5 Things to Consider When Choosing a Probiotic
DECISION, DECISIONS. Sometimes, too many options can actually leave you unable to make a decision. I find that’s often the case when it comes to probiotics. There are so many different supplements on the shelves these days that choosing one can seem like a pretty difficult and overwhelming task!
Unfortunately, there’s no one size fits all ‘best’ probiotic for everyone, as everyone’s gut is so unique. However, you can use this guide to ask yourself some questions to help navigate the world of probiotics and work out which one might be best for you. Choosing the right probiotic can definitely involve a bit of trial and error, so keep notes of what works and what doesn’t as you go.
If you’re still unsure on what exactly probiotics are, have a read of last week’s post before moving on.
Before we get stuck into the guide, I want to take a moment to talk about who SHOULD and who SHOULDN’T be taking probiotics.
Obviously, this is very individual, but probiotics might be a good idea for you if you:
1. Have taken antibiotics in the past few years
2. Live in a city or urban environment
3. Eat processed foods.
Probiotics, however, might not be a good idea for you if you:
1. Have SIBO and haven’t yet removed the overgrowth
2. Are immune-compromised (which may be caused by certain conditions, e.g. diabetes/cancer, or medicines/treatment, e.g. organ transplant/radiation therapy)
So, if you think probiotics might be a good idea for you and you’re keen to give them a try, read on.
5 THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN CHOOSING A PROBIOTIC
1. WHAT’S YOUR GOAL?
Overall, the choice of probiotic totally depends on the goal you want to achieve. At the most basic level, you will most likely fit into one of 2 camps - you either have existing gut issues or you don’t.
If you have existing gut issues:
Normally, you’ll need a higher dose and a more specific strain of probiotic, targeted at your specific condition or symptoms. Therefore, you’re more likely to need a practitioner brand.
Practitioner brands are normally only sold through medical practitioners, and should be overseen whilst taking. This is just because they’re normally much stronger and designed to be taken for a shorter, more intense period.
These would be most effective for gut issues, e.g. after a round of antibiotics or severe gut dysbiosis (imbalance). In this case, it’s best to go see a doctor/health practitioner to get their recommendation on the specific probiotic to take.
If you’re relatively healthy:
If you don’t have any existing gut issues, but you want to maintain a healthy gut, or you just get a bit of bloating every now and then, you don’t need as strong or as specific a probiotic. If you fall into this camp, a consumer brand of supplement or fermented foods would be a good option for you.
Consumer brand probiotics are just those that are sold over the counter, that you can get from your local drugstore. They’re not as strong as practitioner brands and can be taken long term, to promote general health and well being. Fermented foods are things like kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha and kefir. These are natural, so contains a huge variety of different bacteria, but in low quantities. Therefore, they’re a great option for boosting and maintaining gut health long term, in a natural, inexpensive way.
If you want to go with fermented foods, you can buy these from most shops now, or you can make your own! Follow me on Instagram as I’ll be sharing fermented food recipes for the whole month of April.
If you’d rather go with a consumer brand supplement, keep reading for how to choose the right one.
2. HOW MANY CFUs DOES IT HAVE?
Once you’ve decided on the type of probiotic to go for, the next thing to find out is how many CFUs a supplement has.
CFU stand for Colony Forming Units and it just refers to the number of live bacteria in each dose of that particular supplement. So many brands claim high CFUs, marketing this as a major selling point. However, there’s no proof that a higher CFU is better. As the saying goes, quality over quantity.
The best choice for YOU depends on your goals and the type of bacteria, not the numbers. For example, for lactic acid bacteria, you want your supplement to have a 1 billion CFU count or higher. For spore forming bacteria, on the other hand, you’ll see the effects from a much lower CFU count. Check out last week’s post to find out what ‘spore forming’ and ‘lactic acid’ bacteria are.
Your best bet is not to be swayed by CFU counts. Take some time to research the brand.
