Probiotics are often in the news, and you’ve probably heard about them many times. But do you take probiotics already? Do you take them consistently? Today, I want to tell you why I take probiotics everyday and how to choose a probiotic for yourself.
Why are probiotics important?
Our bodies are full of bacteria – not the bad stuff that leads to infection, but good, helpful bacteria that we need to survive and thrive. These beneficial bacteria make up about four pounds of your body weight!
Over 500 different types of beneficial bacteria lives within the digestive tract, and it all works together to keep the body functioning well. In fact, immunity is considered to “begin in the gut.” Without the right balance of these helpful bacteria, the body’s immune system is weakened and harmful micro-organisms are able to flourish.
These beneficial bacteria help to:
- digest our food
- promote regularity
- keep harmful bacteria from multiplying and making us sick
- renew cells in the intestinal lining to keep it in optimal health
- produce certain nutrients, like B vitamins and vitamin K, that we need to live
- produce short-chain fatty acids that help prevent cancer
- increase immune response
It’s like there’s an enormous community within us that works around the clock to keep us healthy. Yet this community exists in a delicate balance. If that balance is disrupted, the entire community is thrown out of whack and the body suffers for it.
What do probiotics do?
Probiotics replenish the healthy bacteria that we may have lost and restore the necessary balance to the bacterial community.
The word probiotic means “pro life” or “in favor of life,” and its opposite is antibiotic, meaning “against life.” Though antibiotics are adept at killing harmful, infection-causing bacteria, they simultaneously destroy the healthy bacteria that we need.
This is why diarrhea is such a common side effect when taking antibiotics. When the healthy bacteria has been destroyed, the digestive system can’t function properly and any number of digestive complications can result.
Some people experience yeast infections or thrush after taking antibiotics. Again, the destruction of the healthy bacterial community is to blame. Without the 100 trillion beneficial bacteria keeping it in check, the fungus Candida albicans is able to flourish, leading to yeast infections and thrush.
Even if you haven’t taken antibiotics recently, the community of healthy bacteria in your body could be out of balance. This imbalance, called dysbiosis, may be caused by chlorine in drinking water, eating processed foods, prolonged stress, and mercury exposure from dental fillings and some fish.
Some signs of dysbiosis, are:
- excess gas
- hormone imbalance
- impaired immunity (the tendency to get sick a lot)
- vaginal infections
Many experts agree that basically everyone can benefit from taking a probiotic supplement each day. The issue then becomes how to choose a probiotic that will work best for you. With so many brands and formulas on the market, how can you figure out which one to buy?
How to Choose a Probiotic Supplement
Our digestive systems naturally host over 500 species of beneficial bacteria, and there is no way that any probiotic supplement can contain all of these types. Instead, look for as many of these “biggies” as possible:
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- L. bulgaricus
- L. rhamnosus
- L. plantarum
- L. brevis
- L. reuteri
- L. salivarius
- L. casei
- Bifidobacterium bifidum
- B. longum
- B. infantis
- B. breve
- B. lactis
- Streptococcus thermophilus
- Saccharomyces boulardii
Ideally, you want at least four strains of bacteria: L. acidophilus, L. plantarum, L. rhamnosus, and B. bifidus. The more the better, but don’t stress if you can’t find (or can’t afford) a brand with dozens of bacterial strains.
Always choose a supplement from a reputable company. Many offer third-party verification that their products contain the live bacteria that the label claims. Also, select a bottle with the furthest-away expiration date because the number of live bacteria diminishes as the bottle sits on a shelf.
Each daily dosage of a probiotic supplement should contain between 1 and 5 billion live organisms. This will be displayed as CFU on the label. For instance, “3 billion CFU.”
Most supplements recommend taking one capsule daily, but it can be helpful to take 2-3 doses each day during times of diarrhea or other acute issues.
What about refrigeration?
From my current research, high quality probiotics do not need to be refrigerated. They’re prepared now with some kind of process that locks the organisms in airless tablets so they last much longer. Of course, if the bottle says to refrigerate, do it! And if you’re more comfortable storing your probiotics in the fridge, it’s certainly not going to hurt anything.
Because every probiotic supplement contains a different blend of bacteria species, I like to change the brand I take every couple bottles. I’ve been through three different brands in the last year and am about to try a new one when my current bottle runs out.
Depending on your personal needs, you may find it helpful to switch formulas even more often. Maybe take a particular brand for a week, then take a different brand the following week. Or perhaps even take a different brand each day.
Changing things up this way will supply your body with a maximized variety of bacteria without spending a fortune on a brand that “has it all.”
How long should you take probiotics?
In my opinion and according to what I read in holistic health books, a daily probiotic supplement should be part of your lifetime routine. In our modern world, the community of beneficial bacteria within is under an almost constant onslaught from the environment.
The food we eat, impure water we may drink, medications, daily stress … the list goes on and on. All of these things disrupt the healthy balance of microflora in the digestive system. But we can combat the disruption by eating probiotic foods and taking a daily probiotic supplement.
Adding probiotics to your daily routine will bring myriad benefits to your health. From stronger immunity to regular bowel movements, from preventing stomach ulcers to preventing cancer, probiotics will keep “pulling their weight” for the long haul. Now that you know how to choose a probiotic, it’s time to get out there and pick one. Your body will thank you.
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Campbell-McBride, Natasha, MD. GAPS: Gut and Psychology Syndrome. Maple Press, 2010.
Stengler, Mark, ND. The Natural Physician’s Healing Therapies: Proven Remedies Medical Doctors Don’t Know. Prentice Hall Press, 2010.
This information has not been evaluated by the FDA and is intended only for educational purposes. It is not intended to diagnose, prevent, treat, or cure disease. Always consult a healthcare professional before making significant changes to your healthcare routine.
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