Are you getting scammed with probiotic products?
Have all the products on the shelves with the words probiotics caught your attention? There are probiotic yogurts, juices, smoothie, granola bars, chocolates and water. News stories roll out claims that probiotics can help with weight loss, preventing illness, diarrhea, anti-aging and more.
I am going to debunk a few of their claims and share where the research stands right now and how to select some probiotic products that stand up to their name. No more scamming.
Probiotics are helpful bacteria and yeast (live organisms) and can be found naturally in our bodies, mostly in your GI (gastro-intestinal) system. There are roughly 500 different types or species but the healthy bacteria are predominantly made up of around 30-40 of the species. One hundred trillion bacteria live within you, more than there are cells in your body, but weigh only two to three pounds.
Not all probiotics are equal. Different probiotics have different types and concentrations of bacteria that have different properties. Only a small number of them have been tested properly in well done studies to find if they are indeed effective.
The bacteria in your gut has both “bad” and “good” bacteria. You want a balance of around 85% good bacteria and 15% bad bacteria. Things that set your gut out of whack are stress, sleep irregularities, medications (especially antibiotics), exposure to certain toxins in environment and poor diet.
What Bacteria Should I Pay Attention To
Different bacteria perform different functions in the body. As seen in the list below, when choosing foods and/or products, it is beneficial to know what strains have been studied and shown to be effective for specific medical conditions and/or overall general health.
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) – E. coli Nissle, Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Streptococcus
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) – Bifidobacterium infantis, Sacchromyces boulardii, Lactobacillus pantarum, Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium
- Infectious Diarrhea – Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus casei, many Lactobacillus strains, and the yeast Saccharomyces boulardii
- AAD (antibiotic-associated diarrhea)– Lactobacillus acidophilus and rhamnosus, Saccharomyces boulardii (yeast)
- Traveler’s Diarrhea – Saccharomyces boulardii
- Lowering presence of unhealthy gut bacteria overall – Lactobacillus, Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Immunity Building – Bifidobacterium lactis
- Constipation management – yogurt with lactobacilli and bifidobacteria
- Ulcerative colitis – inulin and oligofructose (prebiotics)
- Improved lactose intolerance symptoms – Lactobacilli and bifidobacteria combined with prebiotics
For other benefits like cancer prevention and inhibition, help with blood pressure and heart disease, and weight loss the science is emerging . What I mean is right now, the science is not strong enough and not clear enough on which bacteria species to recommend and even the role that these tiny organisms have. Be careful of products that make claims as we still have a lot of questions to answer.
Factors that Affect the Quantity of the Bacteria
If you don’t be careful, you might pay premium for a probiotics product where nothing gets through to your gut alive. This might happen because there is no regulation of probiotic foods and thus no testing to ensure claims made are true.
Shelf-life is a factor that effects if bacteria live long enough to get to your gut. Bacteria are living organisms so the longer they are on the shelf, the more of them that will die off. This is a reason dairy products are a good choice. They have a limited shelf life so you know they have not sat in a warehouse for months before getting to the grocery store.
The National Yogurt Association created a seal of approval. See the photo to the right.
However, this is not the end all either. There is still room for being misleading. The seal does not guarantee the levels of the microbes, so a product could not have high enough levels to have a benefit. However, the seal is one factor in a product’s favor.
Another factor is stomach acid. Your stomach acid is very, very strong. It does and will kill bacteria that get into the stomach each day. So, how do you protect the probiotic bacteria you take from this “bacteria execution chamber” which everyone has inside them?
Dairy products have been studied and the strains in products labeled as having “live active culture” have good success making it through to the gut. Other foods, the best is to keep with those that use lactic acid bacteria for the fermentation process like pickled vegetables. This is going to be sauerkraut, and kimchi. For other probiotic foods, the potency is questionable. Do your research before buying.
If You Are Adventurous, Try Kefir
Kefir is very potent. It has about 30 strains of bacteria and yeast. This results in three times the amount of probiotic content than yogurt. Other dairy products like yogurt with live cultures have fewer strains and don’t have the yeasts. It is generally well tolerated by people who are lactose intolerant.
Kefir has an especially tart, sour taste from the lactic acid produced. You might wrinkle your nose a time or two the first time you kick back a sip or two.
Kefir is made by using cow’s or goat’s milk and adding grains to them link. Over a period of 24 hours the microorganism in the kefir grains multiple and ferment the sugars in the milk, turning it into kefir. The grains are removed and the liquid is what you buy in the store.
Selecting A Probiotic Food
- Make sure the product says “Live Active Culture” on it.
- Stick with trusted whole food sources of probiotics (dairy or picked vegetables).
- Dairy is a good probiotic food to start with: yogurt, kefir, or cottage cheese. Then find a brand that has allowed testing to confirm their levels: Danactive, Activia, Yakult and Danimals. Watch for the sugar content on these though. You want less than 22 grams of sugar per serving.
- Otherwise you can eat pickled vegetables like kimchi, sauerkraut, and pickled beets which are easy to make at home. Make sure these last foods are raw/unpasteurized if you buy them in the store. Otherwise they will not contain any live bacteria.
If you want to try another probiotic food product, do your research first. So many of them are jumping too soon into the marketplace.