The current marketplace is flooded with different probiotic supplements, from probiotic drinks to powder, tablet and capsule forms, all of which claiming to help reduce bloating, restore digestive function, and/or support a healthy immune system.
This can make it very confusing for consumers to choose the right probiotic supplement. I am going to provide you with some guidelines that will help enable you to distinguish between those probiotics that are more suited for specific conditions, those that are best used for everyday maintenance of a healthy gut and those that are a waste of time and money.
Why do we even need probiotic supplements?
Well, what many people do not realise is that approximately 80% of our immune system is located in our digestive system, and that a vital component of a healthy gastrointestinal tract is gut flora. The trillions of microbes found in our gut help to maintain a crucial line of defence for the body’s immune system, they also help to regulate digestion and metabolism, extract and synthesise vitamins and other nutrients, produce an array of neurochemicals that enable the brain to regulate basic activities, like learning and memory, and they manufacture approximately 95% of the body’s serotonin supply (the hormone that influences our mood and gastrointestinal activity).
Common life practices can be detrimental for the survival of our gut flora, some of these include:
- A lack of fresh whole food in the diet.
- High consumption of refined, processed foods, as well as those foods rich in sugar and trans fats.
- Excessive consumption of alcohol and/or prescription drugs – specifically antibiotics, which attack the “good” as well as the “bad” bacteria, and leave the host more vulnerable when a consequent invasion occurs, especially to infections like yeast.
- Being subjected to excessive, prolonged stress (whether it be physical, emotional or psychological) – this may change the balance of bacteria which naturally live in your gut.
- Intestinal toxicity – may be from multiple causes and result in bloating, gas, pain and brain fog.
Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride MD, MMedSci (neurology), MMedSci(nutrition), writes in her book (Gut and Psycholgy Syndrome) how healthy gut flora plays a vital role in our immune response, and she believes the influence of gut flora on our immune system reaches far beyond the gut itself.
Abnormal gut flora can also cause the gastrointestinal wall to become damaged and “leaky”, which can result in a stream of invaders and undigested food passing through the damaged barriers of the gut walls and into the bloodstream. This places additional strain on an already compromised immune system (please see our previous article on Leaky Gut Syndrome for more information on this topic). There are also many studies emerging which support the beneficial use of probiotics in food allergies, atopic dermatitis, irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhoea, autism and during pregnancy and breastfeeding, among others.
There are many beneficial bacteria that have been formally identified and researched. The most common strains currently being used in probiotic supplements include; Lactobacilli, Bifidobacteria, Saccharomyces boulardii andEscherichia coli. Each of these strains serves a different purpose in the body and within most of these strains you will find a family of different species.
Tips on Finding Quality Probiotics
Unfortunately, not all probiotics contain the quantity or the types of bacterial species needed and as a result they will not be strong enough to have a therapeutic effect in the host. It is always best to work with a qualified practitioner, who is experienced in using probiotics, to help you decide which one is best for your situation. However, if this is not possible and you are trying to choose a probiotic yourself, here are some general guidelines to help you make the right decision. (Guidelines are based on the advice given by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride MD.)
- The more species of beneficial bacteria the better, and a good probiotic will contain as many species as possible. The human gut is inhabited by hundreds of known species of different bacteria, so you should always try to come as close to that as possible. The different species of bacteria have different strengths and weaknesses, which means the more species a probiotic contains the greater the chance of delivering a maximum benefit.
- A mixture of strains from the different groups of probiotic bacteria will be more beneficial than just including one group. For example, a combination of strains from the most common species of Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria.
- An acceptable probiotic should contain a minimum of 8 billion bacterial cells per gram. It is vital for a probiotic supplement to contain large enough doses otherwise no improvement will be seen. Although the therapeutic dose of a probiotic is very individual, a general guide to follow is…
• An infant (up to 12 months) can have 1 to 2 billion of bacterial cells per day.
• A toddler (from 1 to 2 years) can have 2 to 4 billion of bacterial cells per day.
• A child (from 2 to 4 years) can handle 4 to 8 billion of bacterial cells per day.
• A child (from 4 to 10 years) can have 8 to 12 billion of bacterial cells per day.
• From the age of 12 to 16 you can increase the dose to 12 to 15 billion of bacterial cells per day.
• An adult needs approximately 15-20 billion of bacterial cells per day.
- Ensure the manufacturer of the probiotic has strict quality control procedures in place. Every batch of probiotics should be tested for strength and bacterial composition and the manufacturer should be able to publish these results, if required to do so.
Understand the “Die Off Reaction”…It’s a Good Thing.
Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride MD also speaks of the “die-off reaction”, and how a good therapeutic strength probiotic will always produce this. The die-off reaction is seen when “you introduce probiotic bacteria into a digestive system (and) they start destroying pathogenic bacteria, viruses and fungi. When these pathogens die they release toxins…. So whatever characteristic symptoms the patient has may temporarily get worse. Your patient may also feel more tired than usual, generally “off-colour”, or develop a skin rash.” These die off reactions are temporary and in most people they will pass in a few days to a few weeks. To ensure this reaction is as mild as possible it is recommended that when starting a probiotic you start at a low dose and build this up slowly – start low and go slow.
At Kingsway Compounding we stock a wide range of probiotic supplements, all of which contain therapeutic doses of well researched beneficial bacteria.
1. Campbell-McBride N. Gut and Psychology syndrome. 8th ed, 2012. Gut and Psychology SyndromeTM and GAPSTM .
2. Matthews J. Nourishing hope for autism. 3rd ed, 2008. Healthful Living Media.
3. Underwood A. Probiotics in health and disease. Practitioner review article. 2012. Spectrumceuticals.
4. Psychology of food (introduction to neurogastroenterology) seminar. November 2013. Nature Care College.