The benefits of probiotics have been known for thousands of years. The use of fermented foods for intestinal and digestive problems was written about in ancient Rome, the Middle East and Asia. People knew to use probiotics for health before they ever knew probiotics were the beneficial part of the fermented foods.
Today, information on probiotics is all over the internet. Some of it is conflicting information, so, how do you know which probiotic to choose? Below, we’ll discuss the different kinds of probiotics and what ingredients to avoid to help you choose the best probiotic supplement for you.
Probiotic Basics: The Tried & True
There are many microorganisms that have the distinction of being probiotic. Many of these are native to our digestive tract, while others do a wonderful job once they get there. The first probiotics that were identified were the lactobacillus strains back in the late 1800s. These are found naturally in the human gut and fermented d foods like yogurt and sauerkraut. The Lactobacillus strains that are most prominent are L. acidophilus, L. rhamnosus, L. Casei, and L. johnsonii. Lactobacillus strains have been used to aid GI problems since their discovery. They are tried and true, but some studies show that they don’t often live through to the lower intestines, getting killed off by stomach acid and bile salts. For better longevity, make sure your Lactobacillus probiotics are combined with bifidobacteria and prebiotics.
Bifidobacteria strains are also naturally found in the human gut and were identified very early on in probiotic research. They are necessary for a healthy gut. As with Lactobacillus strains, the Bifodobacterium don’t have a great survival rate in the stomach and small intestines, so make sure to take a probiotic supplement with strains from both that also contains prebiotics for better survival in the upper GI. We like Mercola Complete Probiotics because it fits all these criteria, and is free of all potentially harmful fillers I’ll discus shortly. It contains 9 strains of Lactobacillus and bifidobacterium probiotics, along with prebiotics, and was formulated to be resistant to bile salt and acid breakdown.
Probiotic Basics: The Powerful Newcomers
In recent years, a new form of probiotic supplements has emerged that addresses the problem of survival in the stomach and small intestines. Within the last ten years, soil based probiotics have taken the market by storm. Soil-based organisms, or SBOs, are actually spores and are sometimes called spore-forming bacteria or spore-forming probiotics. Though they are not native to our gut, they develop a symbiotic relationship once there and have been shown to be very beneficial.
While soil-based probiotics have not been popular for long, humans have been eating SBO’s as long as there have been humans. Ancient humans used to ingest lots of SBOs in their diets naturally from eating fruit, vegetables, roots and whatever they gathered. Preindustrialized people ate freshly farmed food and worked and played in the dirt. The rise in processed food production, modern urbanization and the rampant use of pesticides have left our diets virtually devoid of these hearty, beneficial bacteria – so much so that a soil-based probiotic supplement is a very good idea.
The characteristic that put soil-based probiotics in the limelight over the past years is their ability to survive better into and through the intestines without any special treatment or coatings. Also, they are very shelf stable in heat and cold, which makes them easy to store and safe for travel.
At Nourishing World, we sell a few very good soil-based probiotics. The one I take daily and the only probiotic I have ever tried that keeps me regular is Prescript-Assist. It contains 29 strains of microflora and prebiotics to ensure viability throughout the entire digestive tract. Five years of double-blind, university clinical trials showed Prescript Assist can:
- Ease abdominal discomfort, nausea, and indigestion
- Regulate bowel patterns
- Keep the gastrointestinal tract healthy
- Decrease bloating and flatulence
- Restore healthy microorganisms in the gastrointestinal tract
- Promote overall health
Because what works best for one person may not for another, we sell a couple other soil-based and spore-forming probiotics. Global Healing Center’s Latero Flora is a single strain of microflora shown to naturally inhibit a number of pathogens including candida. Research shows that Latero-Flora has significant effectiveness in easing gastrointestinal symptoms as well as food sensitivities, while enhancing digestive efficiency.
The newest probiotic to grace our shelves is just Thrive Probiotic & Antioxidant. This brand is different because it markets itself as a spore-forming probiotic instead of soil-based. What’s more, it was formulated to stay in the gut for the entire 21 day life cycle. This means the microflora has time to colonize in the gut, where it can revitalize digestive bacteria, restore immune balance and aid in the creation of powerful disease-fighting antioxidants for a healthy body and mind.
What to Avoid in Probiotic Supplements
Because there are so many choices of good supplements on the market, it is hard to narrow down choices. Here is a list of ingredients to avoid when purchasing any supplement, including probiotics. I recommend avoiding these because they are questionable at best, and some have been shown to cause serious health problems.
Flow Agents – Look for magnesium stearate, steric acid, vegetable stearate and other stearates. Another flow agent to avoid is Magnesium Silicate. These are added simply to speed up the processing of supplements – without regard for the harm they may cause. There is a ton of controversy all over the web about their safety and their potential harm to humans.
Artificial Colors – I don’t think I need to discuss the many potential side effects of artificial colors. We try to avoid them in food, so try to avoid them in supplements, as well.
Titamium Dioxide – This is a metal used in supplements and cosmetics as a pigment. It has been linked to problems with immune function. Avoid any supplement with this ingredient.
Fundamentals of Taking Probiotics
People often ask what is the best time of day to take probiotics and is it best to take them with food or without. Taking probiotics at any time, with or without food is going to benefit you, but for maximum benefit, take it within 30 minutes of eating something with at least a little bit of healthy fat.
The best time of day to take probiotics for maximum benefit seems to be individual. Ideally, you should take them when you will be able to relax and be stress free for a few hours. For many, this is around bedtime. But, some people may be early risers who get up and have a nice relaxing morning. These people may get the maximum benefit taking their probiotic supplement during their morning routine. I take mine in the morning because that is when it fits in my schedule. I notice the benefits when I do this, so I know it’s working. I rarely remember to take supplements at night, so even though that may be the best time of day for me to take them, if I forget to take them they do me no good. As I stated earlier, taking them at any time of day can be beneficial. With a little experimentation and some willingness to pay attention to your body, you can find out what the best time of day is for you. Or take them when it’s convenient – you will still benefit.
There are a couple things most experts agree on when supplementing with probiotics.
- Probiotics should be taken during and after a round of antibiotics. Antibiotics do not discriminate between good and bad microflora and kill off everything, leaving the body devoid of beneficial bacteria along with the infection. One article I read for this post said it can take over a year for our bodies to completely rebuild the healthy bacteria colonies after a single round of antibiotic treatment. With supplementation, this time frame can be greatly reduced.
- Don’t take probiotics within two hours of taking antibiotics (or supplements with strong antibiotic properties). Lets face it, if you’re taking antibiotics, your probiotics are not going to work optimally. Every time you take an antibiotic pill or the pink goo you will kill some microflora. To give the probiotics a fighting chance to get into your system for a bit, you want to make sure you have a two hour window on both sides. If you are taking antibiotics morning and night, then take probiotics two hours after the antibiotics so it has many hours to work before you take the antibiotics again.
Most people I know don’t eat fermented foods daily. I don’t eat fermented foods daily, so I take a good probiotic supplement (Prescript Assist) to help maintain a healthy digestive tract and improve my immune system. If you’re like me, and don’t eat fermented foods daily, then supplementing with a good probiotic is a good idea for you, too.