Healthy Gut, Happy Life! Are Probiotics Right for You?
First, What are Probiotics?
Whether as food or a supplement, probiotics contain healthy bacteria which are normally found in our guts, primarily our large intestines. Those bacteria keep our intestines healthy and balanced so that we can be healthy.
For thousands of years, healthy bacteria kept our ancestors healthy and there was no thought of needing to supplement. Why? Because our ancestors lived in a healthier world and ate healthy food full of good bacteria. Food preparation practices which were part of ancestral cultures were quite healthy for their guts.
However, now we live in a toxic, stressed world full of unhealthy food that hurts our guts instead of keeping them healthy.
Keep reading for more in-depth information about how you can navigate the world of probiotic foods and supplements.
What Probiotics are Best for You?
As a functional nutritional therapist, I always start with food. If nutritional needs can’t be met with food, supplements are sometimes necessary.
Any fermented foods contain probiotic bacteria.
Fermented veggies like sauerkraut, okra, cucumbers - notice I didn’t say pickles because they are processed with heat, so they aren’t probiotic.
Fermented dairy like kefir and yoghurt, cultured butter
I recommend eating/drinking a small amount and having a variety at each meal. Each food has its own bacterial content so by eating a variety you are helping feed your gut with the variety it needs to be healthy.
One caution, fermented foods contain histamine, so if you have allergy issues, I recommend ruling out histamine issues before including ferments in your diet.
So, you decide that you need a probiotic supplement, or your health care practitioner recommends one.
Let’s talk about How to Choose the Right Probiotic for You
The market is flooded with probiotic advertising and a wide variety or products, all saying that the product is the best and will heal your gut and boost your immune system.
But they’re not all right for you or the best quality product. Not all probiotics are created equally.
So, how are you to know so you don’t waste your energy and money? By asking and answering the following 6 questions:
How were the species sourced?
Are there live cultures in the product?
What is the quality of the raw material the cultures were grown with?
Were the different species grown together, or separately?
What carriers are used in the product, and what is the quality of the carriers?
Can the beneficial flora get where they need to go?
Here’s the Answers:
1. Does Your Probiotic come from Animal or Human Sources?
We as humans have specific species of probiotic bacteria in our guts. Animals have bacteria which are most beneficial to them. There are minute differences between the strains, but does it make a difference in their effectiveness in the health of the human gut?
It makes sense to ask if our probiotics should be sourced from only humans or also animals?
I’m not saying that animal sources are bad, but some specialists question the compatibility of animal probiotic bacteria in the human gut.
There are only a few companies who source bacteria strictly from human sources. That would be my first choice.
2. Probiotic – Alive or Dead!
Are the cultures in your probiotic live or have they been freeze-dried?
If something has been alive, and then is frozen, it is dead and cannot be brought back to life.
There are many probiotics on the market which are freeze-dried. Which means they are dead. Which means they cannot repopulate the gut! They are NOT biologically active.
So, as you shop for a probiotic, make sure it has live cultures.
3. What is the Quality of the Raw Material?
Just as in our food supply and other supplement supply, the product isn’t healthy if the raw material isn’t healthy.
It’s important that you know how the company sources it’s raw material and what it uses to grow its cultures.
When we’re spending good money on probiotics, we want a quality product to effectively repopulate the intestines.
4. Together or Separate?
Probiotic supplements contain several to many species. But were they grown together or grown separately and put together?
Probiotics which were grown together are much more effective. It is possible that strains grown separately and then put together might see each other as the enemy instead of another friendly species and attack it, setting up inflammation.
Hint! Most products on the market were grown separately and put together! UGH!
5. What Carrier is Used in the Probiotic?
Probiotic bacteria need food on to grow and develop. That food comes primarily from simple carbohydrates from milk, sugar from cane, beets, and corn. But what is the quality of this food? Is it organic or possibly contaminated with toxins?
The very best method is to use fermented whole toxin-free foods as the base instead. Only a few companies are using this method, but it is growing in popularity.
6. Does the Probiotic Get to the Colon Intact and Healthy?
The majority of probiotic strains survive and thrive in a slightly-alkaline-of-neutral pH environment, which is the exact pH of tissues in our body except for the stomach, which is very acidic.
So, the challenge for manufacturers is to make a product which will get through the acid environment of the stomach and arrive healthy in the colon to do its magic.
The truth is that most probiotics are killed off in the stomach and your money is wasted.
Some probiotics have enteric coatings to prevent that; however, it’s difficult to ensure that the coating will dissolve and release the probiotics in the colon. Some enteric coatings come out of the body intact. More money down the toilet.
An effective probiotic requires an advanced delivery system, which is lacking in most products on the market.
6. Lastly, when should you take a probiotic?
Generally, you should wait until 24 hours after you have finished a round of antibiotics. You’re probably wasting your money to take with antibiotics.
Yes, your microbiome will get depleted during antibiotic therapy, but the antibiotics are probably killing off the probiotics you’re feeding your gut. So, save your money and start to rebuild when the probiotic can be effective.
Now that you have read all this, I’ll bet you’d like a short cut and someone to tell you which product (s) meet all these criteria and have the best chance at making your microbiome healthy. I can do that! Just go to the contact page and send me an email. I’ll be happy to guide you.