Your body contains ten times more microbial cells than human cells. Well, some studies say the ratio is not 10:1 but 2:1 or 1:1 but you get the idea, right? You are more bacteria than human or half human half bacteria. These little critters cannot be underestimated or overlooked. They live on your skin, and inside your mouth, nose, digestive, reproductive and urinal tracts. Your digestive tract has the densest colony of bacteria and this bacteria is responsible for metabolic, nutritional, physiological and immunological processes in your body. They help in the digestion, assimilation, and production of short-chain fatty acids, vitamin K, vitamin B12, folic acid and amino acids, which you are unable to produce yourselves. These beneficial bacteria also keep the bad bacteria in check.
In Ayurveda, which is an ancient Indian medicine, health originates from the gut. Both Traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda consider digestion to be one of the key factors influencing our health. According to Hippocrates, the father of medicine, “all disease begins in the gut.” One of the simplest ways to support digestive health is to boost your stomach’s healthy bacteria with a proven probiotic (beneficial bacteria) supplement, particularly after a course of antibiotics or during stress or illness. A round of antibiotics from your doctor indiscriminately destroy both bad and good bacteria. Nowadays many doctors are prescribing probiotics along with antibiotics. Modern science is catching up and agreeing with this ancient wisdom.
Every culture has some form of probiotics taken in the food form in small quantities. Central and Eastern Europe have sauerkraut, Ukrainians have beet kvass, Indonesians have tempeh, Indians have buttermilk and pickles, Koreans have kimchi, and Japanese have nato and miso. Even the cooked fermented foods like sourdough bread, miso soup or South Indian dosa and idli are easy for your digestive system and give similar benefits of probiotics. Kombucha, kefir, and many other fermented drinks and foods are gaining popularity these days. But some of the foods you get in the supermarket like vinegar based pickles and yogurt are so processed and pasteurized that it’s unlikely you’d be able to get enough to see the same benefits as you would with a supplement or a homemade fermented food. One of the cheapest and most effective ways to get this beneficial bacteria is to make your own fermented foods like yogurt and lacto-fermented (salt or whey based culture and not vinegar based) foods which deserve its own blog post. Eating fermented foods is a great option if you don’t like the idea of popping a pill filled with bacteria.
Our good microbiome bugs make our neurotransmitters, support our immune systems and impact every physiological function. We need to examine the foods we eat, the way we cook it, and the kinds of stress to which we are exposed. Dr. John Douillard
A diet high in meats and fats take so long to break down in the human body. This promotes the growth of the harmful bacteria. There are antibiotics in these meats that kill the beneficial bacteria. The constipation you end up with, due to eating a low fiber diet, causes bad bacteria to thrive in your digestive system. With the daily stress in our lives, chlorine in the water, NSAIDs and antacids all contribute to the death of this friendly bacteria. If making and eating fermented foods is not being done by you on a daily basis, then this is a good time to start a healthy probiotic supplement. Probiotics help you in weight loss, immunity, skin problems, and digestive health.
Before I give you guidelines on how to choose quality probiotics, you should look for the following when considering any supplement.
- Does the supplement come from natural sources (actual fruits, vegetables, grains, superfoods, etc.), or is it made of synthetic, lab created chemicals? Google ingredients if you’re unsure!
- Can I pronounce all the ingredients on the label? Are they from an organic food blend, or is a chemical name listed?
- What kind of tests were run on the product to prove label accuracy and ingredient purity? Has the product been tested for gluten contamination, heavy metals and shelf life?
- What kind of independent quality certifications does the product have? Is it USDA Organic or non-GMO?
- What research has been done on the nutrients contained in the product?
- How does it taste? Good nutrition needn’t be nasty!
A search in Amazon for probiotics gives you products ranging from $5-$60. With this price range, it is confusing to pick the best probiotics that fit your budget. Consider the following when buying probiotics:
- The number of strains – Over 400 bacterial species have been successfully isolated from the human GI tract. There are many studies that show people with more diverse bacteria have better health and immunity. Eating a diverse range of local organic foods grown in farms not practicing monoculture is important for diverse microflora. If that is not possible, look for probiotics with at least 5 strains of bacteria.
- CFU (Colony Forming Unit): 5 billion is a good number to go with if your budget is low and if you do not have any pressing health issues. You can experiment with probiotics with up to 50 billion. Most of the cheaper priced versions have CFU in millions and by the time you take it they may only be a handful. Besides eating fermented foods, I take probiotics that have anywhere from 15-40 billion CFU.
- Viability: Bacteria can die fast so a billion bacteria at the time of production of supplements may end up reducing to a million by the time you consume it. This is the reason why you should go with larger CFU numbers and reputable brands. A milk test (curdling of milk after mixing with probiotics for a day or two) can be done but is not a reliable way to check the potency. If the milk forms clumps you know they are good but if it doesn’t you could still have a good probiotic supplement as there are many other factors that affect the curdling of milk.
- Prebiotics: Just taking probiotics and eating unhealthy will not solve your health issues. Prebiotics are a type of fiber the probiotics need to survive. You can get this through your diet by eating onions, garlic, Jerusalem artichokes, dandelion greens, and jicama. Fruits and vegetables high in soluble fiber like sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, asparagus, turnips, mango, avocados, strawberries, apricots are also good to keep these good guys alive and happy. You can also get probiotics that have prebiotics added to it. Prebiotics are FODMAPs so I have to caution you if you have IBS and can’t tolerate Foods in FODMAP.
- Refrigeration: Some probiotics need to be refrigerated, but not all do. If you don’t refrigerate when you need to, the bacteria in the bottle may die, which lowers your CFU.
My top recommendations for probiotics are given below. I recommend changing them frequently. There is still more research to be done on how much we should be taking and what strains and whether soil strains (SBOs) are better so mixing up things is a good idea.
- Ora Organic Trust Your Gut Probiotics with Prebiotics – I add this delicious blend to my smoothies every day. 16 Billion – 6 Strains that support optimal digestive health and peak immune function. Dairy-free, gluten-free, non-gmo, soy-free, vegan . The good folks in Ora have given me a deal to share with my readers. Use coupon code ROOTMOUNTAIN on their website and get 15% OFF.
- Prescript-Assist Soil Based Probiotic – 28 Strains
This is the one I am taking currently. Prescript-Assist contains 145 million per capsule. Prescript-Assist cannot be compared to CFU’s in lacto and bifido based probiotics. These products require these massive numbers because many die during manufacturing, prolonged storage, stomach acid, etc.
- Renew Life Ultimate Flora Probiotic Extra Care – 50 billion – 10 Strains
- Garden of Life – RAW Probiotics Women – 85 Billion -32 Strains