What Should You Look For In a Probiotic?

womanshoppingYou already know probiotics play an important role in supporting optimal digestion and health.‡ But with so many products to choose from, what factors are important when it comes to choosing an effective probiotic supplement? Here are a few quick basics:

  • Look at the culture count to determine the strength or potency of a probiotic. Culture count refers to the total amount of live, friendly bacteria cultures in a single serving. Most experts recommend at least 15 billion live cultures or CFUs (colony forming units) daily to make an impact on your health.‡ However, because research is showing more is better, you may benefit from more depending upon your age or specific concerns.‡ Total live cultures will often be determined at time of manufacture, but very few remain at full strength through their expiration date. Look for a high-quality probiotic that displays potency on the label at time of expiration, not manufacture.
  • Pay attention to the number of strains. The strains, or specific types of probiotics, plus the culture count of each should be listed on the label. Over 1,000 strains of beneficial bacteria can be found in the human gut, so it makes sense to choose a probiotic supplement that reflects this natural diversity.
  • Look for lots of Ls and Bs. When you scan the label of a good probiotic you will see strains that begin with Ls and Bs, such as Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria. A good trick to differentiate these is that the L strains are more native to the little (small) intestine and the B strains are generally found in the big (large) intestine, or colon. Look for lots of Ls and Bs because each person’s body utilizes certain probiotic strains differently than others.
  • Choose delayed-release capsules. While probiotics are also utilized in the upper digestive tract, the majority of bacterial populations exist in the lower small and large intestines. So how do the good bacteria get all the way down there? Probiotics must travel through the harsh stomach environment and be delivered to the intestines to colonize. Delayed-release capsules are engineered to remain intact through the stomach and begin dissolving in the intestines, where they are needed most.

A probiotic supplement, when delivered to the right place, with the right amount of cultures and strains, can help promote digestive health and bowel regularity as well as support immune health.‡ Be sure to read the label so you know you are giving your body the probiotic it needs.

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What are the Effects of Taking Probiotics?

woman_pillsNowadays it seems like we hear about the benefits of probiotics everywhere we turn. New studies continue to find a strong connection between a balanced gut and overall well-being, and more and more health practitioners are recommending probiotic supplements to their patients to help balance the gut and promote good digestive health.‡ Still, many people question whether or not there are any probiotics side effects. Here is the answer:

“Side effects” is actually a medical term used in the labeling of various pharmaceutical products. Probiotics are not pharmaceutical drugs. They are dietary supplements that have many beneficial effects on the human body.‡ Some of those effects include better elimination, changes in bowel habits, and—similar to when you consume a new food—they may produce occasional gas or bloating.‡ Also similar to consuming a new food, eating too much may present digestive challenges for the first-time user.‡

Essentially, it is possible to consume too much for your constitution the first time, and a way to address that and improve the effectiveness of your probiotic supplement is to decrease the dose by half or more in the beginning. Then, gradually increase the amount each day until your body adjusts and you are satisfied with the results.

Remember: probiotics are the “good” or “friendly” bacteria that occur naturally in the gut, but factors such as age, poor diet, stress, and the use of certain medications (including antibiotics) can deplete our bodies of billions of good bacteria and upset a healthy digestive balance. Ninety percent of digestion and up to 80 percent of immune function occurs in the digestive tract, so having a good balance of bacteria is important to our digestive, immune, and overall health.‡

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