If incorporating probiotic-rich foods and drinks isn’t feasible for you, or you prefer the certainty that comes with a controlled dose, taking a good-quality probiotic supplement is a fantastic way to ensure you meet your goal of eating a serving of probiotics each day.
Standing in front of a shelfful of options, however, can feel a bit daunting. What strains should you be looking for? What’s the difference between 10 billion cultures and 50 billion? And how much do you really need?
Today we walk you through Probiotic Supplements 101, and help you choose one that’s best for you.
Number of Live Cultures
The number of live bacterial cultures in a supplement can vary wildly and is also one of the most important factors determining a pill’s price.
Most probiotics will list the amount of live bacterial cultures right on the supplement label, and while it may seem like overkill, Dr Vincent Pedre, bestselling author of Happy Gut, recommends that those just starting to take probiotic supplements choose one with a live bacterial culture numbering in the low billions.
“Millions sounds like a lot, but not with probiotic supplements,” he explains. “You want one that contains billions of organisms. A probiotic dose will range from 5 to 100 billion colony-forming units (CFUs), the measure used to express its potency. Start low and increase as tolerated.”
It’s not only how many cultures are present in a probiotic that determines its efficacy, however. The kinds of cultures in a supplement also matter.
Types of Live Cultures
There are a few different types of probiotic strains, and choosing a supplement which contains just one can result in a gut biome lacking diversity. Ideally, you’d want a combination several different strains.
There are many different strains of beneficial bacteria, but the most popular can be grouped into in three main types of probiotic: Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Saccharomyces boulardii.
Dr Pedre explains the characteristics of each group:
“Lactobacillus: Lactobacillus predominantly live in your small bowel (the portion of your gut that follows the stomach). Probiotics containing Lactobacillus sp. help to repopulate the small intestine with friendly organisms that aid in supporting digestion and immune function. The most beneficial are L. acidophilus, L. plantarum, and L. paracasei.
Bifidobacteria: The Bifidobacteria (Bifidus) predominantly live in your colon or large intestine. They produce the very important short-chain fatty acid butyrate, which supplies energy to your colon cells to keep them functioning optimally. But butyrate also gets absorbed by the body, regulating a variety of metabolic processes, including your sensitivity to the hormone insulin (which regulates blood sugar) and even memory formation in the brain. The most beneficial of these are B. lactis and B. longum.
Saccharomyces: Saccharomyces is a friendly yeast that can be given concomitantly with antibiotics, in order to protect the gut lining from the effects of antibiotic-induced dysbiosis leading to leaky gut syndrome. S. boulardii can also outcompete other unfriendly yeast that may be cohabitating in the gut.”
An ideal probiotic would combine strains from each of these groups and would list the number of unique strains on the label. Choose a probiotic with several different strains to ensure proper diversity.
Different manufacturers recommend following different protocols when handling and storing their probiotics. Read the bottle and/or instructions carefully to make sure you’re treating your probiotics properly. Remember they’re living creatures and improper handling could result in culture die-off, meaning that the supplement could be full of lifeless bacteria which wouldn’t be able to benefit you in any way.
Some probiotics require refrigeration and most have an expiration date, so pay attention to both when choosing a probiotic.
The payoff for taking probiotics can be huge – including better heart health, improved digestion, and clearer skin. So, while it may feel overwhelming when you’re trying to figure out how to get a serving of probiotics each day, the benefits are well worth it!
Whether it’s a bowl full of kimchi or a probiotic supplement, adding friendly gut-bacteria to your daily diet goes a long way to improving your physical and mental wellbeing. Who knew that bacteria could be so good for you?