Becoming an Expert in Probiotics
Let’s face it – we would rather be doing anything else but talking about intestinal issues at any given time. Aside from it not being a very ‘friendly’ topic to discuss amongst friends or family members, the actual idea of having to think about the inner workings of your bowel is not exactly everybody’s cup of tea.
But what happens when you are faced with such gastrointestinal problems and find yourself unable to address them properly?
One highly acclaimed solution is that of probiotics, with renowned medical figures and satisfied users praising their long-term benefits.
And while you might think that becoming an expert in probiotics is something that requires time and effort, then you are in for one big (and pleasant) surprise.
By leaving behind the ‘icky’ aspect of bowel movement disturbances and concentrating on the advantages of using probiotics, we can see that the latter has really gained momentum in recent years regarding advertisement and general usage alike.
For instance, the now internationally famous Dr. Mehmet Oz has been a great factor in popularizing probiotics both in their natural state and through the supplementary intake.
As a result, more and more people have become interested not only in their positive contributions to the human body but also of how they work in general.
The science of probiotics explained
If you stop somebody on the street, chances are they will have no idea what a ‘probiotic’ is, regardless of how many natural yogurt commercials they might have come across so far.
This is owed to the fact that many manufacturers prefer to invest their money and creative energies into catchy slogans and benefits lists, without really taking the time to explain the science behind their products.
Thus, in short, probiotics constitute microorganisms which naturally exist inside your gastrointestinal system and which help primarily with proper digestion, immunity control, and mood stabilization.
They exist in our organisms by the trillions, with some specialists putting this number of individual cells on the same level with those of the brain as a comparison.
These ‘friendly’ bacteria stand in contrast with antibiotics – while the former are used to combat pathogens and viruses, probiotics maintain your gut flora alive and thriving (their name being derived from Greek and meaning ‘for life’).
Nevertheless, a good digestive pattern is ultimately reliant on a careful balance between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria; when this balance is ‘broken’ by one or the other forms of bacteria, then you end up with something called ‘gut dysbiosis’.
This imbalance is more often than not caused by factors such as prolonged antibiotic administration, unhealthy dietary choices, and high amounts of stress, with outcomes like poor digestion, lack of energy, falling sick quickly, gaining weight, etc. being among the most common.
As you can see, although they are not given that much credit, probiotics actually play an essential role in our overall well-being.
Their recorded history dates back to the beginning of the 20th century, when a Russian zoologist isolated them clinically for the first time, although their official naming as ‘probiotics’ and worldwide recognition did not start until 1953.
During the 1940s, experimental trials focused on Lactobacillus acidophilus (used in yogurt production) were already being conducted to promising results (for example, addressing the issue of chronic constipation).
So how do probiotics work?
Nowadays, a normal intake of probiotics can be easily met through dietary, pill, powder or capsule supplementation. The efficiency of a probiotic is usually measured in colony forming units (or CFUs, in short), with adequate probiotic supplements containing anything between 1 and 10 billion CFUs as their standard number.
Their working process is fairly simple: once these bacteria cultures enter your body and reach the stomach, they activate during digestion from their otherwise dormant state (that is when they are inside the vegetable or soy-based agent of the supplement).
From here they progress into the gut, adding to your pre-existent probiotic count and hence further facilitating food decomposition, nutrient absorption, and toxin elimination.
As previously stated, probiotics can also be found in a wide variety of foods. The most extensive categories are those of dairy products (milk, yogurt, soft cheeses, buttermilk, etc.) and fermented products (sauerkraut, brine-based pickles, Miso paste and soup, Kombucha tea, etc.).
While natural and beneficial to your digestion, consuming such items will not have the same effect as using the most concentrated version of supplements, since it will take greater amounts of food to achieve the same results – which, ironically, can sometimes lead to more stomach problems in the first place.
In addition, probiotic supplements also have the advantage of ‘choosing’ their blend of probiotics, with each sub-type catering to different gastrointestinal needs. The most widespread probiotic families are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, with the most commonly encountered bacteria strains being as follows:
- Lactobacillus acidophilus – is probably the most ‘famous’ probiotic of present times, since it represents an important part of the natural yogurt making process. Moreover, its health benefits include allergy reduction, pathogen inhibition, resistance to stomach acid, and anti-microbial effects inside the gut.
- Bifidobacterium infantis – has been shown to ameliorate and treat issues like diarrhea, allergic responses, and local inflammation. It can also withstand high acid levels within the gut and combat the effects of antibiotics by re-establishing your normal intestinal flora.
- Lactobacillus casei – is similar to Lactobacillus acidophilus in its benefits, with the added advantage of actively combating the Helicobacter Pylori pathogen (that can cause stomach ulcers and cancers alike). In addition, it also helps with lactose intolerance, since it contributes to enhanced food decomposition processes.
- Bacillus coagulans – has demonstrated positive results in actively combating and curing diarrhea (especially for children and those who travel frequently, changing their dietary habits), IBD (inflammatory bowel disease), IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), ulcerative colitis, and Crohn’s disease.
