Why Buying The Right Probiotic Will Improve Your Health Faster
I am thrilled that probiotics are no longer something I need to explain to patients. Instead of convincing them that they are needed in their diet, I tend to focus my time on helping my patient determine which probiotic is best suited for their needs and how they should dose it.
I wish I could say it was simply marketing that separates some probiotic brands from one another, and that by picking one up off the shelf or in the refrigerated section of your grocery store it would be the right one for you – but chances are that you aren’t going to see much benefit without some careful consideration on what you are purchasing.
Similar to buying or renting a house you want to ensure that what is inside the walls (or in this case the capsule) is best suited to your specific needs. Here are some tips on how to evaluate probiotics.
Condition: Which health condition(s) are you hoping that probiotics will help you treat? Probiotics have been shown to be useful in a wide range of conditions from constipation to diarrhea to cholesterol lowering, asthma and skin conditions. Scientific research for each condition matches the probiotic strains and strength that has shown to work most effectively in each condition.
Form: What is the best form for you? Probiotics are available in several forms – capsule, chewable tabs, lozenges, powder sachets and liquid. If you have difficulty swallowing or digesting capsules, another form may work better for you. If you want to mix your probiotic with other supplements or need to take it travelling, you may need a different option.
Probiotics are also in certain foods such as yogurt, kefir and kombucha. These foods can be great to help maintain digestive health but for some people may not have enough probiotics to effect a clinical response for people who have certain digestive conditions. Also food may have other ingredients such as sugar that may reduce its health benefit.
CFU (Colony-Forming Unit). How many do I need? The CFU is the estimated number of viable bacteria in each gram. Products range from several million to several billion. While higher doesn’t always mean better, some conditions are best treated at higher levels. Typically the aggressiveness of the condition, the health of the patient and their age are taken into consideration.
Some general guidelines are: healthy adults 5 billion CFU/g, seniors 25 billion CFU/g, and children vary between 5 – 10 billion CFU/g. However, patients fighting infection and disease can have varied requirements.
Probiotic Strain: There are 3 main categories of probiotic strains: Lactobacilius, Bifidobacterium and Saccharomyces. Often the side of the package has these strain categories shortened to their first letter. Within each strain category are subgroups. Studies on probiotics are similar to those on pharmaceutical medications where each strain is studied to see its impact in the body. When your ND recommends a particular product – they are matching the strains in that product to your needs while considering the ones that research shows are most effective.
Vaginal Health: Probiotics can be ingested orally and/or used internally to support vaginal flora. Some products are made for one or the other purpose specifically. It is best to consult with your naturopath before using a suppository to ensure that the product used will provide the most benefit for you.
There are many, many scientific studies done on probiotics – but to wade through these to determine the best one for you may seem like an overwhelming task. Naturopathic Doctors take all these considerations (and others) into account when they evaluate your needs and are educated to help you pick the product best suited to your needs (and budget).