What to Look for When Choosing a Probiotic
The how-to guide for navigating the world of probiotic supplementation
Your body plays host to many kinds of bacteria that have different jobs and most of them are probiotics that serve a valuable purpose – they can help your body produce vitamins, assist nutrient absorption and even support stable mood. We know that some probiotic bacteria serve as seat-warmers, taking up room by colonising within the gastrointestinal tract so that bad bacteria cannot move in and multiply; the perfect house-sitter.
When it comes to giving your health a helping hand, probiotics remain one of the best places to start. But with the huge variety of strains and products available, how do you decide which one is best for you?
The key to choosing the right probiotic lies in two factors:
- the probiotic-strain specificity
- the number of strains included in each capsule
Different strains for different needs
We know that different probiotic strains have different mechanisms of action against pathogens. Some strains directly kill or inhibit individual pathogens, some reinforce the integrity of our own cells, some restore dysbiosis of normal microflora, and others have the ability to upregulate or downregulate the immune system. It is important to realise that not all probiotic strains have all of these capabilities, but some have more than one pathogen-fighting property, like Saccharomyces boulardii.
Most often bacteria contained in probiotic supplements come from one of two groups, Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium. Both groups produce lactic acid but reside in different areas of the gut: Lactobacilli function in the small intestine and Bifidobacteria in the large intestines.
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Within each of these groups there are different species (for example Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidus), and within each species there are unique strains, normally a combination of letters/ numbers at the end eg. Lactobacillus acidophilus L-92.
Liken this to a family unit: You are the unique strain, your immediate family is the species, and your extended family, the group.
Like us, each strain works uniquely to perform a role, and this is where the importance of strain-specific probiotics comes into play. For example, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG is a widely studied strain that has a large number of benefits, including the prevention of antibiotic-resistant diarrhea and promotion and support of intestinal barrier (gut lining) function. In contrast, Lactobacillus rhamnosus PB01 is used for treatment of female urogenital infections.
Same species, different strain – unique personality and job function.
Based on a large variety of clinical studies, we now know that there are specific strains of probiotics that treat various areas of the body and it is important to look for a variety of strains based on your current health goal or treatment need. We understand now that probiotics affect more than gut health – they impact our entire bodily function.
- The Immune System: Strains such as Lactobacillus paracasei Lpc-37 play a key role in our innate anti-allergy response while warding off viruses and probiotics like Bifidobacterium lactis HN019 enhances the cellular immune response. Look for these strains in times of illness or weakened immune function.
- Mood: Several probiotic strains can produce GABA (our anti-anxiety brain chemical) and decrease stress-hormone corticosterone. Look for strains like Lactobacillus helveticus 52 and Bifidobacterium longum 175 to balance mood and lower feelings of stress.
- Sports Recovery: Specific species and strains of probiotics play a role in exercise recovery. Research demonstrates that athletes will experience a drop in performance after exercise-induced muscle damage. A recent study shows that using a probiotic containing specific strains – Lactobacillus acidophilus 3796 and Bifidobacterium lactis Bi-07 – may reduce muscle inflammation and boost recovery. Athletes also experience lowered immunity that lasts between 3-72 hours after exercise. Some probiotic strains also protect the body against the immunosuppressive effects of intense and strenuous exercise.
- Antibiotics: For those requiring a little tummy TLC or taking antibiotic medication, Bifidobacterium lactis BI-04 helps to regulate and improve intestinal function while protecting against antibiotic-associated diarrhea, and Lactobacillus acidophilus La-14 aids in the prevention of food poisoning and colonisation of bad bacteria.
When considering probiotic supplementation, it is always important to look for a probiotic blend that suits your individual needs.
Some comprehensive probiotic supplements also contain strains with unique functions like Bifidobacterium lactis Bi-07 to aid in inflammatory skin conditions like dermatitis, Lactobacillus salivarus Ls-33 which displays strong anti-inflammatory properties and Bifidobacterium infantis Bi-26 to boost metabolism.
The key to probiotic power is clear – keep strain specificity and function in mind and feel confident in choosing the right probiotic for your lifestyle and health needs.