This might be one of the questions I get asked most often…how to choose the right probiotic.
With a growing awareness about the importance of these friendly bacteria and the enormous impact they have on our overall health, more and more people are seeking out probiotic supplements to address a myriad of health issues from IBS to inflammation to immunity. As we understand more about our internal ecosystem of microorganisms we better understand how to care for it. Think of it like cultivating your inner garden of microflora. Mmmmmm, that’s nice.
Excuse me while I nerd-out for a minute because I get seriously excited to talk about probiotics and gut health.
Did you know that we have 10 times more microbes in our bodies than cells (like, 100 trillion!)? Collectively, we call this our microbiome; our personal ecosystem of microbes. Most of these tiny superheroes live in our digestive tract.
When we’re healthy, we have a good balance between good and bad bacteria. But, when we aren’t treating ourselves nicely; we’re eating poorly, we’re highly stressed, or consuming antibiotics, we deplete the good guys and the bad guys start running amok (kinda like when you throw water on gremlins).
In an ideal situation, the good guys should outnumber the bad guys. Achieving the right balance of good bacteria in the gut has a positive effect on an overwhelming number of conditions throughout the body like:
- Stress and anxiety reduction
- Brain health and mood
- Weight control
- Heart health and lowered cholesterol
- Healthy skin
- Reduced inflammation
- Treating yeast infections
With the increase in awareness and demand, there’s no shortage of probiotic supplements out there to choose from. I know this can be confusing. So, I’m writing this post to help clarify a few things.
I have lost of info to share, but I’ll keep this post focused on a buyer’s guide to probiotic supplements.
First, let’s learn some new words!
Probiotic: Live, beneficial bacteria that support good health.
Prebiotic: Food for those good bacteria to keep them strong and promote their growth.
CFU: Colony Forming Units (basically, the number of viable/living bacteria) Living bacteria multiply and therefore colonize your gut. Make sense?
Microorganisms: All the little (micro) critters that inhabit the human body. Things like bacteria, fungi and viruses. (Probiotics are microorganisms.)
Microbiome: Our body’s entire ecosystem of microorganisms (including “good” and “bad” bacteria).
Strains: Genetic variants among microorganism. For instance, there are 2 main categories of probiotics (lactobacillus and bifidobacterium) and within those groups there are over 400 different sub-categories (strains) in our digestive tract alone.
Did you find that as fun as I did?
Now that we’ve got that down, I’m happy to report that you can easily get all sorts of different strains of probiotics from food. Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, pickles, kefir, apple cider vinegar and miso are all chock-full of good bacteria due to the fermentation process. I love the tangy zing and delicious savoury bite that a lot of these foods offer up and add them to my diet whenever I can. But, I realize that not everyone shares my love for fermented foods and sometimes you just can’t get them in on a daily basis. So, that’s where supplements come in handy.
The right probiotic supplements can provide your gut with a reliably measured dose of those good guys when you can’t get enough from food sources.