Everything You Need to Know About Probiotics (a complete guide)

Advertisements for probiotics supplements are all over the place. It seems that you can’t turn on your television or browse the Internet without seeing one. But there’s a good reason –

Millions of people have taken these products, and for many different reasons.

Of course, some want to address a digestive issue. Others are looking for something that will help their overall health.

But whatever your reason, it’s important that you know as much as possible about how probiotics can actually help you before you make your purchase.

So, check out our simple probiotics guide with info and tips below. It’ll help you discover the right types of probiotics for you and your family.

What is a Probiotic Supplement?

Let’s start with the word probiotic. Simply, it means to promote life.

And probiotics are actually alive. In fact, they’re the beneficial bacteria and other microbes in your “gut” or gastrointestinal tract.

Turns out, there are trillions of little microscopic organisms inside of you. And many of them are good for you, but some of them are quite harmful.

However, when there’s a good balance between good and bad microbes, your digestive system will typically work properly. But if the bad bacteria outnumber the good, it can lead to digestive problems.1

Now, a probiotic supplement is a product that’s designed to provide reinforcements to your supply of good bacteria.

Of course, you can find beneficial microbes in many kinds of foods. These are mainly fermented foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, and sourdough bread. But it can be extremely hard to ensure you have enough beneficial bacteria in your gut through diet alone.

That’s why lots of people turn to supplements.

The Benefits of Probiotics

probiotics benefits

What does science have to say about how probiotics can improve your health? Here are a few reported benefits, backed by solid scientific evidence.

Respiratory issues – Research shows that probiotic use could help reduce the risk of certain kinds of respiratory concerns… including catching a cold.2 In fact, in one study children were divided into two groups: One group received milk enriched with probiotics and the other received regular milk. According to the results, the children who drank the regular milk were 17 percent more likely to suffer an upper respiratory infection than the group who drank the probiotic enhanced milk.3

Constipation – Probiotics can benefit bowel function as well. In one study, people suffering from constipation received two servings of yogurt with probiotic bacteria daily for several weeks. At the end of the study, the participants reported they not only had increased bowel movements but also a reduction in bloating.4

Feminine problems – Good and bad bacteria not only fight for control of the gut, but also the female reproductive system. When some women take antibiotics or birth control pills, they often develop yeast and urinary tract infections.A probiotic supplement can inhibit some of the bad bacteria that can cause these problems.5

Diarrhea – Antibiotics can really help nurse you back to health once in a great while, but they can also seriously deplete the number of good bacteria in your gut that results in loose stool. And this condition actually has a name: antibiotic-associated diarrhea (AAD). The lactobacillus group of bacteria found in many types of probiotic supplements have been shown to help relieve many of the symptoms associated with AAD.6

Oral health – Finally, the health of your mouth can actually have a significant impact on your general health—just as there is good and bad bacteria in your gut, there’s also the same in your mouth. That’s why it’s important to support your mouth’s good bacteria with good oral care. Low birth weight and blood sugar issues are just two health problems that have been associated with poor oral hygiene. The Lactobacillus reuteri bacterium has been shown to help strengthen oral health and reduce tooth decay.7

So, now that you know how probiotics can help you, you just need to…

Find the Right Probiotic Product

Now, you probably already know there are thousands of probiotic supplements on the market. It can be difficult to narrow down your choices and find the supplement that’s right for you.

That’s why it’s so important you carefully look at the labels of the products you’re considering. They provide key clues that can give you a good idea of whether or not you’re getting your money’s worth.

You want to make sure the label provides information about the viability of the bacteria contained in each specific product. Viability simply means whether or not the microbes will be alive when you ingest them. If the label says the bacteria were viable at the time of manufacture, that really doesn’t tell you anything. You have no idea whether or not they’re still alive.

You need to make sure your product labels say something like, “viable until expiration date”.

If you see that phrase or something like it, chances are you’re about to purchase a truly helpful probiotic. Thing is, the microbes inside need to be alive to do their job in your gut. As long as you follow the storage instructions, the product should work.8

Furthermore, you’ll want to check on the number of good bacteria per serving. This number will be measured in colony forming units, or CFUs. This is the amount of bacteria in a supplement that have the ability to divide and form colonies.

Now, here you’ll probably see a wide range of numbers. Some products offer 100s of millions of CFUs per serving, while others have CFUs in the trillions. Most products will provide anywhere from 15-30 billion.

The next thing you need to know when you’re looking at probiotic labels…

Popular Probiotic Strains

probiotic strains
Of course, it’s super important to know the strains of good bacteria in the probiotic products you’re considering. Here are just a few that should be in whatever you eventually purchase.

Bifidobacterium longum (B. longum) – This is one of the first strains of bacteria that develop in the body. It’s really important when it comes to helping your gut stay healthy and it’s a great strain for helping you metabolize carbohydrates.9,10

Lactobacillus acidophilus – L. acidophilus is a very important strain of good bacteria. It plays a vital role in inhibiting the growth of harmful bacteria. Also, it helps ensure that there is the right balance between beneficial and harmful microbes in the gut.11

Lactobacillus reuteri – This is another bacterial strain that inhibits the growth of harmful microbes. It’s called L. reuteri and it also helps strengthen your immune system. Of course, this can help provide protection against several different kinds of serious illnesses and health issues.12

Are Probiotic Supplements Safe?

In general, probiotic supplements are safe for the vast majority of people. In select cases, some people report minor issues like bloating or gas, but that’s about it.

But, no matter what your health may be like, talk to your doctor before taking any sort of probiotic product. They will have a good idea of how ingesting beneficial bacteria could affect your gut.

But your doctor will know something even more important – whether or not a probiotic will interact with any medications you might be taking. So, definitely check in with your healthcare professional.

And remember, when you take a probiotic, you’ll be adding billions of good bacteria to your digestive system. While this is a good thing, you’ll still be affecting the balance of microbes in your gut. It might take a few days for your system to adjust. It’s during this time that you might experience minor bloating and gas.14 But those effects usually subside quickly.

The Bottom Line

As you can see, taking a probiotic supplement can provide many different health benefits. And the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages for the majority of people.

However, you should still talk with your doctor first to make sure it will be safe for you to start a probiotic regimen.

Again, you want to pay close attention to what your body is telling you. If, for example, you’re experiencing side effects after three or four days, talk to your doctor to see if you might need to stop your probiotic regimen.

Sources
1. https://www.medicinenet.com/probiotics/article.htm
2. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD006895.pub2/abstract
3. http://www.bmj.com/content/322/7298/1327
4. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2036.2007.03362.x/full
5. http://www.health.harvard.edu/vitamins-and-supplements/health-benefits-of-taking-probiotics
6. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.904.1374&rep=rep1&type=pdf
7. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0168160504001552
8. https://isappscience.org/probiotics
9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10831430
10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3145055/
11. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2621.1988.tb09312.x/abstract
12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3871281/
13. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/probiotics/introduction.htm
14. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/07/probiotics_n_5563618.html