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How to Choose a Probiotic

Screen Shot 2013-04-18 at 8.10.42 PMby Yuri Elkaim, BPHE, CK, RHN

Gut flora play a key role in nutrition and your immune system.

Without these tiny helpers, your body wouldn’t be able to absorb vital nutrients or carry out its regular maintenance functions.

When your body is under attack from toxins, harmful organisms, or infection, gut flora act as the first defense against the intruders since they reside in the mucosal membranes that form the barrier between the outside world (the gut) and in the inside of your body (your bloodstream).

Since 80% of your immune function resides in the wall of the intestines – known as “gut associated lymphoid tissue” or GALT – your immune system is critically dependent upon good bacteria (probiotics) to keep the bowel wall healthy, to produce B vitamins, folic acid and vitamin K, break down your food, reduce food allergies, and fight off yeast and other invaders of the bowel.

Additionally, the cells that line your colon need energy to regenerate themselves. The gut flora helps in this process by converting unabsorbed sugars into specific types of fatty acids that your cells use for energy.

Your gut flora also:

* Produce enzymes and proteins that can kill or inhibit harmful bacteria

* Crowd out the “bad” bacteria by giving them no space to grab on

* Stimulate the secretion of Immunoglobulin A, an antibody that fights infection

* Without a strong immune system you are more prone to infections, flu, allergies and cancer.

Bacteria are single-celled microorganisms found everywhere on Earth — in water, soil, plants, and in most parts of your body. In fact, bacteria outnumber the actual cells in your body by about 10 to 1. Your skin and digestive system alone host about 2,000 different kinds of bacteria.

There are fewer bacteria in the stomach than in other parts of the digestive system because the acidic environment kills most bacteria.

That makes delivering probiotics particularly challenging — you have to ensure that those good bacteria can survive in the stomach’s unfriendly environment.

These organisms acquired their bad reputation in the 1800s, when Louis Pasteur, the father of microbiology, showed that bacterial growth caused spoilage of foods, including milk and beer. He invented the process of heating milk to kill bacteria and mold, a process we now call pasteurization. Pasteur proposed that bacteria also cause disease in people, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Recent research has actually shown that different strains of probiotics have greatly differing influence on your immune system.

Certain strains of bacteria induce a production of regulatory T cells, which means that we get more immune system balance from them. Some improve digestion, while others help burn fat. They all play different roles and that’s why having a wide variety and high number of bacteria is best for your health.

Specifically, lactobacillus and bifidobacteria seem to be very helpful. We’ll investigate these 2 strains and others as we next uncover what to look for in a good probiotic supplement.

The Probiotic Supplement Label

The label should disclose the genus, species, and strain designation of each probiotic strain contained in the product.

This approach provides a level of confidence that the product manufacturer is formulating the product with specific strains consistently over time. Furthermore, strain designations tie the product content back to the scientific publications that document claimed health effects.

The product label should also indicate the number of live microorganisms that are delivered in each serving or dose, as well as an expiration date. Levels are typically communicated as CFUs (colony forming units).

The suggested serving size or dose should be indicated.

Labels should describe health benefits that have been substantiated for the product.
Finally, proper storage conditions and corporate contact information (including a Web site or consumer hotline number where additional information can be obtained) should also be indicated.

Multiple Bacteria

Strains of the same species can be different – probiotics within the same genus (or group), such as Bifidobacterium, do not necessarily provide the same benefits.

A probiotic is defined by its:

1. Genus (e.g. Lactobacillus),
2. Species (e.g. rhamnosus), and
3. Strain designation (often a combination of letters or numbers).

The names sound complicated, but they are important to connecting the specific probiotic strain to the strain’s published scientific literature. Some bacteria have several strains, or variations within the same species, and the strain appears at the end of the bacteria’s formal name.

For example, Lactobacillus acidophilus DDS-1 belongs to the genus Lactobacillus and the species acidophilus. DDS-1 is the specific strain.

Often, product manufacturers will create a trademarked (TM) or registered trademark (®) name for the strain found in their product for marketing purposes. It is just an “alias” for the probiotic strain and does not necessarily reflect product quality.

