We all know we should be taking probiotics. Thanks to our brain-gut axis, the bacteria in our guts control practically every aspect of our wellbeing: our cravings, our moods, our weight, even our mental clarity.
It’s no coincidence that the Latin root of the word ‘probiotic’ translates to ‘for life’. Our health relies heavily on a thriving internal ecosystem of friendly bacteria. Taking a daily supplement to ensure your colonies are healthy seems like a no-brainer.
GUIDE TO CHOOSING THE BEST PROBIOTIC SUPPLEMENT
There are so many different probiotics on the market! And each of them contains vastly different strains in different amounts. Some need to be refrigerated, some don’t. Some contain dairy and other additives. But which one is the best probiotic supplement for you?!
Here is a handy basic guide to help you whittle your options down.
KNOW YOUR PROBIOTIC STRAINS
There are a lot of different strains of probiotics, but generally, you’ll encounter various strains of Lactobacillus (such as L. acidophilus, L. plantarum, and L. paracasei), Bifidobacteria (such as B. lactis and B. longum), and friendly yeasts known as Saccharomyces (like S. boulardii).
You want to encourage all strains of good bacteria, so just taking an acidophilus supplement isn’t going to make much of a difference. Each strain of bacteria interacts with the body in a different way. Here are some basics:
Lactobacillus are excellent for reducing gut inflammation, particularly in the small intestine. In general, these strains are most beneficial for regulating digestion and immune function. One strain, known as L. rhamnosus, may actually help reduce anxiety and depression.
Bifidobacteria primarily reside in the colon and large intestine. These bacteria not only create energy (in the form of the powerful fatty acid butyrate) to fuel colon cells, but that produced butyrate also beneficially impacts insulin sensitivity, metabolic function, body mass, and even memory.
Saccharomyces are a friendly form of yeast that can actually help to protect the lining of the gut from the harmful effects of antibiotics and prevent leaky gut. If you struggle with yeast overgrowth like Candida, these strains of yeast can actually outcompete more harmful organisms and push them out of your system.
Finding a probiotic supplement with lots of strain diversity can help promote balance throughout your entire digestive system, rather than just a portion of it, so the more diversity the better.
KNOW YOUR PROBIOTIC STRAINS
Always opt for a supplement with billions of colony-forming units (CFUs), rather than millions. The colony count of a probiotic supplement is conducted at the time of bottling, so it may not be reflective of what is actually inside the bottle. You have no idea how many colonies may have died out since bottling. Going for the billions ensures that you get a hearty dose of bacteria for your buck. However, keep in mind that more isn’t always best.
You may be unable to tolerate a probiotic with 100 billion CFUs from the start (a big bacterial introduction like that could cause lots of bloating and diarrhea), so ease your body in with a lower dose of five to 30 billion CFUs and, if you tolerate it well, consider working up from there. (Those with inflammatory gut issues like colitis or IBS may want to consider upping their dose to as high as 400 billion CFUs, but always get professional advice first.)
CHECK OUT THE INACTIVE INGREDIENTS.
This is where potential nasties could be hidden. Look for soy and dairy ingredients here, particularly if you are sensitive.
Even if you think you can tolerate dairy, it may be causing unknown inflammation in your gut on a cellular level. It’s best to avoid any potential allergens (like dairy and soy) in your probiotics, whether you have sensitivities or not. Generally, professional-quality probiotics are free of potential allergens, so use that as a guide.
Also check the expiration date and storage recommendations while you’re looking. If you are buying a bottle that recommends refrigeration, but it’s sitting on a store shelf at room temperature, that’s a major red flag. Don’t buy it. Make sure you only shop for professional-quality probiotics from reputable retailers to ensure proper handling and the best quality product.
Buying a new probiotic can seem pretty overwhelming, but by using this basic criteria, you should be able to whittle your way through the supplement aisle and come to a decision as to which is the best probiotic supplement for you.