How to choose a probiotic
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How to Choose a Probiotic Supplement?

Probiotic is a word we come across more and more these days. But what exactly is a probiotic? And how do you choose a good probiotic supplement? I’ll explain!

What is a Probiotic?

A probiotic is known to many people as a supplement that you can buy in the drugstore. But probiotics are much more than just a supplement. In your daily life, you come across probiotics in many places, for example in fermented products, such as sauerkraut.

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.

Loosely translated, this means that probiotics are living micro-organisms (or bacteria) that, in the right amount, have a positive effect on the health of the host (that is, you, if you take it).

Probiotics are living bacteria that you take. It is important that these also arrive alive in your intestines. Otherwise, they may have less function or function as postbiotics.
In order for the bacteria to arrive alive in the gut in large numbers, supplements are often more effective than food. The supplements contain a protective layer that protects the bacteria from stomach acid and digestive juices. This greatly increases the chance of survival!

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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)
  3. 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!
  4. 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 Syndrome.

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 antibiotic-associated diarrhea, reducing gastric ulcers, maintaining the remission phase in the intestine in ulcerative colitis, and reducing constipation.

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 Probiotic Supplements

How to choose a probiotic

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).

The way the probiotic is administered has an influence on the chances of survival of the bacteria. There is no consensus on what the best way is, and every manufacturer seems to have a different opinion on the matter.

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 their 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.

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. If you want to discuss this, please schedule a free symptom assessment and we can talk.

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 Probiotic Label

When you are in the store and see 100 different jars of probiotics in front of you, it is important to pay attention to a number of things.

As mentioned above, it is good to have at least 1 billion (10^9) bacteria per moment of use when choosing a probiotic. It may be that this means taking 1 sachet, capsule, or drink. But you may also have to take several at the same time.

After you made sure that is the case, you can inspect the label.

An important term that should be on the package 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.

This is where the prebiotics and fiber come in again! 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 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 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 exactly what your gut needs. 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.

Probiotics and antibiotics

Have you used any antibiotics in the last couple of months (or even years?). Quite a big chance you did. Antibiotics are often prescribed to treat a bacterial infection, and they are usually very effective in doing that. But now the big question is, did your doctor also prescribe you probiotics to take with your antibiotics? The odds are a lot lower they actually did that! Here’s why you should.

Antibiotic Probiotic

Why You Should Use Probiotics With Antibiotics

Whenever you use antibiotics, diarrhea may never be far away. Especially children and the elderly have to cope with antibiotic-associated diarrhea. Having to use antibiotics is no fun, but this will make it even worse. Luckily, it’s easy to prevent.

If you suffer from diarrhea without using antibiotics, try one of the solutions listed in my article about diarrhea

What Do The Antibiotics Do?

In short, antibiotics kill bacteria. The bad and the good. And this is where problems can arise. Because your own healthy gut bacteria are also destroyed by the antibiotics.

If you have a bacterial infection, antibiotics can be necessary to help you defeat the harmful bacteria. Antibiotics have saved many lives, and it’s a great thing they exist. Unfortunately, in the last couple of decades, antibiotics use has expanded and nowadays we consume it a lot in our daily foods. For example as a result of medication in our livestock.

This has led to certain bacteria being more resistant to antibiotics, and harder to defeat. Leaving the pharmaceutical industry with no option but to come up with different types of antibiotics.

Nowadays they have created specific antibiotics that work specifically on certain bacteria. These are therefore less harmful to your microbiome as a whole. But sometimes broad-spectrum antibiotics are still used.

Your gut bacteria live together in harmony with you. They help strengthen your immune system, create nutrients when they break down fiber for you and have a direct connection to your brain through the gut-brain axis. You need them to have a healthy body, and antibiotics disrupt the harmony they live in.
When the bacteria get disrupted, changes in the gut can start to occur. In some cases, the disruption of the gut bacteria is still found 2 years (!!) after the use of the antibiotics. There are even signs that the disruption and/or decrease of the gut bacteria can play a role in the development of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and food allergies later in life.

Also, when your own bacteria are being wiped away, other (maybe even harmful) bacteria can take their place. This can cause diarrhea and gut problems.

Enough reason not to take the use of antibiotics lightly! And to support your gut when you do have to take them.

How to Limit the Disruption of Gut Bacteria by Antibiotics

I would always advise you to follow your doctor’s orders when it comes to antibiotic use. Not taking antibiotics when you need to, could result in serious health issues. Nonetheless, there are ways to protect your gut when you’re taking antibiotics! This is where the probiotics show up.

Take the probiotics while you are on antibiotics to ensure that your gut continues to contain beneficial bacteria. It is important to take the probiotics as far away from the antibiotics as possible. So if you take the antibiotics in the morning, take the probiotics in the evening.

Stop taking the probiotics as soon as you stop taking the antibiotics. This gives your own microbiome the chance to restore the balance, without bacteria from outside playing a role. At that moment it is important that you use sufficient fermentable fibers and prebiotics so that your weakened microbiome can really strengthen itself again.

Have you ever used probiotics? What did you pay attention to, and did it have the desired effect? Let me know in a comment!

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