Three Things to Consider Before Buying Probiotics
The proper probiotics can improve your body’s functions, but the wrong ones can make you feel worse, so it’s important to know as much as possible before choosing a supplement.
Probiotics are the beneficial bacteria that live in our digestive tract by the billions. Advocates of probiotic supplements assert that they promote good digestion, immune system vibrance, heart health, and general well-being. However, because gut health is an emerging field of study, not enough is known about the true effectiveness of probiotics. While some tout them as a miracle cure for everything from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) to diverticulitis and cancer, other studies suggest probiotics can actually be harmful if overused. Suffice it to say that, as with all nutrients, it’s better to get your probiotics from food rather than supplements. Probiotics are naturally occurring in yogurt and certain fermented foods such as kimchi and sauerkraut. But if you’ve decided to try probiotic supplements, there are a few things to understand before deciding which one is right for you.
Consult Your Physician
Everyone’s gut microbiome is as unique. That means there is no universally accepted probiotic supplement that will work for everyone. First and foremost, consult with your physician to determine whether a probiotic is right for you, and which type is most appropriate. And remember, there is no substitute for proper diet and regular exercise.
Once you decide to try a probiotic supplement, the most important consideration is the strain or combination of strains. Like any biological organism, bacteria have a taxonomy based on the genus, species, and, in the case of probiotics, strain type. Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are two of the most common genera found in probiotic supplements, with Lactobacillus acidophilus, which works in the small intestine, being perhaps the most ubiquitous. Your physician can help you further refine the recommended strain type.
Probiotic supplements are rated by colony-forming units (CFUs), which usually ranges from about 1 to 10 billion CFUs per strain. That’s a measurement of how many active, beneficial bacteria there are at the time of purchase. Some CFUs denote only the total CFU of all strains combined in the supplement, while others break down CFUs by strain. The more information you can gather on the number of active units per individual strain, the better able you will be to choose the right supplement.