With public interest in probiotics higher than it’s ever been, the market has been flooded in recent years with various types of products to consider. As much as this has created numerous options for those interested in trying probiotics, it has also made it difficult for most people to know where to start. After all, not all probiotic supplements are created equal, and some are far more likely to provide substantial benefits than others.
So, how exactly should you go about choosing a quality probiotic supplement in such a crowded marketplace? Here are five tips to help you on your search.
1. Start with Specific Strains
There’s certainly quite a bit to decode when it comes to understanding the finer points of probiotics. One of the most confusing aspects of probiotics is just how many different strains there are to choose from. While many strains are perfectly suited for general use and can help to provide balance to the gut microbiome, some are more specific in their uses and aren’t right for everyone.
It’s typically best to start with a more common strain like L. acidophilus, which is already found within the gut and can exert many beneficial actions. From there, you may want to branch out and experiment with other, more specialized strains, such as L. paracasei CNCM 1-1572 or LP-DG™
2. Stick with Single-strain Probiotics
Probiotic supplements come in a variety of forms, ranging from capsules that can be taken with food to “micro-shots” that are in liquid suspension and perfect for taking on the go. Aside from packaging, however, there’s one major distinction between certain probiotics — single-strain vs. multi-strain. Many manufacturers sell multi-strain probiotics under the guise that they might be more effective given their inherent diversity. Unfortunately, some combo probiotics may do more harm than good in the long run.
When multiple strains of probiotics are combined and enter the gut at the same time, they don’t work together to create a more harmonious environment. Rather, they often fight one another in an attempt to assert dominance. In the end, many of the active cultures advertised on the packaging will end up dying either due to harsh stomach acids or competition with one another once inside the gut. The takeaway? Stick with single-strain probiotics— they’re simply more effective and better suited for most people.
3. Don’t Overlook Packaging
As stated above, there are many different ways to package probiotics. Packaging may not seem like a very important factor at face value, but the reality is that it can have quite a large impact on the viability of the cultures contained within the supplement. Many probiotics supplements require refrigeration from production to shipping and finally at the home of the end user in order to prevent the beneficial bacteria from dying prematurely. Others, however, are “shelf stable,” which means they’re capable of surviving for long periods of time without ever needing to be refrigerated.
If you want to ensure that the product you choose remains viable and won’t degrade with time, it’s essential to choose packaging that is shelf stable. This information is usually printed right on the label, so be sure to look for it before making a purchase.
4. Pay Attention to CFUs (But Not Too Much Attention)
Colony forming units — commonly abbreviated as “CFUs” — are typically used to measure the amount of active cultures contained within a probiotic supplement. This simple measurement can be quite helpful and is typically displayed on the box or label of the bottle. One of the most important things to understand about colony forming units, however, is that more doesn’t necessarily equate to better.
As an example, many probiotics include billions of CFUs, claiming that the superlatively high amount of units will help better populate the gut when compared to probiotics supplements containing smaller counts. In reality, however, the body is only capable of processing around 8 billion CFUs, regardless of which strain is being introduced. All of the billions of extra units often contained in probiotics supplements are simply there as a measure set in place by the manufacturer to ensure as many active cultures as possible make it to the gut intact. Probiotics with high CFU counts are also more expensive in that the “extra” billions of CFUs are not usable, so they are wasted.
5. Watch Out for Harmful Added Ingredients
Most people who set out to try a probiotic supplement think that’s exactly what they’re be getting — live active bacteria that can be beneficial to the gut microbiome. What people don’t expect, however, is the added chemicals, fillers and other compounds that are often combined with probiotic bacteria in certain supplements. Some supplements may even contain ingredients that may be considered dangerous to those who suffer allergies and other autoimmune conditions, which is why it’s so important to ensure that the brand of supplement you choose is fully transparent about what’s contained inside.
Choosing the Right Strain
As one might expect, the most challenging part of shopping for probiotics is selecting the most effective and beneficial (to you) strain. While there’s no such thing as a “one-size-fits-all” strain of probiotic bacteria, some are considered more effective than others and may be worth experimenting with first if you’re new to the world of probiotics. With a little bit of trial and error, you can quickly determine which strains seem to provide noticeable benefits and which (if any) aren’t working for you.
Not sure where to start? Here are six probiotic strains that are commonly found in supplement form, each of which can provide lasting benefits to the gut:
If you’ve ever heard that fermented foods are strong sources of probiotics, it’s because of the presence of Lactobacillus plantarum. L. plantarum can be found in sauerkraut, kimchi and other cultured foods, and its capability of surviving stomach acids is unparalleled. Because it helps to reduce gut permeability, it’s perfect for protecting against uncomfortable digestive ailments like leaky gut syndrome. Because it’s also extremely effective at absorbing essential vitamins and minerals, L. plantarum helps keep the body healthy and supports the immune system in fighting against harmful pathogens. As a result, it’s one of the best “general” probiotic strains available, and one that many people benefit from soon after starting to take it.
Speaking of harmful pathogens, L. brevis is one of the best options around when it comes to defenders of the immune system. L. brevis not only helps to enhance immune function — it can even boost cellular immunity, which may help to fight against free-radicals and other health-disruptive elements. It’s also been shown to increase production of BDNF (an important hormone for brain health) from taking L. brevis regularly, and it’s no wonder why so many probiotics enthusiasts have a special place in their hearts for this workhorse strain.
Certainly one of the better-known strains in probiotics, B. bifidum is a popular choice for good reason. Its primary function is to keep unwanted bacteria from taking root in the gut while easing digestion and supporting the immune system. B. bifidum may also be an effective strain for those who suffer from allergies, and its impact on skin health makes it ideal for those who deal with chronic skin conditions.
Another member of the Bifidobacterium genus, B. longum, is special in that it’s one of the first types of bacteria that colonizes the body at birth. As one might expect, it’s an excellent defense against diarrhea and harmful pathogens — it may even work to fight certain food allergies that may develop during infancy. B. longum is highly effective as a tool for maintaining healthy cholesterol levels.
When discussing probiotic strains that have been studied widely, L. acidophilus is at the top of the list. Aside from its ability to help support against diarrhea, promote weight loss and protect against infectious bacteria, L. acidophilus is an ideal strain for those who live with irritable bowel disorders. One study of 60 people found that those who had bowel disorders saw improvements in bloating after taking L. acidophilus and another strain of probiotics. L. acidophilus is one of the most effective probiotics that support healthy digestion.
Lactobacillus paracasei CNCM I-1572
Lactobacillus paracasei CNCM I-1572 — also known as LP-DG™ — is a popular probiotic strain known for its ability to improve digestive health by restoring beneficial gut microflora and supporting healthy inflammatory response. LP-DG™ is the subject of 20 human clinical studies where it has been shown to excel at easing digestive troubles and adding balance to the microbiome. Further, because it has been shown to replenish intestinal microflora, it is an effective strain to combat modern lifestyles that are characterized by stress, poor diet, antibiotic treatment, and insufficient sleep.
Choosing the right probiotic can take some trial and error, but it is well worth the effort.