Modern times can be tough on our health. Poor food choices, stress, lack of sleep, not to mention environmental toxins, all work to destabilize well-being and inner balance.
Our bodies need balance to maintain optimal health, and a healthy digestive system goes a long way by synthesizing vitamins and nutrients while filtering out toxins and harmful bacteria. Taking probiotics is one way to support your digestive system and overall health.
Next time you pick up a yogurt container, take a look on the back, and you’ll see a slew of important sounding Latin names—these are just some of the probiotics that exist out there, and different strains perform differently. Look for the right ones for you:
To inhibit or treat yeast and urinary tract infections. Look for these strains of bacteria: Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus bifidus, and Lactobacillus bulgaricus. According to Karen DeFelice of EnzymeStuff.com, these four seem to work well together in fighting off bad bacteria in the urinary tract and vaginal area.
To relieve gastrointestinal problems. Other probiotics are also useful in relieving gastrointestinal problems like IBS, diarrhea/constipation, discomfort brought on by antibiotic use, intestinal inflammation and leaky gut syndrome. DeFelice identifies five types of probiotics that work together in support of such GI complaints: L. rhamnosus, L. acidophilus, Bifidobacterium lactis (or B. lactis), Streptococcus thermophilus, and L. bulgaricus.
To enhance overall health and immunity, or relieve constipation. L. casei, L. rhamnosus, L. acidophilus, and B. longum have been found to work well together. They may also be useful in lowering LDL cholesterol. The probiotic strain Enterococcus faecium has also been known to reduce LDL cholesterol, as well as act as a powerful anti-pathogen.
To reduce pathogens in the body. Recommended are Lactobacillus plantarum (very antiviral), Bifidobacterium bifidum, B. infantis (an important strain for babies), B. longum (especially effective at reducing GI disorders during antibiotic use), L. acidophilus, L. casei and L. plantarum. L. acidophilus and L. plantarum both secrete natural antibiotics that enhance immunity and resistance to infection. L. casei specifically produces bacteriocins that prevent the growth of pathogenic bacteria in the small intestine. Lactobacillus salivarius helps to normalize gut flora and may help to inhibit the occurrence of peptic ulcers.
Many probiotic supplements are now including something known as prebiotics, like FOS and inulin, which are non-digestible oligosaccharides (sugars/carbohydrates). They are not able to be digested, so they don’t affect blood sugar, according to Dr. Elson Haas in his article “Staying Healthy with Nutrition.” What they do is to help to promote the growth and activity of friendly bacteria in the intestinal tract, and inhibit the growth of the undesirable bacteria. You could think of prebiotics as food for the probiotics.
Tips for Buying Supplements
Buyer, beware. The production of supplements in the United States is not monitored by the FDA. The responsibility of testing for safety and efficacy lies in the hands of the manufacturer—which can mean there are a lot of supplements out there making false claims.
What can you do? Look for proof of participation with voluntary certification programs, like CL or GMP. CL stands for Consumer Lab, and their seal of approval will tell you the product has been tested for purity, strength, and safety.
GMP is another valuable seal of approval, and stands for Good Manufacturing Practices. Also, look for your probiotics in a refrigerator case, suggests author and surgeon Dr. Steven Gundry. This will help to protect their potency and efficacy.
Generally, supplementing with high quality probiotics is seen as safe and has few side effects for most people. However, people with autoimmune disorders should speak with their doctor, as high doses of probiotics can overstimulate the immune system. Be aware of possible drug interactions.
‘Let Thy food Be Thy Medicine’
Supplementing is not a substitute for eating, and should always be viewed as a backup to eating a nutrient-rich diet. The best way to get probiotics is to eat naturally probiotic rich foods.
In your diet, include foods with beneficial bacteria, such as cultured vegetables (like kimchi and raw sauerkraut, which are lacto-fermented) and miso. Make sure these foods are not pasteurized and do not contain preservatives, like sodium benzoate, which will kill any beneficial bacteria.
Other foods with a high probiotic content are yogurt, kefir and kombucha. When buying commercial yogurts, be aware of added sugars, which will only undo any benefit. Try buying plain yogurt and sweetening naturally with a little raw honey or fruit.
Tips for Picking Probiotics
• Educate yourself on what probiotic strains are the right ones for you.
• Check expiration dates to determine if you have live bacteria.
• Try to choose refrigerated probiotics, which helps to keep the probiotic bacteria alive.
• Check labels for quality assurance seals, like CL and GMP.
• Look for the number of viable bacteria per dose. An effective dose varies widely between 50 million and 3 trillion cells per dose.
April Reigart is a Certified Holistic Health Coach and graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. She does private and group coaching, and lectures monthly to a web-based fitness group.