Choosing the right probiotic can be challenge, the goal of this article is to layout some practical rules to follow so that you choose a probiotic that will actually work for you!
Whether you are shopping in a local health food store or ordering online, there are a few easy things that you can watch for that will make it easier to choose the right probiotic for you. Many probiotics guarantee their potency at time of manufacturing, this is a big red flag. You want to make sure that the product is ensuring its potency through the entire shelf life. This is very important, it is the difference of having a product that is efficacious or a product that is literally dead and ineffective. This alone will eliminate about half of your probiotic options.
Choosing a probiotic with sufficient potency is also important. Probiotics are measured in Colony Forming Units or CFU. On average you want to be taking 10 Billion CFU per day. Products with less the 10 Billion CFU are hard to take seriously. Yogurt is literally a joke as far as being an effective dose of probiotics. You want a probiotic supplement that identifies the strains individually, meaning that the potency is designated for each strain and not in a proprietary blend. Many probiotics will have 10-30 strains of bacteria and they just list the total amount of CFU or milligrams. At first this might seem like great biodiversity but the problem is that not all strains are equally effective. With a propriety blend you don't know how much of any one given strain you’re actually getting or how effective that specific strain really is. Furthermore, some strains can have adverse effects on each other! The probiotic strain Lactobacillus plantarum and many Bifidobacteria actually counter act one another. Both types of probiotic strains are beneficial but should not be encapsulated together or taken at the exact same time. Typically Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria work synergistically but the Plantarum strain is exceptionally powerful and works against the Bifido strains so it is important to separate. Later on I touch on this again when discussing the importance of Probiotic Rotation.
To ensure that you are getting a product that contains superior probiotic strains, choose a probiotic that lists the strain designation. This is a little code following the scientific name of the probiotic strain. For example BL - 04 is the strain designation for the bacterium: Bifidobacterium lactis. When you designate strains this way you can easily check on scientific research and clinical studies. A probiotic should have the strain designation listed so that the consumer can go to Google and look up that specific strain.
The next thing that you want to watch out for is that the company has some sort of transparency or product verification. This is very VERY important! Some companies have very limited transparency so focus on companies that disclose important information like laboratory testing for potency, purity and for lactic acid production (which is the work that probiotics do). There are companies that actually have this information for you available online to be viewed on every single batch that is produced. This feature is highly recommended.
Make sure that your probiotic has some sort of acid proof of delivery. Probiotics are very susceptible to the harsh environment in the acidic stomach. Most probiotics will have some sort of Acid Proof protection, however they're not all created equal. You would preferably want a probiotic that utilizes natural sodium alginate as the delivery mechanism. It is very effective at not only getting the probiotics through the stomach acid, but also delivers them deep into the digestive tract. Deep Release capsules (DR Caps) are common and are sufficient in getting through the stomach but not for deep release into the digestive tract. You want to stay away from enteric-coated probiotics, any type of varnish or sealed coating may not be natural and may actually hinder the effectiveness of the probiotics by locking in moisture. Sodium alginate is important because it keeps the probiotics together after they get through the stomach and the duodenum. It then starts to paint the lining of the digestive tract where there is 30 feet of microvilli and colonocytes which need to be effectively colonized. The probiotics that have this type of delivery work the best at bringing desired results.
You also want a probiotic that contains a prebiotic. For example, oleic acid and sunflower lecithin works amazingly to rehydrate the freeze-dried probiotic cells while also providing key nutrients. This wakes up and stimulates the probiotic strains into action, allowing them to proliferate. The prebiotic FOS (fructooligiosaccerides) is most commonly found in probiotics, however the problem is an effective dose is 4 grams and this cannot be fit into a capsule. Therefore any probiotic claiming to have FOS as their active prebiotic is inaccurate and is only there for window dressing. Furthermore, if you were to take an effective dose, it can cause bloating and digestive discomfort, which are the opposite results that you would want when taking digestive health products.
Probiotic rotation is also important and can be used to alternate between probiotics that contain different types of strains that work in unique ways. This is a great way to pulsate your probiotic intake and provide compatible biodiversity. If you are looking for one general probiotic, it is recommended to find one that has a good balance of Lactobacillus strains and Bifidobacterium strains (just be sure that Lactobacillus plantarum is not mixed with the Bifidobacteria). This probiotic should also have acid proof protection, prebiotic stimulation, patented technology and available online test results.
When looking for a probiotic that can be used to combat problematic yeast or constipation, consider one that contains: Lactobacillus plantarum, Bacillus coagulans as well as the enzyme beta-glucanase. This type of product can work to help eliminate large and evasive yeast cells and also has bio-cleansing effects that can help loosen bowel movements and relieve constipation.
When choosing a probiotic, quality packaging is essential. Cheap white plastic bottles have poor stability and can actually degrade the probiotics before you ever take them. Look for amber glass bottles preferably ones that have had been nitrogen flushed and contain moisture and oxygen absorption packets. The types of companies that utilize these extra efforts show that they understand how to best deliver the potency through the entire shelf life. Probiotics will not spoil like a gallon of milk or a carton of eggs but it is still important to refrigerate them whenever possible. Therefore, it is important to look for a probiotic that requires refrigeration because many of the most clinically studied and scientifically researched strains require refrigeration (with the exception of the strain Bacillus coagulans).
You want to find a probiotic supplement that is fully transparent with their allergen information. In a day and age when the consumer deserves the right to know that what they are taking is exactly what's on the label, it is important that you hold companies accountable for this. Look on the back panel, read the allergen statement and feel free to contact the company and ask for proof that it is non GMO or that it doesn't contain dairy, etc. Any reputable company should be able to provide this information and accommodate your questions and concerns.
It is also important to understand that you can boost a probiotic’s effectiveness by improving the internal probiotic culture (IPC) in your digestive tract. This can be done with the supplementation of digestive enzymes as well as prebiotic fiber. When selecting a digestive enzyme it is important to look for plant based enzymes like bromelain, papain, and cellulase. It is also essential to find an enzyme that works on all major food groups. Lipase is a very expensive enzyme but it is very effective at emulsifying fat which allows all the other enzymes to work better. Digestive enzymes release key nutrients for probiotics by breaking down food in the digestive tract. Look for an enzyme that has deep release function allowing the enzymes to work deep into the G.I. tract. Enzymes are great at working synergistically with probiotics and can help relieve bloating and discomfort associated with certain meals.
Another great way to boost a probiotic’s effectiveness is by taking a soluble prebiotic fiber. Choose a prebiotic soluble fiber that will help stimulate the beneficial probiotics preferably one that utilizes a high quality fiber like partially hydrolyzed guar gum. This can help to improve and increase the amount of Bifidobacterium and other beneficial probiotics in the GI tract. Search for a fiber that is easy to take, is tasteless and mixes in well with a liquid like water; preferably one that has a low glycemic index and is gluten free. When taking fiber and enzymes together they can provide a gentle enzymatic colon cleanse which can actually open up real estate for probiotics allowing them to work better.
Overall choosing the right probiotic can truly be a challenge, in the end (excuse the pun) it is important to follow your gut. Do your due diligence as a consumer to contact the company and hold them accountable. See if they are honest with you and willing to work with you. Anybody in this field should be fully committed to helping people. Probiotics, digestive enzymes and prebiotic fiber are a powerful and natural way to help restore digestive regularity and balance as well as increase energy and offer immune support, ultimately allowing you to live a happy and healthy life.