Our bodies are brimming with trillions of microbes – both beneficial and harmful. The key to a healthy body is an appropriate balance of these microorganisms. High-quality probiotics can help boost the “good guys” while keeping the “bad guys” at bay. Keep these suggestions in mind when choosing your probiotic.
How To Choose Your Probiotic
Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride outlines the significant strains to look for in her book Gut and Psychology Syndrome. The following is excerpted from her chapter on Probiotics.
- Lactobacilli. This is a large family of bacteria which produce lactic acid, hence their name . . . By producing lactic acid they maintain acidic environment (pH 5.5-5.6) on mucous membranes, which suppresses the growth of pathogenic microbes. Apart from lactic acid they produce a plethora of active substances: hydrogen peroxide, a powerful antiseptic; anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal agents, which do not allow pathogens to take hold in the gut.
- Bifidobacteria. This is a large family of probiotic bacteria . . . In an adult gut they are about seven times more numerous than Lactobacilli and fulfill many useful functions . . . Bifidobacteria actively synthesize amino acids, proteins, organic acids, vitamin K, vitamin B3 (niacin), folic acid, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), vitamin B12 (cobalamin); assist absorption of Ca, iron and vitamin D.
- Saccharomyces boulardii. This is a yeast first discovered by a French scientist, H. Boulard, in 1920. He observed that people in China treated diarrhea with an extract from the lychee fruit . . . Recently, there has been a lot of interest in using S. boulardii as an antagonist to a pathogenic yeast, Candida albicans. *See more on S. bourlardii below.
- Escherichia coli or E. coli. E.coli is a large family of bacteria. Pathogenic members of this family can cause severe infections. However, physiological strains of E. coli are normal and numerous inhabitants of the healthy human gut . . . Physiological strains of E. coli fulfill a number of beneficial functions in the body: they digest lactose, produce vitamins (vitamin K and group B) and amino acids, generate antibiotic-like substances called colicins, and have a powerful stimulating influence on local and systemic immunity.
- Enterococcus faecium or Streptococcus faecalis. They normally live in the bowel where they control pathogens by producing hydrogen peroxide and reducing pH to 5.5. They break down proteins and ferment carbohydrates. There are some clinical studies showing that they are effective in treating various forms of diarrhea. These bacteria are quite common in probiotic formulas on the market.
- Bacillus subtilis or soil bacteria. B. subtilis is a spore-forming microbe and is resistant to stomach acid, most antibiotics, temperature changes and other influences. It has strong immune-stimulating properties and is considered particularly useful with allergies and autoimmune disorders. It produces a whole host of digestive enzymes, anti-viral, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and other active substances. Soil bacteria are not indigenous to humans; they are transitional microbes, which do not colonize the gut but go through it doing a lot of work on the way. (According to Campbell-McBride, “probiotics which contain soil bacteria are the most effective probiotics on the market.”)
Additives and temperature
While looking for a comprehensive probiotic that contains these strains, be sure to check the ingredients list. Look for as few additives as possible.
There is some debate about refrigerated versus shelf stable probiotics. Technology has improved, allowing bacteria to remain viable for an extended period of time. Some suggest shelf stable is preferable as it is more likely to survive the body’s 98 degree temperature.
More about S. Boulardii
*S. Boulardii is particularly good for those on antibiotics, or those recovering from an antibiotic. Yeast is not affected by antibiotics which mean Candida overgrowth often occurs following an illness treated with antibiotics.Taking S. boulardii during and after antibiotics can help avoid the excess.
For more, see The effect of Saccharomyces boulardii on Candida albicans-infected intestinal cell lines Caco-2 and Intestin-407, and Efficacy and safety of the probiotic Saccharomyces boulardii for the prevention and therapy of gastrointestinal disorders.
Suggested brands of probiotics
Dr. Campbell-McBride recommends Bio-Kult, a probiotic with 14 strains of bacteria, including B. subtilis. The Gut and Psychology Syndrome website also suggests GUTPro. Other reputable probiotics include:
Don’t forget the food!
Fermented foods offer a variety of beneficial yeasts and bacteria. Consider adding kombucha, water kefir or dairy kefir to your diet as well as probiotic foods like yogurt, sauerkraut and kimchi. Check out the momsAWARE Natural Year Challenge: Food Edition for specifics on preparing your own fermented foods.
One important note regarding probiotics in supplement or food form: It is best to start small. Introducing probiotic bacteria can result in a die-off response as the pathogens die and release toxins. This can manifest in a skin rash, extreme fatigue, fever, sore throat, or a variety of other symptoms. Another consideration is a potential histamine response. Excess histamine can wreak havoc on the body, depleting precious resources needed to deal with the overload. One more reason to start small.
Consider mixing up your brand or strain of probiotics as the body often responds efficiently to microbial change.
Finding the right probiotic for you may take some trial and error, but could well be worth the effort as you move toward improved health!