Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that usually inhabit the digestive tract. They can easily become depleted from things such as antibiotic use, antibacterial hand soap, chlorinated drinking water, overuse of harsh cleaning chemicals and overconsumption of sugar and refined foods. A depletion of these beneficial bacteria is problematic because they play an important role in your overall health; working as natural digestion aids, boosting immunity, reducing allergies, decreasing inflammation and helping to prevent stomach problems such as IBS and constipation. Probiotic supplements have become increasingly popular over the past ten years, and many alternative medicine practitioners place them as more important than omega-3 supplements and even multivitamins. Unfortunately, there is no overseeing governmental body to ensure the quality of probiotic supplements; consequently, they vary dramatically in quality.
Most probiotic supplements will state on the bottle how many beneficial bacteria they contain (most often ranging from 1 to 50 billion bacteria per capsule); however, the claims aren’t always true. Recently, Consumer.Lab.com, a leading provider of health related consumer information and independent evaluations, examined 29 different probiotic supplements to determine just how accurate the probiotic count claims were. According to the report, some of the probiotic supplements contained far few living organism then they had claimed on the label, with one of them containing a mere 57% of the organisms listed.
Whether or not the supplement contains as many living organisms as it claims on the label is not the only factor to consider when determining the quality of a probiotic. Even if the supplement contain 100 billion bacteria, it will not work as a digestion aid or help to cure your stomach problems, for instance, if it doesn’t survive the transit through your digestive system. According to The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, probiotics need to be able to tolerate acidic conditions, survive and flourish in the presence of bile and metabolize selective substrates, in order for them to be effective. The ability of the bacteria contained within the supplement to adhere to intestinal cells, intestinal mucus, the gut and the colon wall is another important factor, in determining its effectiveness. Enteric coated capsules are specifically designed to survive the journey through your intestines, and FOS, a common probiotic additive, helps to enhance the ability of the bacteria to bind and flourish in your intestinal walls and colon.
There is another factor to consider when buying probiotics: what medical condition are you looking to treat? Each specific strain of probiotic will produce a different effect in your body. For instance, if you are looking for probiotics to help you with stomach problems such as ongoing diarrhea, B. longum-L. Acidophilus has been found to be far more effective than the L. acidophilus-L bulgaricus strain. If on the other hand, you’re looking to boost your immune system, the S. boulardii and L. Rhamnosus GG stains have been proven to be the most effective. Conversely, the Bifidobacteria bifidum and Bifidobacteria longum strains work most effectively as digestion aids. Finally, Lactobacillus acidophilus is the most common type of bacteria found in commercial probiotics and it works to maintain the overall integrity of your intestinal walls and to enhance nutrient absorption.
There is one final factor to consider when buying and consuming probiotics and that is storage. The probiotics should be stored in a sealed container and shielded from heat, light and humidity, states Consumer Labs. In addition, you should read the storage instructions on the container because some probiotics require constant refrigeration, and leaving them at room temperature will destroy the beneficial bacteria that they contain.