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What is the Right Probiotic for Me?

Want great news? There are more options for probiotics supplements available on the market today than ever in the past. While this has opened up the possibilities for those who are interested in learning more about the various species and strains of probiotics and their associated functions, it’s also caused a great deal of confusion among consumers. Most people who are new to probiotics find themselves wondering which product is right for them, often choosing blindly and hoping for the best.

Fortunately, there are ways to determine which probiotics might be the best fit for you, and it all starts with learning about some of the most effective classifications or “teams,” each of which affect different parts of the body in unique ways.

 Identifying Probiotics by Species

The human microbiota is made up of a diversity of bacteria species -- a balance of “good” and “bad” organisms that fight one another for territory. In a reasonably healthy human, they typically exist at a ratio of 85% to 15%, respectively.

Some of the good organisms have been identified as key players in restoring and sustaining harmony of gut health and are thus contained in many popular probiotics supplements. Each of the following species provides different benefits, helping to collaboratively support the body’s natural defense against harmful pathogens and microorganisms.

Lactobacillus plantarum

Lactobacillus plantarum is one of the most beneficial bacteria found within the human body. Capable of surviving the highly acidic environment of the stomach without the threat of dying in large numbers, L. plantarum performs a number of functions that help to regulate gut health, such as ensuring healthy inflammatory levels, fortifying the gut lining and fending off pathogens from infiltrating the gut walls and colonizing.

The reduction of gut permeability is probably the most striking benefit of L. plantarum, -- research shows it support against leaky gut syndrome while also effectively digesting protein (which helps decrease certain food allergies). Finally, Lactobacillus plantarum increases absorption of key nutrients like vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants.

All of these factors make L. plantarum one of the best all-around species of bacteria for improving overall gut and digestive health, which explains why it is commonly found in probiotics supplements.

Lactobacillus acidophilus

Another commonly utilized species in supplements is Lactobacillus acidophilus. Found in fermented dairy products such as yogurt, L. acidophilus plays a major role in maintaining a balance between good and bad bacteria, thus bolstering efficacy of the immune system. Lactobacillus acidophilus’ also curtails Candida albicans overgrowth, which is beneficial to women, as Candida albicans is the fungus commonly responsible for causing yeast infections.

Those who tend to have high cholesterol may choose to incorporate this species into their diet, too, as L. acidophilus is thought to help improve cholesterol levels. Interestingly, L. acidophilus produces byproducts that can help to fight pathogens, such as acidolphilin, lactocidin and bacteriocin.

Lactobacillus paracasei

A third member of the Lactobacillus genus, Lactobacillus paracasei is one of the most thoroughly researched species of probiotics on the market, and it is one of the best options available in supplement form. L. paracasei is well known for its ability to improve digestive health by helping to restore beneficial gut microflora and supporting healthy inflammatory response.

The species is also useful for boosting energy levels and supporting the immune system. Another key benefit is that once it reaches the gut, it has a higher survival and thrive rate than many other supplemental probiotics.

Bifidobacterium lactis (AKA B. animalis) 

A member of the Bifidobacterium genus, Bifidobacterium lactis is also found within fermented milk products. Its abilities to boost immune function and protect against digestive issues have been well documented, and it may even be capable of combating pathogens such as salmonella—a dangerous microorganism that can cause severe bouts of diarrhea.

While Bifidobacterium lactis can be ingested regularly in the form of fermented milk products, it’s most effective in supplement form for those who experience uncomfortable GI symptoms and want to aid the gut’s natural ability to fight foodborne illness and related pathogens. This bacteria is often found combined with numerous other species in probiotic supplements, although it does exist on its own in certain formulations.

Bifidobacterium longum 

Bifidobacterium longum is one of the first species of bacteria that colonize the human body at birth. Thought to improve tolerance of lactose and prevent diarrhea, pathogen growth and development of food allergies, B. longum also has antioxidant abilities and may also reduce anxiety, as suggested in a mouse study. 

How to Choose a Probiotic

There are several different variables that need to be considered when selecting the most suitable probiotic. Here are four that will help guide you.

1. Price Point

No one wants to spend more than they can afford to take a probiotic supplement, especially if they’re planning on supplementing on a regular, long-term basis. The adage – you get what you pay for – remains true with probiotic supplements. Look at the quality points, notably if it can deliver “live” bacteria to the sites of colonization, convenience, taste, etc.

2. Viability

It should stand to reason that a probiotics supplement will only be effective if it’s able to deliver the amount of live, active cultures it claims to, yet viability is something that many people overlook when shopping for probiotics. As an example, many probiotics supplements require constant refrigeration to remain active and viable and when left in room temperature environments for extended duration may wind up with no more live cultures – rendering it absolutely useless.

3. CFU Count

CFU (colony forming units) is something that many probiotics manufacturers choose to boast about on packaging and in marketing materials. That said, claims about CFU count can be misleading, especially when it comes to how much you need in a supplement. The optimal CFU count for probiotics supplements that are to be taken regularly is 8 million per serving—the body simply cannot properly utilize larger amounts. Most companies that claim to offer a billion or more CFUs in a single probiotic supplement primarily hope that enough bacteria survive to the gut.

4. Strain Type

The type of strain or strains contained within a probiotic supplement is also worthy of consideration. Every strain commonly found in today’s probiotics supplements has its own set of beneficial effects, with many targeting specific parts of the body. Single-strain probiotics are often more effective than those that contain multiple strains, some of which may only kill each other off in a fight for dominance.

Determining which species of probiotic supplements is right for you can take a bit of trial and error. Many people try several probiotics supplements before finally settling on the one that works best for them. Rather than blindly choosing a supplement, it helps to start with one that has been shown to be effective in its health claims and in delivery and viability; a great example is Lactobacillus paracasei.

Familiarize yourself with each different popular strain before deciding which ones you deem best for you. Your gut and entire body will thank you!
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