Last week I was interviewed for an article on probiotics and gut health. Most of the questions focused on finding the probiotic that's right for you. The answer lies in the research. Read on to learn more.
Beneficial microbes have been shown to regulate the immune system, enhance digestive function, and reduce inflammation so it’s no surprise they’ve been linked to benefiting a variety of health conditions.
Most of the traditional uses of probiotics are for digestive issues, including reducing diarrhea secondary to GI infections, travel, and antibiotics; irritable bowel syndrome; ulcerative colitis; constipation; and H. pylori.
Non-traditional or novel uses refer to conditions beyond the gastrointestinal tract, including anxiety, depression, improved glucose control, weight loss, cancer prevention, kidney stones, fatty liver, dental health and more!
Which probiotics (strains) do you recommend, and for which conditions?
“Strain” is the key word. Probiotic benefits tend to be strain-specific so research performed on one strain cannot be applied to other strains within the same species. There is no one size fits all probiotic.
For antibiotic-associated diarrhea and Clostridium difficile associated diarrhea, I typically recommend Lactobacillus rhamnosis GG or Saccharomyces boulardii.
For ulcerative colitis and pouchitis, I often suggest VSL#3, which is a multi-strain probiotic.
For other gastrointestinal conditions and general health, I usually start with a broad spectrum combination probiotic with a variety of microbial species and strains with over five billion microorganisms. Products containing more than one organism offer a greater chance of success compared to single strain products.
How do probiotics found in health foods stores compare with the “big brands” such as Align and Culturelle?
Regardless of where you buy your probiotics, quality control is always an issue with over-the-counter supplements. Consumers are urged to select products that have been researched and tested by third-parties.
Isn't it true that shelf-stable probiotics are only shelf-stable in a lab, at a certain temperature?
Not necessarily. Probiotics can be shelf stable under normal storage conditions, but you should check to make sure the product was tested and certified to contain the dosage of live bacteria stated on the label. Look for labels that say “alive through expiration date.”
Are probiotics found naturally in foods just as effective as probiotic supplements?
They can be. Many people assume probiotic supplements are superior to foods but that’s not always the case. Many fermented foods with live active cultures contain prebiotics, which help nourish the beneficial microbes. Plus, fermented foods, such as yogurt, provide an optimal environment for microbes to thrive thereby enhancing their survival.
However, not all fermented foods are good sources of live bacteria. For example, many commercial yogurts do not contain a therapeutic dose of beneficial bacteria, and most of our fermented vegetables are pasteurized thereby destroying the good bugs.
In addition, fermented foods do not offer strain-specific microbes so they can’t be trusted for specific healing effects like carefully designed probiotic supplements containing distinct strains with specific clinical outcomes.
How does the delivery of probiotics in a powder compare to the delivery in probiotics in a supplement (the powder is to address stomach lining issues, right?)?
In order for probiotics to be effective, they must be able to survive passage through the gut, which offers a variety of challenges, including stomach acid and the action of bile salts. Powders, capsules and other modes of delivery can accomplish this feat provided they’re designed to do so and contain microbial strains and species equipped for these challenges.