Natural probiotics: why they matter and what to look for

The foundation of a brilliant life is brilliant health, which as more and more scientific research shows, begins with a healthy gut! Scientific studies have shown that ingestion of specific strains of friendly bacteria—probiotics—enhances several physiological functions, particularly the body’s natural defence system and intestinal well-being.

Probiotics are live micro-organisms which, when administrated in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host. A balanced intestinal microflora is highly important to keeping the body in healthy working order.

Good vs. bad

When all is well, good bacteria should make up about 90 percent of your gut microbiota (the population of microbes living in your intestines). But factors like illness and medications, diet, and stress, can skew the ratio of good to bad and lead to disorders such as gastrointestinal distress, inflammation, eczema, a weakened immune system, diarrhoea or constipation.

When this happens, adding an extra dose of good bacteria from a probiotic supplement helps bring harmony back to the tummy. Fermented foods, such as kombucha, yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, and kefir all contain probiotics, though they don’t deliver quite the punch that a supplement would.

Unfortunately, finding the right probiotic for your body isn’t the walk in the park, or in the case the walk down the Health & Beauty aisle that it should be. There are thousands of different probiotic options on the market, all with varying potency mind boggling ingredients. And with tongue-twister names like Streptococcus thermophilus and Bifidobacterium animalis subsp lactis – “Aah yes, I’ll have half a billion please?”

Choosing the right probiotic for you

Read the Label!

Picking a probiotic is much more complicated than, say, picking a multivitamin or your favourite football team. However, a general rule of thumb is that the label information should always include:

  • Genus
  • Species
  • Strain of the microorganisms (Lactobacillus rhamnosus HN001 for example)

Many products list only the genus and species, but different strains provide different benefits.

Strain-specific benefits

Studies confirm that physiological benefits are strain-specific and only rarely apply to species.  According to the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) a probiotic must:

  • Be alive when administered
  • Have undergone controlled evaluation to document benefits in the target host
  • Be a taxonomically defined microbe or combination of microbes (genus, species and strain level)
  • Be safe for its intended use

And when choosing a probiotic, make sure to check the:

  • Number of organisms contained in a single dose and how often you should take it. Pick one that has at least seven strains, and five billion CFU (colony forming units).
  • Storage information (some forms need to be refrigerated while others need a dark, cool space). For the most part, always keep probiotics away from moisture and heat.
  • “Viable through end of shelf life” (which ensures the living microbes are in fact still living). Pass on the probiotic if the label says “viable at time of manufacture,” which is a guarantee that some of the live cultures would have expired by the time you make your purchase.
  • Encapsulated pills or other delayed-rupture technology ensure the bacteria survive the trip through your acidic stomach and actually reach your colon.

For daily maintenance, we recommend a probiotic with multiple strains of bacteria because the gut contains many different kinds of strains — so the more the merrier. If you’re trying to treat a particular problem, make sure your probiotic contains the specific strains required.

There are several supplements on the market; however, the best ones to use are those that have been subjected to rigorous scientific study and are proven to be effective. Strain-level research is key, and you can be sure that the strains are of the highest quality and backed by solid scientific research.

This is a guest article by Chris James, Founder, Chris James Mind Body.

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