Hello friends! A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post answering a reader question about probiotics: what they are, why they’re important, and where you can find them in your diet. You can read it here. Today we’re going to get a little more technical by looking at some specific strains of healthy bacteria and how to shop for a probiotic supplement. In part 3 we’ll look at some strain-specific uses for probiotics for helping alleviate symptoms such as chronic diarrhea, yeast infections, or C. difficile. Now, typically if I have a client who is suffering from gut dysbiosis (an imbalance between good and bad bacteria in the digestive tract), I will put them on a course of high dose probiotics for a certain length of time until things are back on track before transitioning them into maintenance mode with probiotic and prebiotic foods. So without further ado, let’s dig in!
I’ve been hearing a lot about these things called probiotics, but I’m really not sure exactly what they are or why they’re important. I thought bacteria were bad for our health and made us sick? Could you help me out? Thanks! –F
Well F, last time we looked at some basics of probiotics and bacterial balance in the body to get a feel for what they do in the body. Today we’ll take a look at common symptoms of gut dysbiosis and some great strains of probiotics to help rebalance your intestinal microflora. Remember, if you feel like bacterial imbalance may be an underlying cause of your health issues, contact me or another practitioner to get a specific protocol for your needs.
Alrighty, so as we discussed last time there are many environmental and dietary factors that can affect the balance of good and bad bacteria in your digestive system such as:
- Antibiotic use
- Diets high in sugar, processed food, and refined carbohydrates –these foods feed bad bacteria and yeasts.
- Excessive alcohol use.
- Smoking or drug use.
- Chronic stress.
- Birth via C-section—babies born via C-section are not exposed to the bacteria that line their mothers’ vaginal canal and so can have an altered intestinal microflora that may need to be addressed via diet and supplementation. New moms can put a bit of probiotic powder on their nipples when breastfeeding to ensure adequate intake.
We have also looked at some of the common symptoms and illnesses that may have gut dysbiosis as an underlying or contributing cause. These include, but are not limited to:
- Autoimmune illness and disease
- B12 deficiency
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Depression, anxiety, & mood swings
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Food allergies or sensitivities
- Cystic acne
Now that we’re caught up on some of the causes and symptoms of gut dysbiosis, let’s take a look at some specific imbalances and the proper probiotic strains to help alleviate those imbalances and symptoms.
What to Look for in a Supplement
The most common strains of probiotic bacteria found in supplements are Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacteria bifidum. These bacteria typically colonize the small and large intestines respectively and have been studied quite intensively for their immune and digestive supporting functions. Most supplements will also contain one or more of the following strains of bacteria:
- Lactobacillus casei
- L. reuteri
- L. bulgaricus
- L. rhamnosus
- L. lactis
- L. plantarum
- L. salivarius
- L. fermentum
- Bifidobacterium longum
- B. breve
- B. infantis
- Streptococcus thermophiles
- S. lactis
- S. jacium
- S. salivarius
- Saccharomyces boulardii
- Aspergillus sp.
- Enterococcus faecium
- Lactococcus cremoris
There are of course numerous other bacteria and yeasts that live in our digestive tracts that are still being studied for their specific effects in the body and so are not included in supplements at the time being. For now, however, this list is a good place to start as it contains a good chunk of the most common strains found in supplements. Next time we’ll take a look at a couple of these strains in more detail to see what kinds of conditions they would be most helpful in alleviating, but for now I want to give you some more information on how to choose a probiotic supplement that will be right for you.
How to Choose a Probiotic Supplement
There are so many different brands of probiotics on the market and all of them claim to have the best delivery systems and the best strains. What I will see is you will likely have to experiment with a couple of different brands before you find one that works for you. And DO NOT buy probiotics that list a bunch of ingredients on the label that you cannot pronounce or that you intuitively know you should not be ingesting. These include:
- Classified as a possible carcinogen to humans. Why take the risk when there are so many great natural products out there that don’t contain this kind of garbage?
- Basically this is sand. Why would you want to pay for sand in your supplements? Ditch it!
- Phosphate salts, such as dicalcium phosphate, can irritate the digestive tract and cause stomach upset, diarrhea, and/or constipation. Seriously? In a supplement to be taken to help alleviate GI distress? God sometimes I just want to bang my head against the wall.
- AKA washing soda or soda ash is a chemical commonly found in household and industrial cleaning products so you probably don’t want to take a probiotic that contains it. Gross.
- A thickening agent that comes from the guar bean (aka the Indian cluster bean), it can cause digestive irritation in those with Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), so it seems rather counterintuitive to take a probiotic that contains this ingredient.
Things to Look For:
- This acronym stands for Colony Forming Units, which means the strains of bacteria have been proven to bunk down in your digestive tract and start reproducing.
Specific strain numbers:
- A lot of brands will have proprietary blends of probiotic strains where you will see the general name, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, followed by a combination of numbers and letters, such as HA-122.
- This number means that it the specific strain has been identified and its effects in the body studied.
- While not necessary, a lot of probiotics contain FOS (fructooligosaccharides), a type of prebiotic fibre, as a food source for the bacteria as they make the incredible journey from mouth to digestive tract. I just wanted to point out what they were in case you saw them on the label and thought they may be something harmful to avoid.
- There are some brands of probiotics that are shelf stable thanks to the specific coating used to encase the bacteria, but for the most part you’ll want to look for a probiotic that is refrigerated as this action will typically help the bacteria live longer.
- As a complete counterpoint to the previous statement, my favourite brand is totally shelf-stable. Dr. Ohira’s Probiotics are fermented for three years from 92 different fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, and seaweeds. They’re like magic and what I usually recommend in my practice. They are a little on the expensive side, but once you’re back in balance you can wean off them and maintain via probiotic foods.
Some other great brands to test out and that can be found at most health food stores are:
Whew! This post turned into quite the beast and I still didn’t get to my information on the specific strains for specific conditions. However, if you’re just looking to improve digestion and eliminate some gassiness or bloating a standard Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacteria bifido combination should help out quite a bit.
If you’re looking for more ways to get your fermentation feet wet, check out my FREE e-book Eat Your Way to a Happy Belly with Fantastic Fermentables. It’s packed with information on the benefits of probiotic foods and 15 easy peasy, vegan & paleo friendly recipes. Click here to download it now! Enjoy!
Stay tuned for part 3 when I finally get to some specific strains to help with things such as candida overgrowth, C. difficile, chronic diarrhea or constipation, vaginal yeast infections, to name a few! Thanks for making it to the end friends! Have a wonderfully whimsical day!
Want more? Read Part 3 here!