What are probiotics and how do you choose the best one?

Our gut is populated by trillions of bacteria (also called probiotics) that have specific roles in the maintenance of different functions in our gut.

Probiotics are friendly flora, they populate and dominate the gut in a healthy person. Probiotics have a number of important functions:

  • they help maintain pH
  • they can reduce flatulence
  • they help detoxification
  • they aid reduction of inflammation
  • they are important for some vitamin formation
  • they help to increase absorption of vital nutrients
  • they help fight the population of bad bacteria and inhibit bad guys taken up the residence
  • they improve the consistency and frequency of bowel motions, and much more.

Dysbiosis is when there is an imbalance in the gut flora and the bad guy (bacteria) takes over. Dysbiosis manifests with following symptoms:

  • bloating, burning, flatulence
  • indigestion, diarrhea, constipation
  • nausea or diarrhea after taking supplements
  • post-adolescent acne or other skin irritations such as rosacea
  • chronic intestinal infections, parasites, yeast, unfriendly bacteria
  • undigested food in the stool and greasy stools
  • chronic vaginitis (vaginal irritation).

In the gut there is a continuous battle between good bacteria and bad bacteria. It is in our interest to support the good guys because they fight for us.

Many things have an impact on our gut flora, among the most influential include diet, chemicals derived with food, water and air, stress and drugs. To facilitate the work of the gut flora we should aim for organic food, purified water, managing stress effectively and minimisation of the drug intake.

Although we can have some probiotics from food, in my opinion, it is not enough to rely on the food source completely. If you do not have any health issue at all, it might be enough for you to use at least two of the following on a daily basis: plain yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut (raw, not pasteurised as pasteurisation kills all the good bacteria, the brands you can trust include The Cultured Cellar and Raw Health. It is also can be made at home very easily), kombucha and kefir.

Supplementing with probiotics may help you with fighting infection, supporting immune system, improve gut dysbiosis, preventing obesity, calming down the skin issues, improving bowel movements and constipation.

How to choose best probiotics

First look for a diversity of strains. The diversity provide different benefits and because they work synergistically, they increase the ability to colonise digestive tract.

I would go for six and more different strains in a probiotic and look if the supplement have any prebiotics. Prebiotics are usually coming from fibre in the food. Prebiotics are essential fuel/food to feed the probiotic so they can settle well, multiply and thrive in the gut. If there are any, then you need to make sure you have some good dietary fibre when taking probiotics.

Foods high in fibre include beans, asparagus, chicory root, garlic, onion, chives, leeks and celery.

Second, look for at least four to five billion per capsule or two.

Third, look for a probiotic that most suit your needs.There are some types of probiotics that support your specific need. For example:

  • If you travelling abroad choose the probiotics that have saccharomyces boulardii, which may prevent you from suffering sickness.
  • If you suffer from IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) or any other gut issues, go for a multiple strains with the major in bifidobacterium bifidum, lactobacillus plantarum and bifidobacterium infantis.
  • If you suffer from urinary track or vaginal infections, then the best probiotic would be that has lactobacilli reuteri and lactobacillus rhamnosus.

If you need an advice on best probiotics tailored to your needs please contact a qualified nutrition professional, who will be happy to help you.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Nutritionist Resource are reviewed by our editorial team.

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