Choosing The Right Probiotic Supplement

The GI tract contains trillions of bacteria with over 1000 different species. That’s a lot of “stuff” camping out in our gut! And many of those species are pathogenic, meaning they are viruses, bacteria, and other types of germs that can cause some kind of disease. 

When the number of beneficial bacteria is reduced or a person has an increase in pathogenic bacteria, there is a great chance the pathogenic bacteria may cause illness or disease. This is known as dysbiosis, an imbalance of the pathogenic and beneficial bacteria. Some diseases linked to dysbiosis are inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, autoimmune disease and obesity. 

Why Are Beneficial Bacteria Important?

The beneficial bacteria in someone’s GI tract are extremely important! Here's why and how:

  • They support the immune system.
  • They protect the body against pathogenic bacteria that may cause disease.
  • They ensure proper digestion and absorption of food and nutrients.
  • They maintain the gut barrier.
  • They keep inflammation in check.

Do Probiotics Work?

Probiotics work in these ways:

  • Modify the gut microbiota.
  • Inhibit the growth of pathogenic bacteria.
  • Maintain the gut mucosal barrier.
  • Restore balance to the intestinal flora.

How To Select A Probiotic Supplement

The criteria for selecting a therapeutic probiotic include:

  • The Strains Matter. Probiotics supplements differ in the variety of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacter species offered. Each strain has different and unique action on our gut, immune system, brain, metabolism, mood, hormones, and detoxification, to name a few!
    Bottom line: choose a probiotic with as many different strains as possible.
  • Numbers Count. Think BILLIONS. When you read labels, you'll see numbers as "CFUs" or "colony forming units." Dosage varies depending on what's going on with you or your child and whether they have a specific health concern. But throw out those chewables with only 1 million cfu per chew. They're not packing as much punch as you think! 
    Bottom line: Infants should get 5-10 billion cfu/day; children over 2 years should get 10-25 billion cfu/day or more if they have a chronic health concern.

The main reason for supplementing with a probiotic is to establish the bacterium in the intestinal tract. The stomach and intestinal tract represent a hostile environment that can easily discourage the growth or survival of microorganisms. The viable strain should have the ability to adhere to the intestinal wall. The manufacturer should provide assays attesting to the type of strain and any research on the attributes of that strain.

Recommendations For Using Probiotics

Probiotics are often viewed as a low-risk intervention for most patients, especially for the following:

  • Maintaining a healthy gut
  • Taking antibiotics
  • Traveling to foreign countries
  • Eating at suspicious restaurants
  • Straying from a healthy diet, especially excess grains or sugar
  • Treating a condition or disease that responds to probiotics

Feed Your Gut With Food

The best way to support you and your child's gut is with FOOD!

Focus on these foods:

  • Clean, unprocessed, phytonutrient-dense, whole foods
  • Prebiotics to feed those probiotics (garlic, onions, chicory root, sweet potatoes, Jerusalem artichoke, fermentable fiber, resistant starch)
  • FERMENTED FOODS! yogurt, kefir, kombucha, miso, sauerkraut, "real" pickles, kimchi, natto, tempeh, fermented veggies, etc.
It's hard to go wrong with a good probiotic supplement. Each person’s mix of GI flora varies, but the person they inhabit are extremely important to a person’s health and well-being.
In Health and Happiness,
Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods

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