For example, L. casei immunitas is the commercial/trademark name for the proprietary strain of Lactobacillus casei in DanActive (a popular yogurt). The real (scientific) name is Lactobacillus casei DN – 114001. Obviously, Dannon knows that the former is more appealing to consumers.

Nonetheless, the International Probiotics Assocation (IPA) says that a trademark name is not sufficient, and that the full scientific name of a strain must also appear on the product label.

Since your gut contains hundreds (if not thousands) of different types of bacteria, it’s best to find a probiotic that contains a wide variety of bacterial strains. Most probiotics will include the 2 major strains Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacteria bifidum, however, the best probiotic supplements will go above and beyond by including several more strains.

The other reason that this is important is because different bacteria adhere to different areas of the digestive and intestinal tract.

For instance, lactobacilli bacteria have an affinity for the upper GI tract, namely the alkaline medium in the small intestine. Bifidobacteria tend to favour the slightly more acidic environment of the large intestine. Thus, it’s important to get the best of both of these bacteria and numerous species and strains that they encompass.

We’ve only scratched the surfaced of the complex world of probiotics in this article and if you’d like to get the full story so that you can feel confident in the next probiotic you choose, then read this new report called “Probiotics: Why You Need Them and How to Choose Them”.



3 thoughts on “How to Choose a Probiotic

  1. Kristel from Healthy Frugalista

    Thanks for this info.

    I just heard recently that if there are letters and numbers after the name of the organism on a probiotic label it indicates that the organism is not a naturally occuring organism, but rather one that has been genetically modified. You didn’t mention this, so I’m wondering what your thoughts are on this idea. I’ve stopped taking my probiotic until I find out if there is any truth to what I heard.

  2. Christian

    Excellent post! Thank you for publishing this Sean. I’ve been (passively) lookibg for a guide like this for a while. And I think it’s especially for a topic like this, which you’ve taught us all is important; but very few people actually know what to do about it. Great 😀


    Leaky gut, milk is terrible for leaky gut, especially if you’re lactose intolerant like I am. Kefir is excellent and you can make it. Google KEFIR and it’s amazing what comes up! Like a table of contents in a book, the Google sites have specific answers. We take Udo’s and it’s cheapest at Goodness Me! in Canada by far. Also we always get the “live” refridgerated DON’T go to health supplement stores! Go to health food stores where they sell food AND supplements, as they work much better. The supplement specialty stores all seem to be in malls where the store rent is high and their prices show it.

    No one is saying WHY they’re taking probiotics! Let’s get real and say why. I take it because I’m lactose intolerant. My husband because he has severe diarrhea from radiation enteritis. I’m a reseach fanatic and it better work, have studies supporting it and have both traditional ( at least some and I find the speciialists are more honest and not so drug company driven) and homeopathic doctors.

    Here’s some amazing supplements ect. that really work and have studies to prove it. I know they work because not only my husband and I use them but many of our friends have been using them because they work!

    Leaky gut, the villi in the gastrointestinal wall are the guardians so to speak of ALL nutrients that feed your body cells. Crohs, IBS…Irritable Bowl Disease, Celiac disease, antibiotics, stress, injuries, and ill health destroy the villi. So instead of nutrients (vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbs, sugars ect. staying in the gut and going to the proper cells. The gust is “leaky”, the guardians are knocked out, and all those lovely nutrients leak out through the gut walls and to the outside of the gut where they do no good and actually do damage to your body in a nutshell.

    Probiotics help heal the gut wall by helping digestion of various nutrients. Did you know that more than 80% of serotonin is made in the gut and only 20% in the brain!
    So if your gastrointestinal tract is messed up, there goes the serotonin!

    Glutamine, that’s GLUTAMINE, is used by British and European hospitals and specialists to help heal your gut and speed healing of all injuries, and especially severe burn injuries. it’s the first thing they give patients in hospitals there. Get micronized Glutamine! I finally found the cheapest at Walmarts of all places, in the Whey Powder and diet supplement section of the pharmacy! Lots of body builders use it to heal their torn muscles when body building so Walmarts have included the best selling supplements that work in their stores.

    Its AllMax Japanese (because they were the first to micronize it, not because it’s made in Japan) micronized GLUTAMINE. Start with 1/8 tsp in small glass room temp. water 3 – 4 times a day 1/2 hour before meals or an hour after. After 5-6 days go up to 1/2 tsp 3 – 4 times a day. It starts to work on your gastrointestinal system and therefore starts getting the villi healed and nutrients to where they belong in a few days.