Probiotic manufacturers and their claims
In general, experienced buyers become fairly skeptical when faced with supplement manufacturers telling them about how their products can fix basically any problem under the sun.
This is why distinguishing ‘fact’ from ‘fiction’ becomes so important in this circumstance, more so when both your health and cash are on the line.
On the other hand, we have to be careful so as to not dismiss all the advantages of these products at once, particularly since some of them have been revealed as true by various clinical studies.
Take the Lactobacillus family of probiotics, for instance: in recent times, over 5.000 medical trials have been conducted under various conditions to reveal that this probiotic type can help with gastrointestinal issues ranging from extensive diarrhea episodes, ulcerative colitis, IBS, and Helicobacter Pylori infections to lung, vaginal, urinary, and skin problems (eczemas).
Nonetheless, this does not mean that one capsule of probiotic supplement can ‘miraculously’ take care of all your bowel issues immediately.
As with pain relief induced by proper medication, probiotic supplementation can sometimes seem to have more effects than bargained for (increased energy levels, better moods, etc.).
This is considered by specialists as secondary benefits, which stem from the primary advantage of having a normal functioning bowel.
Can probiotics cause any side effects?
We know pretty clearly by now that probiotics display numerous ways we could benefit from them – but is there a reverse to this cornucopia of advantages as well?
Well, since probiotics are already a natural component of the human gastrointestinal system, it is safe to say that they can be consumed by the majority of the population, with babies and children included.
Even so, there are people who should avoid elevated probiotic intake, like those who suffer from a weak immune system, short bowel syndrome or are currently pregnant/ nursing mothers.
In addition, you should refrain from using probiotics at the same time you are undergoing antibiotic treatments or depend on immunosuppressant medication for various illnesses.
If such side effects are to occur, they do so in the first days of supplementation, when your body is still getting used to the new bacterial numbers and trying to achieve a normal balance. These comprise of bloating, increased gas production, and diarrhea or constipation. As a result, the best course of action would be to book an appointment with your doctor or personal physician and discuss this change in diet properly before actually implementing it into your lifestyle.
How to buy the perfect probiotic supplement?
Having previously consulted with your doctor and deciding together that a probiotic supplement is the best option for your gastrointestinal health, then you can start thinking about how you should approach this subject from the start.
First of all, you should try to pinpoint your specific issues and do a little bit of individual research to see what types of probiotics would best suit those diseases.
While most ‘good’ bacteria cover pretty much the same ground when it comes to bowel wellbeing, some do present more specific attributions than others.
Secondly, be on the lookout for those manufacturers who continue to be highly recommended by users. This means that – although not FDA regulated – you could still get the general idea about a supplement by hearing what previous patients have to say about it in official website commentaries and independent review sites as well.
With some research showing that the majority of supplements fall short of their promised probiotic count with up to even 30%, then honest and unmediated opinions regarding your supplement of choice are more than welcomed in this case.
Another way of checking whether your selected probiotic supplement falls into the right category is by seeing whether the official website links you to crucial information such as an ingredient list, clearly distinct product label, and details about manufacturing.
What is more, checking whether the dietary enhancer is produced in an FDA registered environment and a GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices) facility. An added ‘bonus’ would be that of having the specification that your supplement has been third party tested for effectiveness and purity.
In practical terms, probiotics which do not need refrigeration in order to keep their probiotic count constant are generally the more agreeable option, as are those who present a considerably higher CFUs count.
You could also take further advantage of your research from above and look to see if the supplement contains probiotics which are specifically more acid-resistant and have a longer lifespan within the intestinal system itself.
For example, some such manufacturers advertise their production technologies as being able to delay the ‘friendly’ bacteria’s endurance regarding stomach decomposition, thus helping to better repopulate your internal flora.
In the end, keep in mind that probiotic supplements work differently and you might not see a visible form of amelioration for your specific ailments right away. While this sort of bacteria can be a very useful instrument in treating or preventing certain gut-related illnesses, they are nevertheless distinctive and can take time before making a clear change in your bowel movement regularity.
Conclusion – are probiotics worth a go?
As shown in the demonstration above, probiotics play an essential role not only in your intestinal health and proper inner workings but also for when it comes to your immunity and overall mood.
Therefore, resorting to probiotic supplements can be a very easy and efficient way of making sure you are meeting your body’s own ‘good’ bacteria requirements.
On the other hand, not all supplements will act the same – or the same for each individual, that is – so be sure that your product of choice matches your (realistic) expectations.
So – have you ever resorted to probiotics in the past? Was your experience a good or bad one? Would you (not) recommend a certain manufacturer for others? Do you have any other useful tips when it comes to purchasing dietary supplements in general?
By answering questions like these, you too could contribute to a simpler and more informed probiotic experience for others, so pitch in the discussion and make your contribution to the improvement of the supplement market today!