Naturally found in yogurt, most fermented foods, and dietary supplements, probiotics are live organisms, or "good" bacteria and yeasts, also naturally present in the body. When ingested or applied topically, probiotics can help to balance the body's microbiome and eliminate more harmful strains of bacteria.
But with so many different strains of probiotics, how can you know which probiotic supplements to use? This article will provide an introductory guideline to understanding probiotics, why you may choose to incorporate them into your nutrition plan and how they can be beneficial to your health.
Probiotics are becoming increasingly popular. In fact, they are the third most-used dietary supplement in the U.S. after vitamins and minerals.
As a whole, probiotics actually comprise several unique strains of beneficial bacteria and yeasts, most notably formulated to promote and balance gut health. Each strain has a specific purpose, but multi-strains have been shown to be even more effective in maintaining balance within the digestive tract, which is why understanding probiotics is important to choose the one that best supports you.
The digestive tract is home to more than 500 bacterial species, each contributing to body functions, such as digestion, immune system development and nutrient production. Further, different people can have varying strains of gut microorganisms based on what intestinal conditions they may be experiencing. For example, a person with elimination issues may have more of a specific bacterial variety than someone with no issue.
When introduced into the digestive system, probiotics can also help break down proteins and fats, which can be supportive during times of lowered immunity. Different probiotic strains also work on different sections of the digestive system. Some are meant to carry friendly bacteria through to the large intestine, while others can't survive the stomach acid.
Certain strains are designed to potentially replace the good bacteria that prescribed antibiotics also kill off. The probiotic Saccharomyces boulardii, a beneficial yeast, may be especially helpful in balancing the gut during or after antibiotic use. It can help prevent the overgrowth of certain unfriendly fungi, yeasts or bacteria.
The most common probiotic species are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria. You may have seen their specific strain on food or supplement labels with names like L. acidophilus or B. lactis.
Each strain can have multiple purposes, such as aiding in digestive health, women's health or oral health. Probiotics are also present in fermented plant-based foods and drinks, like miso, kimchi and sauerkraut, water kefir, or dairy products, like yogurt, milk kefir and fermented cheeses. As cows milk dairy is one of the most common food sensitivities, it's best to consider non-dairy food sources of probiotics or favor sheep or goats milk as an alternative. Working in tandem with probiotics, prebiotics are found in fiber-rich foods including many fruits, vegetables and grains, and serve to feed the good bacteria living in the gut to help maintain balance.
It's also important to note that not all probiotics are created equal. Your microbiome may require a very specific combination of probiotic strains to rebalance your gut using a scientifically formulated protocol plan. If you suspect you may have a bacterial imbalance, you can run a simple at-home lab test to assess how well your digestive system is functioning and the relationship with your energy levels and mood.
Working alongside a certified health practitioner, you can further understand your results with a personalized wellness plan and the appropriate probiotic recommendation that best supports your current health to restore any imbalances.