Probiotics have generated quite a bit of buzz in the health and wellness circuits lately. Not only can you now get your daily dose through supplements and fermented foods, but this beneficial form of bacteria is also frequently added to snack bars, cereals, ice creams and even chewing gums.
However, not all probiotic supplements are created equal, and certain types of probiotics stand out for both their quality and potential health benefits.
So do probiotics do anything? And what is the best probiotic supplement? Let’s look at why you should consider adding a probiotic supplement to your routine and how to pick the best one.
What Are Probiotic Supplements?
Probiotics are a type of beneficial bacteria found in the digestive tract that play a role in nearly every aspect of health, from immune function to digestion and beyond. Even a minute imbalance in the delicate gut microbiome can have a huge impact on health, worsening certain conditions and causing gastrointestinal issues like bloating and stomach pain.
Taking a probiotic supplement is an easy way to boost the beneficial bacteria in your gut to promote better health. Available in capsule, powder and pill forms, probiotic supplements typically contain a wide range of unique bacterial strains, plus billions of probiotics in every serving.
Types of Probiotics
There are many different types of probiotics on the market, each of which varies based on numerous factors such as stability, strain diversity and CFU count.
Typically, there are two main species of probiotics, including Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus. In addition to being the most widely available in both probiotic foods and supplements, these two species have also been extensively studied for their beneficial effects on immune function, digestive health, weight loss and more.
There are also many specific strains of probiotics, each of which has been shown to benefit specific health conditions. Some of the best probiotic strains include:
- Bacillus coagulans
- Bacillus subtilis
- Bifidobacterium bifidum
- Bacillus clausii
- Lactobacillus plantarum
- Lactobacillus fermentum
- Lactobacillus reuteri
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Lactobacillus gasseri
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus
- Lactobacillus sporogens
- Saccharomyces boulardii
In addition to probiotic supplements, many of these strains can also be found naturally in probiotic foods. Fermented foods like tempeh, natto and miso are all great sources of probiotics and feature many different types of probiotics to support several aspects of health.
1. Improves Mental Health
Some research shows that gut health may be closely tied to mental health. In fact, several studies have found that probiotic supplementation could be beneficial in the treatment of several mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and autism spectrum disorder.
2. Supports Digestion
Adding probiotic foods or supplements to your daily routine can bring big benefits when it comes to digestive health. Not only can it aid in the prevention and treatment of inflammatory bowel disorders like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, but it may also improve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, a condition characterized by bloating, gas, diarrhea and constipation.
3. Boosts Immune Function
More and more mounting evidence has found that gut health may be closely connected to immune function. In addition to blocking the growth and spread of harmful bacteria in the gut, probiotics have also been shown to reduce the risk of certain types of infection, including respiratory infections and urinary tract infections in both children and adults.
4. Promotes Weight Loss
Many types of probiotics have been shown to boost fat-burning and weight loss through several different mechanisms. For example, some strains of probiotics may alter levels of specific hormones in the body that regulate appetite and hunger, helping you feel fuller between meals to kickstart weight loss.
Other types also prevent fat absorption by increasing the excretion of fatty acids in the stool. One study in the British Journal of Nutrition actually showed that taking low doses of Lactobacillus gasseri led to an 8.5 percent reduction in belly fat over 12 weeks.
5. Enhances Skin Health
Thanks to their ability to fight inflammation and block the growth of bacteria, probiotics are thought to be therapeutic for a number of different skin conditions. In fact, one study out of Canada found that women who used probiotics while pregnant or breastfeeding significantly reduced the risk of eczema in infants.
How to Choose the Right Probiotic
There are several factors to consider when picking the best probiotic supplement to fit your personal needs and preferences. The best probiotic for men, for example, may differ from the best probiotics for women or those with specific health conditions or concerns.
Here are a few of the top things to look for when choosing your probiotic supplement.
- Brand quality — Buy from reputable retailers with readily available probiotic reviews from customers.
- High CFU count — Be sure to purchase a supplement that has a higher number of probiotics, anywhere from 15 billion to 100 billion.
- Survivability and strain diversity — Check for strains like Bacillus coagulans, Saccharomyces boulardii, Bacillus subtilis, Lactobacillus plantarum, Bacillus clausii and other cultures or formulas that ensure that probiotics make it to the gut and are able to colonize.
- Prebiotics and supplementary ingredients — Prebiotics provide the fuel necessary for probiotics to grow and thrive. High-quality probiotic supplements should have both prebiotics and other ingredients designed to support digestion and immunity. Examples of these ingredients are (preferably fermented) flaxseed, chia seed, cañihua seed, astragalus, ashwagandha, hemp seed, pumpkin seed, milk thistle, peas, ginger, mung bean and turmeric.
- Stability and organism types — Some probiotic strains need to be kept cold in order to preserve their potency while others are shelf-stable and don’t require refrigeration. Unfortunately, most refrigerated probiotics never make it past the stomach because they aren’t stable. Instead, look for a shelf-stable product that contains soil-based organisms.
- Sugar — A synbiotic is a dietary supplement that contains both prebiotics and probiotics. The best synbiotics contain healthy plant starches and fiber rather than sugar to help feed the probiotics and help them grow.
- Living vs. dead — “Live and active cultures” are a better bet than “made with active cultures.” After fermentation, the product may be heat-treated, which helps extend shelf-life, but kills off both good and bad bacteria in the process.
Risks and Side Effects
So should you take probiotics every day? And what are the possible dangers or side effects of probiotic supplements?
Despite the many benefits of probiotic supplements, they may be associated with several adverse symptoms, especially when first starting out. Some of the most common side effects include digestive issues like gas, bloating and stomach pain. With consistent, daily use, these symptoms will likely subside over time.
However, it’s best to start with a low dosage and work your way up slowly to assess your tolerance. Alternatively, consuming foods with probiotics or probiotic drinks can be a safe and effective way to squeeze more beneficial bacteria into your diet with minimal adverse side effects.
As always, if you have any underlying health conditions or are taking other medications, it’s best to consult with your doctor before starting supplementation.
- Probiotics are a type of beneficial bacteria found in the gut that have been linked to a number of impressive health benefits.
- What are the benefits of taking a probiotic supplement? Studies show that probiotics may promote weight loss, skin health, digestion, immune function and mental health.
- Be sure to purchase from a reputable retailer and pay close attention to the strain diversity, CFU count, supplementary ingredients and stability to ensure you’re getting a high-quality supplement.
- You may also want to consider adding a variety of probiotic foods to your diet to help support better gut health, such as kombucha, kefir, miso, natto and tempeh.