There is a lot of information out there on probiotics.  First, a probiotic contains beneficial bacteria and yeast.  We need these bugs on board to help a multitude of functions including proper bowel function.  However, probiotics reach far beyond the gut. Did you know they are also good for the brain, the urinary tract, preventing bone loss and so much more.

Good bacteria may be found in fermented foods (krauts, kefir, kombucha & miso), yogurts and dietary supplements.  Be careful with the yogurts because the strains they often use streptococcus thermophilous and lactobacillus bulgaricus and these strains don’t usually survive the stomach acid so choose a different brand.

Even regular grocery stores sale a multitude of brands which can make choosing the right probiotic difficult.  There are different probiotics that help promote different functions, too.

READ ON to learn more about these beneficial good guys and 5 tips in choosing a probiotic…

Before I jump into probiotics I want to share a brief tidbit on prebiotics.  What are prebiotics?  A prebiotic is a nondigestible food component that may help stimulate the growth or activity of certain microorganisms. These are good to help feed your own good bacterial flora.   Dietary sources of prebiotics include beans, legumes, onions, leeks, artichokes as well as supplements.  If you have small bowel overgrowth or yeast overgrowth prebiotics might make your condition worse.

There are many studies looking at the beneficial effects of probiotics in the following conditions…

  • Postmenopausal bone loss
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Chronic pelvic pain
  • Bacterial vaginosis
  • Decreasing antibiotic induced diarrhea
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Obesity
  • And many more!!

The main players include Lactobacillus and Bifidobacter. I consider these two to be the gate keeper and help monitor all of the other bacteria present in the gut.  When these are low then things go astray.  Here are some examples of the use of different strains for different conditions:

  • Studies have shown Lactobacillus GG is beneficial for infants and children who are recovering from diarrhea episodes.
  • Lactobacillus species may be helpful with bacterial vaginosis in women.
  • Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes ratio is increased in obesity and will lower with weight loss.
  •     Lactobacillus reuteri and rhamnosus may be helpful with urinary tract infections/interstitial cystitis.
  • Lactobacillus rhamnosus may help reduce pain in children with IBS.
  • Lactobacillus reuteri may help suppress bone resorption and bone loss associated with menopause.
  • Saccharomyces boulardii may be protective against antibiotic induced diarrhea in adults.  (just don’t take them at the same dose and extend the probiotic for about one week after the antibiotic stops).

Choosing a probiotic

  1. Choose a probiotic for the condition you are needing help with. If you don’t know then choose a combination product with lactobacillus and bifidobacter.
  2. Choose one with a high CFU count. This ideally should be 30 billion or higher.
  3. Choose a multi-strain product. While it is ok to take just saccharomyces boulardii while on an antibiotic,  you really want to add diversity so choose one with several different strains.
  4. Look for products that do NOT need to be refrigerated. This is for several reasons.
    1.      You will remember to take them when you can have them in full sight and not hidden behind the milk jug.
    2. When products require refrigeration it typically means the bacteria/yeast don’t play friendly with each other and when you cool the products they don’t react as much.
    3. While refrigerated products do extend the shelf life you really don’t want to be hanging on to the same bottle for years because the viability of the organisms will decrease.
  5. Just because you take a probiotic doesn’t mean your stomach acid won’t kill off everything before it has the chance to work.  We have come a long way in this category as you used to have to take only delayed release capsules which are good to bypass the stomach.  Many companies have invested a lot of money and research in making sure their products reach the small intestine without being killed by the stomach acid so choose a reputable brand.
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When I recommend probiotics, I choose different colony counts based on the condition as well as the organisms.  If you are taking a probiotic just for general gut health then the lower colony counts (30 billion) may be appropriate but when we need good colonization with some major issues then I go higher and with inflammatory bowel conditions I may even go up to 900 billion.  Don’t take this high of a dose without a physician’s supervision or guidance though!

Are there any downsides to probiotics?

You might experience a change in bowel habits or have increased gas.  This is usually a sign that the probiotic is working.  Sometimes to eliminate the severity of these issues you may have to start with a few million colony counts or try different strains and then work up slowly.

If you take a single strain then you risk an overgrowth with that strain.  There have been reports in the literature with overgrowths from lactobacillus as well as saccharomyces when taken in high quantities for a long period of time.  This is why multi-strain products are preferred.

To your health,