Probiotics are live bacteria or yeast that provide health benefits. Probiotics help support the growth of beneficial microbes throughout the digestive tract, improving both digestive and immune functions. An imbalance of bacteria in the intestines is associated with a variety of conditions, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
With as many as 1000 bacterial species—both beneficial and harmful—in the human digestive tract, the gut can be thought of as a garden. The probiotics are the beneficial bacterial species that act like the healthy plants to keep the weeds at bay. In addition, prebiotics, found in fiber-rich foods, act like a fertilizer to further promote growth of beneficial bacterial species.
Probiotics are naturally occurring in fermented foods, such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kombucha. They are also available as dietary supplements, in the form of chewable tablets, capsules, or powders. There are 3 important considerations when choosing a probiotic supplement: the specific bacterial strains, the dosage, and the overall quality of the product.
A common recommendation when it comes to choosing a probiotic is to find a product that includes a wide variety of bacterial strains. This recommendation is based on science that shows that healthy digestive tracts have a greater diversity of microbes. However, studies also show that it is not actually necessary to take a wide variety of probiotics in order to encourage the growth of a variety of intestinal microbes. Taking a single bacterial strain can synergistically promote the growth of a wide variety of beneficial bacteria in the intestinal tract. specific strains that have been shown to improve digestive health include Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus plantarum 299v, and Bifidobacterium lactis HN019.
Some probiotic supplements also include prebiotics. As stated above, much like a fertilizer does for a garden, prebiotics encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria. Prebiotics are generally a helpful way to promote intestinal and immune health; however, there are some people who will not feel good taking them. Anyone who has an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestines (a condition called small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, or SIBO) will feel worse when taking prebiotics. Examples of prebiotics include inulin and fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS).
Another consideration when choosing a probiotic supplement is the dosage. The amount of bacteria in a given supplement is reported on the label in terms of colony forming units (CFUs). Probiotic products can provide anywhere from millions to billions or even trillions of CFUs per serving. In relation to the total number of bacteria already present in the intestinal tract, any of these dosages is really only a drop in the bucket. Generally speaking, a high-dose probiotic is considered to provide 50 billion CFUs per day or more. This amount is useful after a course of antibiotics, to replenish the garden, or for patients with chronic gastrointestinal or immune diseases. A maintenance-dose probiotic is considered to provide between 5 billion and 30 billion CFUs per day. This amount is useful for anyone wanting to encourage a healthy balance of digestive flora on an ongoing basis.
The overall quality of the product may be the most important consideration when choosing a probiotic. Probiotics are live organisms, which are susceptible to heat, oxygen, and light. Some companies produce heat-stable products, others keep their products refrigerated, and others package them in blister packs to preserve their stability.
The specific probiotic we would recommend for you depends on your condition and
health status. We offer several high-quality probiotics through Shop the Care Group, including GastroCare and GastroCare Plus.
We hope to be coming out soon with a new super strength probiotic that has over 600 billion diverse bacteria. After vetting the product and if we bring it on board we anticipate recommending it in the more difficult, treatment resistant cases.
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2 Giamarellos-Bourboulis E, Tang J, Pyleris E, et al. Molecular assessment of differences in the duodenal microbiome in subjects with irritable bowel syndrome. Scand J Gastroenterol. 2015;50(9):1076-1087.
3 Masood MI, Qadir MI, Shirazi JH, Khan IU. Beneficial effects of lactic acid bacteria on human beings. Crit Rev Microbiol. 2011;37(1):91-98.
4 Ducrotté P, Sawant P, Jayanthi V. Clinical trial: Lactobacillus plantarum 299v (DSM 9843) improves symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. World J Gastroenterol. 2012;18(30):4012-4018.
5 Ahmed M, Prasad J, Gill H, Stevenson L, Gopal P. Impact of consumption of different levels of Bifidobacterium lactis HN019 on the intestinal microflora of elderly human subjects. J Nutr Health Aging. 2007;11(1):26-31.