One thing to look out for on the label though is the sentence ‘at the time of manufacture,’ after the CFU count. If you see this, it means the manufacturer won’t guarantee that the number on the label are all still there and alive by the time you buy and take the supplements. So, make sure you instead buy a supplement where the number of CFUs in guaranteed, to make sure you’re actually getting what you pay for.
3. WHAT STRAINS ARE IN THE FORMULA?
This is what really matters…the specific strains of bacteria that are in the probiotic supplements.
Some supplements will have just one or 2 strains, whereas others can have over 12 different strains. Which is best for you depends on your goals. One strain can be an absolute targeted superstar, whereas a multi-strain can work amazingly together.
You’ll also want to have a little look into the research that’s been done on different strains. When looking at the bottle, you’ll notice some letters and numbers after the bacteria name (e.g. Lactobacillus reuteri 1063). These are what show you the specific strain (e.g. Lactobacillus is the genus, and reuteri is the species. The particular strain of Lactobacillus reuteri is 1063).
Every strain is different and you can trace the letters and numbers back to a scientist who owns that exact strain. They don’t actually ‘own’ it, they’ve just picked that strain out and done research on it. If a bottle has these numbers on it, it means research has been done on it, that you can look up (if you have the time..). If the bottle has bacteria listed with no numbers afterwards, there are no guarantees as to how it works as research hasn’t been done on it.
So, although it will take a bit of time, I recommend doing a bit of research on the various strains and choosing ones that apply to your specific health goals. For example, some strains have been shown to reduce inflammation, whereas others have been shown to help with diarrhoea. Choosing the right one and having it work for you will make the time investment very much worth it!
4. WHAT FORM IS IT IN?
The next step is to think about what form the supplement is in - is it a powder, a liquid or a capsule? One problem with a lot of probiotic supplements is that the bacteria in them can actually die before they reach your gut, making them a total waste of money. This is where form comes in.
Packaging with encapsulation technology (i.e. capsules) has been shown to help ensure the bacteria make it through your stomach acid and actually make it to your gut. There’s also new research coming out that liquid probiotic supplements, like Symprove, have an even better chance of survival.
5. ARE THERE ANY NASTY FILLERS?
Does the supplements contain any additives or fillers that you don’t want? These can be hard to spot, so look out for any of these words on the packaging: maltodextrin, any artificial sweeteners or colours, salicylates, magnesium stearate, silica and titanium dioxide. This isn’t a complete list but, as a general rule, you should be wary of any ingredient that isn’t a strain of bacteria and avoid it.
One other thing to look out for is non-GMO supplements, which means they haven’t been genetically modified.
These might be helpful if you want to do some research into the different strains.
There’s no one size fits all ‘best’ probiotic for everyone, as everyone’s gut is so unique.
Choosing the right probiotic depends on what your individual goals are and can definitely involve a bit of trial and error.
5 Things to Consider When Choosing a Probiotic:
What’s your goal?
How many CFUs does it have?
What strains are in the formula?
What form is it in?
Are there any nasty fillers?
Helping to navigate the research on different strains and work out which one is right for your specific goals is something I help my clients with as part of the ‘Your Gut Triggers’ 121 coaching program. If you’re interested in some more personal help, check out the program here and see if it might be right for you.
If you’d like me to send you my guide to different strains of probiotics and the symptoms they help with, just drop me an email at email@example.com and I’ll send it over.
I hope this has given you a bit more confidence in choosing the right probiotic. If you’ve still got burning questions on probiotics, stay tuned. April is the month of probiotics, so over the next 2 weeks, I’ll be busting some common myths around probiotics and answering your questions! Pop in your email address below to get all of this content delivered straight to your inbox.
Have you ever taken probiotics? Did they make you feel better/worse/you didn’t notice a difference? Let me know in the comments below.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this and I hope it’s helped you on your journey to taking control of your gut, eating well and living your life.