If health begins in the gut, then we owe our health to the state of our probiotic balance. Probiotics are living organisms that populate our bodies with different types of bacteria living in different environments. When we speak of probiotics, we are typically referring to organisms that are essential to a healthy gut environment. Why is the proper balance of probiotics important? Research has suggested that probiotics are essential to proper immune system function, digestion and absorption of nutrients, production of certain nutrients in the gut (like vitamin K and short chain fatty acids), as well as neurotransmitters. Our environment, use of antibiotics, toxins in foods, lack of exposure to dirt born organisms, and poor diet can all lead to a state of imbalance in our probiotics (also known as dysbiosis). Dysbiosis can be at the root of multiple chronic health conditions including recurring infections, irritable bowel syndrome, reflux, allergies/asthma, other bowel disorders, even heart disease and dementia.(Mayer, Knight, Mazmanian, Cryan, & Tillisch, 2014; Rook & Brunet, 2005) Correcting this dysbiosis can offer a significant head start in treating any of these conditions.
How do I find a good probiotic? What to look for. The biggest issue with probiotics is the colony number of the product. Although they sound like big numbers, most probiotic supplements are a drop in the ocean, so to speak. A gram of stool has about 1.5 trillion bacteria in it. Trying to make a difference in this environment by using a supplement that has one billion or even 10 billion is almost futile. Most of the organisms in a probiotic supplement will never survive the journey to the colon. Start with a supplement that has at least 100 billion colonies in it. Also, make sure this number is guaranteed at expiration, not at production—most of these products will lose up to 90% of viability by the expiration date. Secondly, make sure there are a variety of organisms—both lactobacillus species as well as bifidophillus species (different organisms populate different parts of the gut). Saccharomyces boulardii (a nutritional yeast) is sometimes added to deal with intestinal yeast and overgrowth of fermenting bacteria in the gut. Unless the instructions say otherwise, it is best to take probiotics away from food—this helps avoid destruction of the organisms by stomach acid. Finally, every brand of probiotic is a bit different. It is usually best to pick a few brands and rotate them every month.
Regardless of which one you choose, probiotics are an essential key to health. In this day and age, they are a required nutrient in almost anyone’s daily regimen.
Mayer, E. A., Knight, R., Mazmanian, S. K., Cryan, J. F., & Tillisch, K. (2014). Gut microbes and the brain: paradigm shift in neuroscience. J Neurosci, 34(46), 15490-15496. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3299-14.2014
Rook, G. A., & Brunet, L. R. (2005). Microbes, immunoregulation, and the gut. Gut, 54(3), 317-320. doi:10.1136/gut.2004.053785