Updated: Jun 3, 2018
Considering a probiotic supplement? Here's all you need to know about choosing the right probiotic, when is the best time to take it and what are great food sources.
Probiotics are the friendly live microorganisms that can in the right amounts have a beneficial effect on our body. They are mostly bacterial organisms such as the group Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillis. Within each group, there are also many different species, and each species has many strains.
For example, beneficial varieties of Lactobacilli produce vitamins and nutrients, may boost immunity and protect against carcinogens. Bifidobacterium may discourage the growth of hostile bacteria, regulate and balance the gut flora and produce vitamins. Escherichia Coli are involved in the production of vitamin K2, necessary for blood clotting.
However the 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 when overpopulated with even the good type, the immune system appears to struggle identifying and acting quickly against the infectious form.
What is the best probiotic?
Every individual's microbiome is different and we all require different strains or combinations of microbes. Some strains can help with certain conditions too. Such as L. acidophilus, L. plantarum and B. breve may provide temporary symptomatic relief of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). L. acidophilus, B. breve and S. thermophilus may provide temporary relief of diarrhea. For allergy and hayfever support Lactobacillus rhamnosus is usually recommended. So a broad spectrum probiotic is suggested for most unless you are wanting targeted support temporarily.
To widen the variety of good microbes in your gut, choose a probiotic containing a large number of strains and with billions of microbes (CFU - Colony forming units). To further broaden your exposure it is recommended that you change brands and types regularly.
Initially if gut healing, I'd recommend one with the yeast strain Saccharomyces boulardii. (I found this Thorne one on Iherb. But usually I use a practitioner only brand called Orthoplex S. Bifido which also contains the beneficial strain Bifidobacterium longum BB536).
I also like to choose a probiotic that is dairy free & d-lactate free to help avoid issues with intolerance. (So in my practise I use Orthoplex Multigen as a multi-strain probiotic).
Some pharmacies & health food stores stock a great multi-strain probiotic by Bioceuticals called Ultrabiotic 45 and one for babies called Babybiotic 0+. (Bioceuticals is a practitioner only range, so you'd probably have to ask at the counter).
Is there anyone who shouldn't take a probiotic?
Yes unfortuantely there is! Those with a small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (aka SIBO) may not tolerate probiotics or even fermented foods and drinks because their gut is already overloaded with micro-organisms. They first need to address the bacterial overgrowth and heal the gut before moving on to probiotic supplementation.
When should I take my probiotic?
There is debate on when is the best time to take probiotics. Many recommend just before before breakfast in the morning. Others just before bed. This is apparently when the stomach's gastric acidity is naturally at pH 4 or above, as an important factor in a high quality probiotic is its ability to survive through gastric acidity and reach the intestines. However if the probiotic is of superior quality (typically practitioner only ranges), the timing shouldn't have an impact, as its ability to survive against stomach acids and bile salts should have been adequately tested.
Food sources of probiotics
These include fermented foods or beverages such as kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha, miso, tempeh and kimchee. There are numerous recipes online on how to make these products as they can be expensive if store-bought. They are tasty and worth exploring however.
Why can't I just eat yoghurt?
Yoghurt usually contains only a couple of strains of beneficial bacteria (if you choose the right one). Typically they are the lactobacillus and bifidobacterium strains. However most yoghurt is not a health food, but laden with sugar and chemicals. Real yoghurt simply contains cultures and full fat cream/milk. So it is best to choose high quality unsweetened brands.
What are prebiotics?
Often confused with probiotics are prebiotics. Prebiotics are nutritional compounds, particularly fibre, used to promote the growth of beneficial microbes and thus also have the potential to improve gastrointestinal health. It is therefore important to have adequate fibre intake to improve the ability of the probiotics to hang around and do their job. Some great prebiotic foods include cooked or raw onion, raw asparagus, raw leeks, raw garlic and under-ripe bananas. Psyllium husk and acacia gum powders can also be added to smoothies, and are often used as a gentle laxative.