If you watched ReNew Life Founder Brenda Watson’s latest PBS television special, The Road to Perfect Health, you’ll know all about the incredible effects of probiotics on the body. But with so many products to choose from, many wonder what factors to consider when choosing an effective probiotic supplement. Let’s cover the basics to help you make the most of these health-promoting bacteria.
First, to determine the strength or potency of a probiotic, look at the culture count. The culture count refers to the total amount of live, friendly bacterial cultures in a single serving. You need at least 15 billion cultures to begin to make an impact on your health—often more, depending upon your age or health-related concern. Research is showing that more is better, so keep an eye on the number of cultures or CFUs (colony forming units) for best results. Total CFUs or culture count 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.
When choosing a probiotic it’s also important to pay attention to the number of strains. The strains, or specific types of bacteria, 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.
When you scan the label of a good probiotic you’ll see strains that begin with Ls and Bs, like 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 bacterial strains better than others.
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 intestine, 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, bowel regularity and strengthen the body’s natural immune defenses. Be sure to read the label, so you’ll know you’re giving your body the probiotic it needs.
Still confused on which specific supplement to take for your individual needs? Take our interactive quiz for our recommendation.