Updated: May 11
Considering a probiotic supplement? This is the ultimate guide! Discover the benefits, how to choose the right one for you, who might not tolerate probiotics, when to take it and more.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are the friendly live microorganisms that can in the right amounts have a beneficial effect on our body.
They are mostly bacteria and there are two main types (or genera) that live in the gut, Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Lactobacillus colonizes primarily in the small intestine, while Bifidobacterium colonizes primarily in the large intestine also known as the colon. There are also many different strains and species of probiotic microorganisms. Each offer different health benefits.
Ideally, probiotic supplements should show not only the genus and species but also the strain. For example, Lactobacillis acidophilus UALa-01 indicates the strain "UALa-01", the species "acidophilus" (the strain's immediate family) and the genus "Lactobacillus" (the strain's extended family).
What are the benefits of probiotics?
Probiotics play a role in:
Producing certain vitamins and nutrients
Enhancing our immunity and reducing our risk of infection
Protecting against carcinogens and toxins
Discouraging the growth of hostile bacteria
Regulating and balancing the gut flora
Decreasing inflammation in the intestines
Reducing pain sensitivity
Reducing and preventing allergies and sensitivities
Soothing the gut and preventing digestive issues
Helping with weight management
Helping stabilize blood sugars
As mentioned, each strain can offer different benefits. When choosing a probiotic supplement this should be taken into account. A quick pubmed search for research on a particular health concern and a beneficial probiotic can help.
For example, the strains L. acidophilus DDS-1, L. bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus may potentially help those with lactose intolerance.
L. reuteri NCIMB 30242 (LRC) has been shown to support heart health.
For weight management L. gasseri BNR17 may help.
For allergy and hayfever support L. rhamnosus GG is usually recommended.
Irritable bowel syndrome sufferers may find L.acidophilus, L. plantarum 299v, or B. breve may offer some relief.
However, it's important to point out that some studies use multiple strains making it difficult to determine if multiple strains are needed to see a benefit or if just one strain provided the most benefit. Also, just like one drug may work for one individual but not for another, the same can occur with probiotics. It can be trial and error.
Improving gastrointestinal symptoms is a common benefit of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium probiotics. Studies have shown people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) appear to have fewer Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium bacteria but more potentially harmful Clostridium, Streptococcus, and Escherichia coli.
Though, not all species or strains of Clostridium, Streptococcus and E. coli are harmful. Sometimes it also depends on the quantity present. An overgrowth of even beneficial strains can cause issues. For example, Escherichia Coli is involved in the production of vitamin K2, necessary for blood clotting. But overpopulation of even the good type of E. Coli can put you at risk of the infectious type that can cause vomiting and diarrhea. It has been suggested that this is because overpopulation of even the good type can cause the immune system to struggle to identify and act quickly against the infectious form.
So, what is the best probiotic?
Since every individual's microbiome and needs are different, choosing a broad-spectrum probiotic with a large number of strains is recommended, unless you want targeted support for a particular health concern. A broad-spectrum probiotic widens the variety of good microbes in your gut. To further broaden your exposure it is recommended that you change brands and types regularly<