomach. There are many different species within each group, and each species has many strains. Interestingly, different probiotics seem to work for different health conditions. Therefore, choosing the right type (or types) of probiotic is essential.
▸ Check the number of different strains of bacteria the capsule contains. Five strains are generally enough – and one school of thought is that too many strains can create negative competition in the gut. The ones to look out for include: Lactobaccilus plantarum, Lactobaccilus acidophilus, Lactobaccilus brevis, Bifidobacterium lactis and Bifidobacterium longum.
▸ Check the number of CFU (colony forming units) per dose. The most effective doses are over 50 billion CFU; however, 10-20 billion is generally thought to be sufficient for general health, whereas up to 50 billion may be needed for replacement (e.g after diarrhoea or antibiotic use – or if you are trying to help boost your cancer treatment like me).
▸ Check whether the probiotic needs to be kept in the fridge. Probiotics are living microorganisms and can degrade if not stored appropriately.
Are There Any Side Effects?
Probiotics are generally well tolerated and considered safe for most people. However, in the first few days, you may experience side effects related to digestion. This includes gas and mild abdominal discomfort. After this initial adaptation period is over, your digestion should be better than it was before. If you have any serious medical conditions or take any regular medication, definitely consult with your doctor before introducing a probiotic.
Brands To Look Out For:
Ultimate Flora – In my opinion Renew Life’s Ultimate Flora is a great option when you consider its price and CFU count.
Udo’s Choice Adult’s Blend – This is another brand I sometimes use as it isn’t too expensive and is synonymous with quality. This is a thorough probiotic supplement. It has diversity and a large CFU count, (particularly for the Lactobacillus casei). This will certainly strengthen your gut!
Bio-Kult – Cheaper than other options and can be stored at room temperature. It also has the most diverse probiotic supplement that I’ve come across (14 strains). The main concern is that the CFU count is quite low for such a large variety of bacteria, which raises the concern that the count might be quite low at time of consumption, meaning colonisation of the intestines will be difficult for all species. Ideally, you want a minimum of 1 billion of each.
Viridian Symbiotic 40+ – This is a high potency probiotic of 6 billion bacteria.
Symprove – This is a liquid supplement that you keep in the fridge. It contains four strains of “live active bacteria”. I haven’t yet tried it but I am planning on buying it soon. Studies that I have read suggest that it’s bio-availablily is greater than that of other probiotics. A recent study also suggested a greater amount of bacteria actually make it to the gut.
Why not just eat yoghurt instead?
As you know I’m not a huge fan of taking loads of supplements, preferring to get my nutrients from food whenever possible. Probiotic foods include yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh and kimchi. Eating these food items can potentially help support gut health. However, compared to quality probiotic supplements, the actual numbers of live organisms you’re likely to successfully get from them will be minute. That doesn’t mean these foods aren’t a valuable addition to any diet; far from it – just make sure you are taking a probiotic too.
Take Home Message
Maintaining a healthy gut goes way beyond just taking a probiotic supplement. What you do from day to day is just as important. All sorts of lifestyle factors, especially the foods you eat, have been shown to affect the gut bacteria. Living a healthy lifestyle, getting enough sleep and eating real food with lots of fibre is also really important for good gut health.