Probiotics have become one of the hottest trends for health, and for good reason. The right kinds can help nourish your gut bacteria for your physical and mental well being.* Yet, notice I say right kinds.
Today you can find probiotics in a wide variety of foods, from frozen yogurt to protein bars. While including probiotics in foods may be good for business, many of these products may offer few if any benefits, and may even work against your health.
- The most important thing to do before focusing on probiotics.
For probiotics to do their job, you must optimize the conditions where these "good" bacteria will live and flourish. This starts with nourishing your microbiome with real food.
The purpose of probiotics, whether in food or in supplement form, is to help improve the amount of beneficial bacteria in your gut. If you eat processed foods or foods with added sugars, they will do the opposite of what you want: they will nourish the potentially pathogenic bacteria in your gut. The bad guys love simple sugars!
On the other hand, pathogenic bacteria can’t thrive on and derive the energy they need for growth from healthy fats, proteins, complex carbohydrates, and fiber-containing foods. When you focus on eating real food that isn’t processed or doesn’t contain added sugars, you’re supporting the growth of your good, beneficial bacteria.
- The best sources of probiotics may not be what you think.
If you ask a person whether or not they consume probiotics, you’re likely to get an answer similar to this, "Oh yes, I eat yogurt every day". A whopping 44 percent of people who eat yogurt do so for health reasons.
While yogurt is a traditional source of beneficial probiotic bacteria for your gut, today’s commercially mass-produced product is much different from yogurt made with cultured raw milk, either at home or from a trusted source. Many yogurt products aren’t even real yogurt!
The majority of the yogurt sold at your local store is made from factory-farmed, pasteurized, homogenized milk that may contain Monsanto’s genetically bioengineered hormone rBST, also know as rBGH, that’s injected into dairy cows to boost milk production.
Pasteurization uses high temperatures to destroy bacteria present in the milk. If the manufacturer has added the probiotics before pasteurization, there will be no live cultures left in the finished product. If probiotics are added after heat treatment, you have a better chance of receiving some live cultures.
Commercial yogurts also typically contain substantial amounts of sugar or other sweeteners, including artificial sweeteners. One 6-ounce carton of a popular brand of yogurt contains at least 20 grams of sugar! Because sugar feeds pathogenic bacteria, eating this type of sweetened yogurt most likely cancels out any potential benefits from the small amount of probiotics it may contain.
Many brands of yogurt tend to offer a limited variety of probiotic strains. The more strains, the better, as different strains work in varying parts of your gastrointestinal tract. Not all strains can tolerate the harsh acidic conditions within your stomach.
The bottom line is this: Unless you are eating brands of yogurt that have been verified for their probiotic content, you may be better off taking a probiotic supplement. There are brands of healthy yogurt that contain adequate amounts of live probiotic cultures. You just need to look for them, and you may have to ask your grocer to carry them. You can find the top brands listed in this latest edition of The Cornucopia Institute’s Yogurt Report.
- The best real food sources of probiotics.
So what’s a better food source of probiotics than most commercially produced yogurt? Cultured yogurt and other dairy products that have been traditionally fermented work well to nourish your microbiome.
An excellent way to get healthy bacteria from your diet is to make your own homemade kefir from raw milk. Simple to make, just add some kefir starter granules to a quart of raw milk and leave at room temperature overnight. Ideally, choose unpasteurized raw milk.
Kefir is inexpensive to make, once you’ve acquired the raw milk. You can reuse the kefir from the original batch about 10 times before you need to start a new culture pack. One package of kefir granules is enough to make 50 gallons of kefir. Plus, one quart has far more active bacteria than a probiotic supplement!
My favorite source of probiotics is fermented vegetables that you can make at home. We make these regularly in our offices for our employees to include with their lunch. I usually eat a small serving with each meal.
Fermented vegetables are a good source of Lactobacillus plantarum, a beneficial probiotic strain that thrives in your stomach and can withstand its acid environment. Thriving in your gut, it helps support your immune health and a normal healthy inflammatory response.
- L. acidophilus bacteria die off quickly in your gut.
This is the probiotic strain most commonly found in cultured dairy products. Unfortunately, it is very short-lived.
Rather, I prefer a patented strain of these bacteria, Lactobacillus acidophilus DDS-1, that is both acid-resistant and bile-resistant, which means it can better withstand your stomach’s acidic environment and your intestine’s bile salts.
A study shows Lactobacillus acidophilus DDS-1 can survive for eight days rather than a mere couple of hours like standard Lactobacillus acidophilus.
This is the variety of Lactobacillus acidophilus I’ve chosen for Complete Probiotics, my high-quality probiotic supplement that contains a total of 10 superior strains of beneficial bacteria.
- Probiotics can potentially support your mental health just as much as they can your physical health.*
Of all the facts about probiotics, this is the one that’s most overlooked, yet offers tremendous possibility for health and well being.
Researchers are discovering that the potential benefits of probiotics aren’t limited to your gut. Your gut is connected to your brain via what’s called the gut-brain axis. What affects your gastrointestinal tract affects your brain, and vice versa.
When your microbiome is unbalanced, it can affect your mood, mental health, immune health, and even your brain function. Probiotics in your gut appear to be able to make compounds called neuropeptides that directly impact your brain.*
These discoveries about the relationship of probiotics to mental and psychological health underscore the value of probiotics for all ages!
- If you are taking an antibiotic, you don’t need to wait until you finish the full course before starting probiotics.
Many people believe they need to wait until they have completed their full course of antibiotics before taking probiotic supplements because the bacteria will just be killed off anyway.
It’s true that most antibiotics aren’t selective when it comes to bacteria in your gut. They kill both the good and the bad guys.
Here’s a little secret as to how you can jump-start on replenishing your microbiome’s beneficial bacteria. Take your probiotic supplement during your course of treatment, but away from the antibiotic. Take it a few hours before, or wait several hours after taking it. Clinical research indicates this may be a helpful strategy to rebuilding your good microbes.
Be sure to continue supplementing with probiotics after you complete your antibiotics.
- Not all probiotic supplements are created equal.
The last of the probiotics facts is one that stumps many people. How do you know which probiotic supplement to buy? You have dozens to choose from.
I recommend looking for these factors when shopping:
- Make sure it’s a reputable brand that you can trust. After all, you have to take their word for it that it’s a high-quality product.
- Look for a potency count (CFUs or “colony forming units”) of 50 billion or higher. That’s how many bacteria you will receive per dose.
- What’s the shelf life of the CFUs? You don’t want just the CFUs at “time of manufacture.” You also need to know how long the CFUs will retain their viability.
- Make sure the package is resealable. Is it being stored as directed on the product label?
- Ensure that it does not contain any bioengineered ingredients (GMOs).
- Confirm that the product is manufactured according to current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP)
- How many different strains of bacteria does it contain? Look for a product with high diversity, or multiple strains to work throughout your gastrointestinal tract.
- Look for valuable strains, including species of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria. In my opinion, some of the most important strains include:
- Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus plantarum that reside in the small intestine or the upper GI tract among your immune cells.
- Bifidobacterium lactis, Bifidobacterium longum, and Bifidobacterium bifidum that reside in the large intestine or the lower bowel, which are also critical areas for health.