    The 4th day after I started the 1/8 tsp 3 – 4 times a day, an amazing thing happened!. Now I’ve been on anti depressents a long time and though they work fairly well, I’ve never felt truly happy for a long long time. I think positive thoughts, have good friends, eat healthy etc. but worry, stress out and have anxieties that I think about too much like all of us do lol!
    Don’t feel sorry for myself and certainly try to be cheerful. I’m on Paxil and Wellbutrin.
    On the 4th day, I woke up HAPPY, not super happy or stoned happy or I just got a raise happy….JUST HAPPY…like when I was 10 or so and didn’t worry about money or friends or guys or how you feel when you hit puberty and everything seems intense, just a nice natural true bodily happiness. It dawned on me that all that 80% of serotonin my gut had not been able to make all those years were being made naturally by a healthy gut!

    I thought, it’s too good to be true and then my husband ( who doesn’t have depression ), told me….it’s weird but the last few days since on glutamine, I’ve been feeling kinda happy and not stressed about things. The stressors are still there but at more of a distance where I can easily cope with them and not in my face live usual. I realized that I didn’t feel stressed either, more like I could cope and not as worried. It’s been three months like that so far for the both of us and it is SUCH A RELIEF!

    Here’s what we take and that works better now that we take Glutamine.
    Omega 3 1000 mg. one in morning one at nite…..he can’t take baby asperin any more because of radiation to his bladder makes him easily inflammed there and bleed ( a lot).

    Co Q10 myself i gel cap 150mg in morn ( with oil makes is more absorbable ) helps my skin, gastro, heart, and now I’m reading that it helps a lot of things.
    Cardiologists in Europe take it and make sure their family, over 18 take it!
    It’s their first line of defense in Congestive Heart Failure. It makes each heart cell work at it’s best.
    Husband 2 of 150 mg in morning and 1 of 150 mg at nite….because of leaky heart valve ( Mitral Valve Prolapse ) he got so much better, so fast that he didn’t have to have a valve replaced with a pig valve and has been on it for 20 years. Walmart’s EQUATE house brand the FAMILY VALUE PAC of 150 mg. for $11.99 is at least 1/2 price of any other drug store!

    Probiotics (live) Udo brand refrigerated 24 Billion 1 cap twice a day before you eat big meal
    We both take it….it helps his radiation enteritis a lot! and helps my lactose intolerance and leaky gut. Any refrigerated probiotic is fine just make sure that the Acidophilus in NOT the first and highest count as that’s the cheapest and least effective of all the probiotics unless you only have lactose intolerance, doesn’t help heal the gut as well as the bifudus and casei that they often use in hospitals ( for Crohs, Celiac, diarrhea, because it works when many other things do not ) . By the way, in an emergency diarrhea bout he takes Immodium…loperamide? Probiotics work for constipation as well as for diarrhea by the way.

    Vit D3 ( pharmasist said it’s the same as Vit D) companies are just starting to be more specific. There’s a Vit D2 used foe something else so they’re trying to differentuate the two.

    And a good multi vitamin/mineral supplement, doesn’t matter what brand really.
    He takes Calcium….get the liquid as you get more out of it and it is absorbed better.I don’t take it any more because Calcium supplements have been proven this last year as causing strokes and heart attacks but only in women. Big, long study came out an now my doctor and other friends docs are telling women not to take it. Get it through food.

    For the Guys….Calcium (liquid is by far the best ) Carbonate is GREAT if you have loose bowels. but not for constipation

    Calcium (liquid remember) Citrate is great if you have constipation but DON’T take if you have loose bowels!

    That’s all she wrote. from the heart and years of reading, trying, testing .
    I take it ONLY if proven safe too, with not side effects.

    But be smart, there are some interactions with everything so look it up in webmd Click Drugs and Supplements then on pop up on left click SUPPLEMENTS by far the easiest and most understandable site. Ask your doctor but also do research on your own. The site above tells Side Effects and Interactions with other Drugs or food….so I use it often ( but it’s not the only site I check….some I check are are quite detailed and clinical especially the medical studies sites!

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