Most people benefit from probiotics found in fermented foods like kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir or supplements. But how do you know if you are taking the “right” types? Adding healthy bacteria into a health regime is becoming more mainstream with medical doctors and is a staple with naturopathic physicians. However, when you go to the health store, it can be overwhelming to pick out an effective option.
Let’s start with the basics. In the human body, there are an estimated several trillion bacteria making their home in your colon. This is called the micro biome and it is unique to each person – the make-up and the amounts of the hundreds of different strains. What creates this uniqueness is the foods we eat, antibiotics and herbs that we take, the way that we were born and the state of health that we are in. Thus there is not a probiotic that fits all or an amount that works for everyone.
Lactobacillus (aka acidophilus) is the most common bacteria found in fermented foods and supplements. It has been clinically proven in studies to prevent diarrhea associated with antibiotics and is commonly prescribed alongside antibiotics or after. Dosing can range from 10 billion per day to over 400 billion depending on whether it is used for maintaining good flora or to treat inflammatory conditions of the intestines such as ulcerative colitis. It is often found in a multi-strain variety, either with other lactobacillus forms or other types from the bifidobacterium genus. Acidophilus helps to control overgrowth of yeast and other unwanted microorganisms like clostridium and is commonly included with candida protocols.
Bifidobacteria are another important variety of good bacteria. These are usually found along side lactobacillus in “human micro-flora” (HMF) supplements. HMF probiotics are considered high quality because they are the exact same forms of bacteria typically found in the gut. It is an important factor to look for when choosing a supplement. Bifido strains are easily tolerated and can be taken alone in some conditions such as small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).
What does it mean if probiotics don’t help to improve digestion or make symptoms worse? This can usually be associated with one of two reasons. First, the quality or quantity of the supplement in low. An addition of 5 billion probiotics per day for an adult is usually not enough to produce results. Supplements that are not made well or use poor practices for storing live bacteria will also be ineffective. The second reason, especially if probiotics make you feel worse, is that the underlying cause of digestive dysfunction is SIBO. Many people with SIBO report more bloating when probiotics and added in. This can be easily tested for by a breath test that is performed at home. SIBO is treated with the right herbs and sometimes even antibiotics followed by recovery and repair and the right probiotics.
If you are unsure if your probiotics make the cut, ask one of our friendly Naturopathic Physicians at your next visit.
Dr. Jennifer Luis ND