How to Choose a Probiotic Supplement?
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If your gut is out of balance, it can be very useful to temporarily support your gut with probiotics. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the definition of probiotics is:
“live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.“
Health benefits to the host? This sounds promising! But what can you do with it?
What Are Intestinal Bacteria Good For?
Probiotics provide a supplement to your own intestinal bacteria, your microbiota.
It is important to keep your microbiota healthy because your gut bacteria have different functions in your body. These include:
- To protect you against harmful organisms from outside. Because your (hopefully good) bacteria are lining your intestinal wall, there is no space for harmful bacteria or microorganisms to nest. Your healthy bacteria also compete with the harmful organisms for the nutrients in your intestine. This makes it more difficult for harmful organisms to survive.
- Metabolic activity. Your gut bacteria will convert the undigested food that you have not used into valuable nutrients for you and for themselves. For example vitamin K and short-chain fatty acids such as butyrate (which keeps your intestinal wall healthy and protects against colon cancer)
- The movement of your gut (intestinal motility). The composition and the number of intestinal bacteria that you have are of great influence on your intestinal motility. A delayed movement in the intestine is linked to reduced diversity of intestinal bacteria. A slow gut increases the risk of blockage and keeps your waste products in your body longer, this is something you want to avoid!
- Reduced risk of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). There are strong signs that reduced diversity of intestinal bacteria plays a part in the development of irritable bowel disease.
Everything listed above shows how important your gut bacteria are for you and your health! If this is out of balance, it’s a good thing to try to fix it.
In addition to supplementing your own healthy bacteria, probiotics can also play a valuable role in certain disorders. For example, probiotics have proven to be beneficial in diarrhea, preventing diarrhea in antibiotic use, reducing gastric ulcers, maintaining the remission phase in the intestine in ulcerative colitis and reducing constipation.
Are you having difficulties choosing a good probiotic and would you like guidance from a specialized dietitian? Then schedule an online consultation at my online dietician’s practice Darm diëtist, and I will help you with all your questions!
Pro- or Prebiotics?
Do not confuse PRObiotics with PREbiotics. If you want to read more about PREbiotics, click this link to my article about that. But briefly. PRObiotics are the healthy bacteria that you supplement. A PREbiotic is a breeding ground for the bacteria that are already in your gut. This breeding ground can also help with the growth of your healthy bacteria, but this is something different from adding bacteria with a PRObiotic.
Recognize Good Probiotics
You can buy probiotics in various forms. They are found in capsules, sachets, yogurt drinks, and fermented drinks (for example kefir and kombucha (click on the link for my article about kombucha).
When choosing the probiotic that you want to buy, it is important to pay attention to the label. Only then will you know exactly what you are buying and whether or not you will benefit from it.
Once you have bought it, it is important to pay attention to how you store the probiotics at home. The bacteria are very sensitive to light, moisture and air and heat. So it’s preferable to keep the probiotics in its original packaging in a cool, dry and dark place.
Dosage And Time Of Use
The best dosage of the probiotic is to have at least 1 billion (10^9) bacteria per moment of use, but preferably more than 5 billion. The duration of use is very dependent on the reason that you use it. With antibiotics, for example, it is advisable to continue for 2 weeks after stopping the antibiotics. But with an irritable bowel, it may be useful to continue for longer.
The best time you should take the probiotic is not clear, usually, there is advice on the package and then you can follow that.
If you use the probiotics with antibiotics, it is best to keep as much time as possible between antibiotics and probiotics. The antibiotics want to kill all bacteria, so taking them at the same time as your probiotic does not make any sense.
Probiotics are generally considered safe and have no influence on medication use. Even so, if you want to start with it I advise you to just discuss it with your doctor or dietitian because I can’t give any advice regarding your personal situation.
As soon as you start with probiotics, you may notice your intestine has to get used to the new bacteria. You can temporarily experience some extra gas and therefore some cramps, this will disappear after 1-2 weeks.
Read the Label
As mentioned above, it is good to have at least 1 billion (10^9) bacteria per moment of use when choosing a probiotic.
After you made sure that is the case, you can look further on the label.
An important term that should be mentioned is CFU (Colony Forming Units). This means that the bacterial strains that are present in the product can colonize in your intestine. That means they can continue to ‘live’ in your intestine, provided you feed them properly. Feeding them properly means, having enough prebiotics and fibers!). If you buy probiotics without CFU, they will flush through your intestine and come out with your stool. Basically just throwing away money!
The next thing to check is the name of the bacteria strains. Ideally, it consists of 3 parts. For example B. longum 35624 or L. rhamnosus CLR2. This is the strain name and the number of the strain that has been studied. The specific effect of the bacteria in the supplement can usually be looked up with the complete 3-part name.
And finally, the diversity of the bacteria. Because there are dozens of strains of bacteria in your gut, it is not very useful to take a probiotic containing only one strain. Preferably choose a probiotic with at least 4 strains. This way you really add something to your gut!
The Effectiveness of a Probiotic
A lot of research is being done into different probiotic strains and their effect on health. Some strains already have proven to be very effective on for example constipation. For other strains, it remains unclear what health effects they have.
This makes it difficult to choose a proper probiotic for your problem, especially because you often do not know what exactly is needed for your gut. It is, therefore, a good thing to try different brands of probiotics. Try different brands until you have found one that works for you.
The website US probiotic guide (click on the link) gives an overview of different probiotics and their proven effectiveness. This can help you pick a product that contains the strain you need!
If you have chosen a probiotic, use them for at least 3 weeks to feel if it has any effect on you. If you have no noticeable improvement after 3 weeks, it’s good to try a different brand.
Have you ever used probiotics? What did you pay attention to, and did it affect you? Let me know in a comment!
Hi there, I’m Manon.
In my daily life I work as a registered dietitian in the Netherlands with a special interest in gut health.
During my workday I get loads of questions about healthy food, recipes and lifestyle to make it a little easier to get healthy. On Positive Gut I collect my best recommendations, tips and recipes to make your healthy lifestyle a little easier!