How to Choose the Right Probiotic for Your Body (The Answer May Surprise You)
“You should take a daily probiotic…”
You’ve no doubt heard this advice if you suffer from any sort of intestinal issues or after taking antibiotics.
But in the last few years, probiotic therapy has taken a huge leap out of simple ‘gut care.’ It’s now well recognized that probiotics can help with a wide range of mental and physical conditions.
In 2013 the journal Beneficial Microbes published a review various studies related to obesity and the microbiome. The authors concluded that:
“[…]Lactobacillus gasseri SBT 2055, Lactobacillus rhamnosus ATCC 53103, and the combination of L. rhamnosus ATCC 53102 and Bifidobacterium lactis Bb12 may reduce adiposity, body weight, and weight gain. This suggests that these microbial strains can be applied in the treatment of obesity.”1
Another review, published in CNS & Neurological Disorders – Drug Targets, suggests that probiotic therapy may also be useful in the treatment of mood and anxiety disorders.2
And there is the cutting edge of microbial therapy, involving ‘poop pills’ and ‘fecal transplants’ – treatments that are showing great promise for intestinal disorders.3
It’s no wonder that probiotic sales have increased by 36% in the last five years4 with expected growth of 40 percent by 2020.5
This growth also means that there are an overwhelming number of choices for the average consumer. Case in point: A quick search for the term ‘probiotic supplement’ on Amazon yields more than 9,000 results!
So how do you just “take a probiotic” without knowing the right one to choose? And how do you know whether the one you’re taking will confer the health benefits you’re specifically looking for?
The answer is relatively simple once you understand your gut bugs more intimately.
Human…Meet Your Microbes!
Human beings have 10x more bacterial cells in our bodies than we do human cells. That’s 100 trillion bacteria, from head to toe, inside and out. You may even hear some scientists say that we’re only really 10% human!
Inside our gut live anywhere from 500 to 1000 different species of bacteria, alongside various fungi and yeasts.6 They all live in a symbiotic relationship with each other and with you, their human host.
To demonstrate the huge variety, here’s a little basic microbiology:
1. 98% of the gastrointestinal tract (GIT) contains bacteria known as Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes. These are categorized on the microbial family tree as phyla.
2. Each of these two phyla has a large number of genera (or genus). Lactobacillus for example, is just one genus out of over 274.7
3. Those genera each contain a number of species. Lactobacillus has around 122 different species and L. acidophilus is just one of them.8
4. And finally, within each species, you can have various strains. For example L. acidophilus DDS-1.
Now, let’s put this into perspective with probiotics. Supplements do not contain entire phyla or even genera. Many will contain an entire species, but not all species. Some won’t even contain an entire species; they will just contain a few strains.
And unfortunately, when it comes to probiotics…
It’s not Just a Case of Good vs Bad
Our large population of microbes has a range of functions including digestion, immunity, producing vitamins and essential fatty acids. It is an entire ecosystem, living together as one. And it is the overall balance of the ecosystem which determines the health of the human host.
Science tells us we can change our microbial balance in as little as 24 hours just by simply changing their environment through diet.9,10
Paul O’Toole, a professor at the Biosciences Institute in Cork, states:
"Diversity is the key. What we see with people on narrow diversity diets is that the microbiota collapses.”11
Our gut bugs are highly influenced by the food we eat (or don’t eat) – not just by the probiotics we take … or don’t take.
You see, probiotic pills are only one fraction of the equation. The key to a healthy microbiome is to employ the multi-pronged strategy that encourages microbial diversity and nourishes our healthy gut bugs… the same way our ancestors did.
Boost Your Probiotics the Way Our Ancestors Did
- Consume only grass fed beef, pastured poultry and eggs and wild caught fish. They are free of microbiome-altering antibiotics. Be diverse in your meat choices and allow all of your meat-loving microbes to get their nourishment. Add a little salt – you also have salt-loving bugs to keep happy!
- Give your plant-loving gut bugs their food too! Fill your plate with lots of organic vegetables, especially powerful onions, garlic, jicama and daikon radish. These foods contain prebiotic fiber for Bifidus bacteria to feed on, and they’ll produce good healthy byproducts for your body.
- Include lacto-fermented food daily like kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha and kimchi. Each of these foods contains different species of beneficial bacteria. Again, be diverse and use a range of different fermented foods to get a large variety of beneficial bacteria.
- Include lacto-fermented meats like grass-fed corned beef. This one surprises many Americans, but fermented meats are rich in powerful probiotics and a healthy addition to a microbe-supporting diet.
- Add coconut oil, garlic and ginger regularly to food. They’re naturally anti-fungal and anti-bacterial and help keep the microbiome in balance.
- If you use probiotic supplements try a rotation strategy. Pick a trusted brand with good reviews, use it up and then switch to a totally different brand. This will enable you to get many strains and species instead of just a select few. Use a supplement that gives you as many CFU’s as possible – aim for tens of billions, the higher the better.
- Beware of common chemicals that damage our microbes including bleach, hand sanitizer, chlorine and conventional personal care products. Opt for natural, “old-fashioned” methods and formulas to clean and care for your body.
- Finally, keep stress well managed. This too can alter your microbial balance.
A balanced diet and lifestyle equals a healthy, balanced microbiome. End the probiotic supplement confusion with the simple diet tips noted above, and by making the choices our ancestors did to help preserve our ancient microbiome in a modern world.
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1. Mekkes, M.C, Weenen, T.C, Brummer, R.J, Claassen, E. The development of probiotic treatment in obesity: a review. Beneficial Microbes. 2014;5(1): 19-28.
2. Slyepchenko, A, Carvalho, A.F, Cha, D.S, Kasper, S, McIntyre, R.S. Gut emotions – mechanisms of action of probiotics as novel therapeutic targets for depression and anxiety disorders. CNS Neurology Disorders Drug Targets. 2014;13(10): 1770-1786.
3. Xu, MQ, Cao, HL, Wang, WQ, et al. Fecal microbiota transplantation broadening its application beyond intestinal disorders. World Journal of Gastroenterology. 2015;21(1): 102 – 111.
4. Statistica. Sales of probiotic products worldwide from 2010 to 2015, by region.
5. Markets and Markets. Probiotic Ingredients Market by Function (Regular, Preventative, Therapy), Application (Food & Beverage, Dietary Supplements, & Animal Feed), End Use (Human & Animal Probiotics), Ingredient (Bacteria & Yeast), and by Region - Global Trends & Forecast to 2020
6. Xu J, Gordon JI. Inaugural article: honor thy symbionts. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 100: 10452–10459, 2003.
7. Wikipedia. Firmicutes Genera.
8. Wikipedia. Lactobacillus.
9. Lawrence, D.A, Corinne, F, Maurice, R.N. Diet rapidly and reproducibly alters the human gut microbiome. Nature. 2013; 505: 559-563.
10. Turnbaugh, P.J, Ridaura, V.K, Faith, J.J, Rey, F.E, Knight, R, Gordon, J.I. The Effect of Diet on the Human Gut Microbiome: A Metagenomic Analysis in Humanized Gnotobiotic Mice. Science Translational Medicine. 2009; 1(6): 6ra14
Andrew, A. “I had the bacteria in my gut analysed. And this may be the future of medicine.” The Guardian. February 11, 2014.