Dr. Kassam What To Look for in a Probiotic Supplement

What To Look For In a Probiotic Supplement

With gut health being a very hot topic these days, all blog posts for the month of April will be dedicated to the importance of probiotics on various aspects of health. Today we will focus on what probiotics are and what to look for when shopping for one. 

Our understanding of health is continuously changing on a daily basis as new research is being released. One of the most evolving health topics is the importance of gut health to one’s overall health. The human gastrointestinal tract is home to tens of trillions of both ‘friendly’ and ‘unfriendly’ microbes that make up our microbiota.  These microbes are not only found in the gastrointestinal tract but can also be found in our skin, urinary tracts and vaginal tracts. The little friendly microbes work together to support:

  • Sinus and Respiratory Health

  • Digestive Health 

  • Vaginal and Urogenital Health

  • Immune function

  • Skin Health

Our microbiota can become imbalanced with ‘unfriendly bacteria’ overpopulating, a term referred to as dysbiosis. This can result in altered health states like weight gain, inflammatory diseases, fatigue, and skin conditions. What can cause dysbiosis?

  • Increased levels of stress

  • Medications like antibiotics

  • Poor nutrition 

  • Digestive disorders

  • Infections

  • Travel

Restoring the ratio between ‘friendly’ and ‘unfriendly’ bacteria can be accomplished through lifestyle changes and taking a good quality probiotic.  Below I have provided you with 5 important features to look for when purchasing a good quality probiotic.

1. Must be dosed in adequate amounts

The amount of bacteria in a probiotic supplement is listed as CFU (colony forming units). Trillions of bacteria live in the gut so in order to make a lasting effect on the microbiota the dosage needs to be high enough. About 10-25 billion is recommended for daily maintenance. 50-100 billion is recommended post-antibiotic use. For kids, the recommended dose can vary from 1 billion to 15 billion and for seniors, it can vary from 15 billion to 50 billion. Keep in mind that the research for probiotics is leaning towards picking certain species/strains and dosages for varying conditions. 

2. Must contain live probiotics

Probiotics need to be living and viable in order for them to do their job. Ensure the CFU count is guaranteed until expiration and not at the time of manufacturing. The label should say something along the lines of 'guaranteed to contain x billion at the time of expiry'. Good manufacturers put in an extra amount to account for the loss of live bacteria from the time of manufacture.

3. Make sure the probiotic supplement has the right species/strain for you

Probiotic supplements have unique species/strains for certain conditions or uses. Research shows that probiotic cultures tend to work best when they contain more than one type of bacteria. The most effective probiotics are the ones that have at least 2 different strains that work in synergy. So it is important to take a combination of the specific species/strains that will work best for the condition at hand. Here are some examples of choosing the right species/strain for specific conditions:

  • Constipation - Bifidobacterium Lactis Bb12 & Bifidobacterium animalis DN-173
  • Allergic Rhinitis - Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM & Bifidobacterium lactis BI-04
  • Atopic Dermatitis -  Lactobacillus fermentum VRI-003 & Bifidobacterium lactis B12
  • Bacterial VaginosisLactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1 & Lactobacillus reuteri RC-14

4. Delivery System

Probiotic supplements can come in capsule, powder or chewable tablets. Powders can be quite versatile in that they can be added to smoothies and other foods. All forms are okay, so long as they contain the strain(s) specific to your condition and contain live cultures in the optimal dosages mentioned above. 

5. Refrigeration vs. shelf-stable

Almost all probiotics used to require refrigeration at one point; however new processing techniques now allow probiotics to be stored at room temperature. These are referred to as 'shelf-stable' probiotics. One is not necessarily better than the other. However, you will often find that shelf-stable probiotics only contain 1-2 strains and in lesser amounts when compared to refrigerated ones as there are very few strains that remain alive at room temperature. The most important thing to note is that probiotics are being stored as indicated on the bottle. I often will recommend shelf-stable probiotics during travel and refrigerated ones for everyday use. 

 

 

Probiotics promote a healthy balance of gut bacteria and can be used in a variety of health conditions. When shopping for a probiotic ensure they contain the features mentioned above. It is always best to speak to your health care practitioner to see what dosage and species/strain would work best for you in an aim to optimize your health. Stay tuned for next week's article on the importance of probiotic supplementation in women's health!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Disclaimer

The advice in this article is for informational purposes only. It does not replace the care of a Naturopathic physician. 

 

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