Evidence suggests that supplementing one’s levels of good bacteria with a high-quality probiotic can be beneficial to the body in many ways. The digestive system can benefit, as well as the immune system; and even diverse areas such as skin health, energy levels, and weight management. But when it comes to choosing a probiotic supplement, the consumer is hit with an array of claims from various companies; boasting their different strains, species, billions counts, shelf stability and so on. And all of this in different forms – probiotic capsules, pills, yoghurts, drinks, even chewing gum and chocolate!
So which factors are actually important when it comes to making your decision? Is it necessary to go for a certain number of billions? Should one be taking a certain number of strains? Is it best to take probiotics in form of a yoghurt drink or a capsule? It is a difficult decision to make, and one that if made incorrectly, could do some damage to your bank balance, as well as to your health. Here I will share some tips on what to look out for in a probiotic.
1. Avoid gimmicky products like trendy yoghurt drinks. These are especially to be avoided if you want to watch your waistline or if you have diabetes; as the levels of sugar in these ‘health’ drinks is colossal. Leading probiotic yoghurt drinks contain more sugar than cola; and the sugar-free options contain artificial sweeteners.
2. Billions Count. Firstly, try not to overly preoccupy yourself with the number of billions that you are getting. It will not be beneficial to take 30 billion probiotics per day if the probiotics have not met more important criteria, for example the ability to survive stomach acidity, and to bind to the gut wall lining. Having said that, the gut is home to roughly 100 trillion bacteria. So best to go for a supplement offering at least 2 or 3 billion microorganisms, as opposed to a few million.
3. Do not fall for the ‘Time of Manufacture Guarantee.’ Sure, it sounds like a good thing, it’s a guarantee after all! But actually, what this jargon guarantees is that the number of billions stated on the pack is actually the number of billions that existed in the product when it was made. As bacteria is of a delicate nature, this count will certainly drop as the product sits on the shelf, or even in the fridge. Make sure you choose a company who you can trust to give you an honest count of the friendly bacteria.
4. To refrigerate or not to refrigerate? As probiotics were always kept in the fridge in the past, some people think that refrigeration is a sign of better quality probiotics. Thanks to sophisticated freeze-drying technology however, that is no longer the case. Many shelf-stable probiotics are just as effective, if not more; so it remains a question of personal preference.
5. How many strains? Multi strain probiotics are generally a good idea. As different strains naturally reside in different areas of the gut, taking more than one will support a larger area of your gut rather than just the small intestine for example. On the other hand, if you are looking at a product with a huge amount of different strains, be wary that various strains can actually ‘cannibalise’ each other within a capsule. Make sure you are going for a reputable company with an expertise in probiotic & prebiotic supplements – they should have tested the strains to make sure they can live together in harmony.
6. Get the correct strains for you. Research on probiotics shows time and time again that different strains will have different effects on the body. For example, Bifidobacterium infantis is a great probiotic species for children, and is thought to play a key role in immunity. It will naturally settle in the large intestine, however, so it is not an ideal probiotic to be taking for a patient on antibiotics (who will be losing vast numbers of probiotics from the small intestine.) Try to find a probiotic supplement that is tailored for your health condition, rather than a general product that is marketed to everyone.
7. Make sure there is research. Do your research and make sure they have done theirs – look at their promotional materials, surf their website, speak to their representatives, and do not be afraid to ask lots of questions! Reliable probiotic supplements should be backed up with Clinical Trials – and these trials should be available for you to inspect at your will.