By now I’m sure many of you have heard about probiotic supplements, yet with all the different varieties on the market today, it can be difficult to decide what you need to look for when buying a probiotic. If you’re completely new to the idea of probiotics, basically, they are supplements that contain healthy bacteria for the gut and immune system. Bacteria that lives in our stomach can be beneficial and keep us healthy, or it can be harmful and make us sick, overweight and suffer poor digestion. The good bacteria, which is found in probiotics, help to fight the harmful bacteria. Bad bacteria comes from animal meats, acidic wastes in the body due to eating processed foods, high amounts of sugar, taking in toxins from the environment and eating too much sugar or refined starches in the diet. Good bacteria comes from live cultures which are naturally found by fermenting and culturing certain foods, such as yogurt from milk, kefir from cultured kefir grains, kimchi and sauerkraut from veggies, miso from soybeans, apple cider vinegar which uses a beneficial yeast to proliferate healthy bacteria, and there are a few other healthy probiotic foods too, which are cheese, pure chocolate, pickles, etc. Anything fermented and cultured contains probiotics, yet many of us don’t eat enough of these foods, or we eat them but also eat too many other harmful foods that cause the bad bacteria to win out over the good bacteria. This is where probiotic supplements come in handy. I eat probiotic- rich foods, but due to past problems with systemic yeast overgrowth and issues with sugar, I also take extra probiotics in the form of a supplement. As a result, my IBS is almost gone, my immune system is much stronger, and my digestion is much more efficient. If you’re looking into buying a probiotic supplement, I’ve got some basic pointers of what you need to look for and what you need to keep in mind to get started.
1. More Cultures Doesn’t Always Mean Better
When you first start out buying a probiotic, it can be tempting to automatically pick up a brand that advertises it has more culture varieties such as 10 different strains, or even 20 different strains. While this isn’t a bad thing, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best option for you. Different strains, which are names such as acidophilus, bifidum, bulgaris, etc. all come from different sources. They also all have different purposes, and not all of them may be ones you necessarily need for the price they may cost you. If you have to choose just one or two strains, choose one that contains acidophilus and bifidus ( also known as bifidum, bifido, or bifidus regularis). These two are the strains most associated with better digestion and optimal immune function. They also help prevent yeast overgrowth and sugar cravings in the body.
2. Higher Amounts of C.U. is Better
One thing you do want to look for in a probiotic supplement is one that contains a minimum of 3 billion C.U., or colonized units, per serving. This means it is stronger and will work better for you than choices with a few hundred C.U. You don’t necessarily need one with 20 or 80 billion C.U. unless you’re really sick, or have a serious yeast overgrowth in the body. I usually use a supplement with at least 10 billion C.U., but have used varieties with both 3 billion C.U. and 80 billion C.U. and saw just as good of effects as I do with one with 10 billion. Just be sure to use at least 3 billion for the best options.
3. Choose Allergen-free Varieties
If you’re sensitive to dairy, gluten, soy, sugar, yeast, etc., be very careful when buying your probiotics. Just because probiotics are good for you, doesn’t mean they aren’t free of allergens, regardless that they’re fermented and cultured. Read the ingredients label and below the ingredients label where allergen warnings are listed to make sure your choice is safe for your needs. Even some of the most expensive, popular brands out there still contain dairy, gluten or soy.
4. Choose a Good Brand
With all the probiotics on the market, choosing a good brand is important. There are cheap varieties out there with fillers, stabilizers, etc. that aren’t as efficient as other brands. You don’t necessarily need the most expensive brands as many are overrated and just as good as moderately priced brands. My general rule of thumb is for the cost to be around 75 cents per day or less, but no less than 25 cents per day. So, for example, brands that come with 60 servings for around $20-$50 are good choices, considering they last two months, while brands that are above this are probably overrated. Brands that contain 60 servings for $10 or so, are probably choices you want to avoid. I like brands such as Garden of Life, Dr. Olhira’s, Renew Life, and Now Foods. I have even bought brands from the store such as Phillip’s Colon Health and Culturelle and seen good results as well.
5. Know Your Strains
There are literally hundreds of different strains out there, so when you look at the ingredients label, you’re going to see all these long names that are hard to pronounce, which are the various strains of bacteria listed in the product. In order to make the right choice, be sure to know what strains perform what functions in the body. For instance, some aid in gut health, while others aid in immune health or vaginal health. Others do all three. Research what strains perform functions that you need, which you can find online at this website: cpnhelp.org
6. Store Appropriately
Another important factor to consider when buying a probiotic, is to consider how the probiotic needs to be stored. Some require storage in the fridge, while others are shelf-stable. Do not fall for the claim that shelf stable probiotics are inefficient. I’ve used many before that work better than some refrigerated brands. In general, if you buy a shelf-stable supplement and use it within 60 days, you should have no issues with the units dying over the 60 days. If the product does require refrigeration, be sure to to store it in the fridge since it means these strains may die quickly if not kept cold. You can find out how to store it on the label of the product. Also, be sure to check the expiration date to make sure that it will last until the time you will use it down to the last pill.
7. Cost versus Serving Size and Type
You can buy probiotics in various forms such as powders, liquids or pills. All are fine, as long as they suit your needs on the above recommendations. You’ll also need to be sure to choose one with a cost-efficient serving size. If a brand costs $30 and only comes with 7 servings, this is probably not the best option for you long term. Again, I recommend spending anywhere from 25 cents to 75 cents per day in a 60 day serving size, which is in the price range of $25-$50. Depending on your budget and needs, go with the best option for you.
Probiotics are a staple in today’s world of supplementation, in my opinion. With the multitudes of harmful bacteria we’re exposed to, antibiotics we are taking that kill our good bacteria, environmental toxins and constant obsessions with using antibacterial soap, etc., our good bacteria dies off more now so than ever. I believe everyone should take a probiotic supplement each day, or eat at least three servings of probiotic-rich foods per day. If you have any questions, feel free to ask me! Do you take a probiotic supplement?