3 Important Things to Consider Before Choosing a Probiotic
Did you know there are over one hundred trillion microorganisms living inside your gastrointestinal tract? That is right, you have 10 times as many microbes cohabitating with you as you have cells in your body. Also known as probiotics these bacteria provide nutrients, facilitate digestion, and form the baseline of our immune system. Scientists have identified over 500 different strains of bacteria, the most common groups include Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium and it is the balance of this internal environment that is so important for optimal health.
What Are Probiotics and Why Are They Important?
Probiotics are living microorganisms, usually bacteria or yeasts, that provide health benefits when ingested that include yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh and kimchi, as well as foods prepared by bacterial fermentation and supplements.
Because most organisms in your gut are not friendly within the complex micro-community of bacteria, yeasts and viruses in the digestive tract, probiotics work in concert with your gut flora to help balance the “good” bacteria and ensure everything is functioning and operating efficiently.
Probiotics Are Our Best Line of Defense
Since 90 percent of the immune system exists in the gut, having the correct balance of flora is also crucial for staving off illness. When probiotics are abundant in your body, its harder for bacteria that cause illness to get a foothold, and thus you stay healthier. Without the adequate amount or the correct proportions of these individual species in your digestive system, your immunity can become compromised. Additionally, imbalances of gut flora can lead to problems such as IBS, constipation, diarrhea, fatigue, weight gain, susceptibility to infection and chronic disease. In essence, it is extremely important to your health to maintain the correct balance of intestinal gut flora.
Probiotics Effect Nutrition Status
Some important nutrients made by our gut flora include B vitamins, vitamin K, folate, and short-chain fatty acids such as butyric acid. Butyric acid is especially important as it helps to maintain a healthy intestinal lining and has been shown to reduce the risk of colon cancer. However, if the friendly bacteria are not abundant, our bodies cannot make or absorb these essential nutrients, which can lead to fatigue, neurological abnormalities and anemia.
So how can you maintain this balance when stress, lack of sleep, antibiotics and poor diet can all cause disturbances to our GI tract and its bacteria-friendly environment? Eating fermented foods, such as yogurt, kefir, kim chee and natto, to name a few, is a wonderful way to naturally ingest healthy flora, and can be a good preventative or maintenance measure. But, for most of us, this may not be enough – especially if you have just finished a course of antibiotics. In this case, taking a probiotic supplement is extremely important.
3 Important Things to Consider Before Choosing a Probiotic
Since not all probiotic supplements are created equal, there are some important things to consider.
1) Potency: The CFU, also known as colony-forming units, is a microbiological term that describes the density, or amount of, viable bacteria in a probiotic product. In other words, the CFU tells you how rich in probiotics a supplement is, and how much will be available to your body. In order to repopulate the gut with the appropriate amount of bacteria and keep the correct ratio of species, it is crucial to take a high-quality supplement with a CFU in the billions. Some of the most powerful probiotics backed by research can deliver over 450 billion organisms per dose! Not all probiotics have to be this strong, but if you are taking a probiotic for a GI issue like IBS or constipation and not getting any benefit, make sure to look at the CFU number. If it is below 5 billion, it might not pack enough of a punch.
2) Prior Health Conditions: Probiotics are generally safe to consume for most people, with minor side effects such as gas and mild abdominal discomfort as the body adjusts to the new microbes. However, for people with compromised immune systems like HIV, AIDS and other related health conditions, probiotics can lead to dangerous infections and you should consult your doctor before taking a probiotic supplement.
3) The types of bacteria: The other factor to consider is what organisms are actually present. Some probiotic supplements only contain one or two strains of bacteria, while others may promote a variety of strains. Different formulations may be more applicable to different conditions, and often times one must try various products before they find the one right for their body. I have some patients who report doing very well on a certain probiotic formula while others say the same formula was either ineffective or made them feel worse. Because we are dealing with a dynamic ecosystem that varies greatly from person to person, results can vary. My best advice is to try a variety of products until you find the one that is right for you.
One that’s a good option for the majority, though, is a lesser known yeast-based probiotic called Saccharomyces boulardii has a specific application for diarrhea. This probiotic is one of the most well studied for preventing diarrhea associated with antibiotic therapy. Because it is a yeast and, therefore, unaffected by antibiotics, it can be taken at the same time. This makes dosing very easy and convenient and I recommend that anybody needing to take a course of antibiotics use this probiotic at the same time and for two weeks after the antibiotics are finished to support a healthy balance of flora in the colon.
This delicate balance of bacteria in our body plays a significant role in our health and it is of critical importance to manage our bacterial ecosystem whether it is with food or supplements. Emerging research is now linking these bacterial imbalances to cardiovascular disease, obesity, type II diabetes and neurological conditions so this is a story that goes way beyond the gut.
Dr. Passero completed four years of post-graduate medical education at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon after receiving a Bachelors Degree in Environmental Biology from the University of Colorado. Dr. Passero has trained with some of the nations leading doctors in the field of natural medicine. In his practice, Dr. Passero focuses on restoring harmony to both the body and mind using advanced protocols that incorporate herbal therapy, homeopathy, vitamin therapy and nutritional programs. Through education and guidance patients are able to unlock the natural healing power contained within each one of us. For more information, visit his website, Green Healing Wellness, or follow him on Facebook.