The Definitive Guide to Probiotics
What the heck are probiotics? Why should I be taking them? When should I be taking them? And what is the very best kind for me to heal what it is that I've got going on?
So many questions, so much science. And we know your confusion, so we've laid it all out here for you. We chatted with THE most knowledgeable microbiome expert in the whole wide world, Dr. Robynne Chutkan, about everything microbiome-positive. Here, she's made it super simple for you — no fear, probiotics are here! Read on for your path to ultimate gut-bliss...
WHAT ARE PROBIOTICS?
Probiotics are defined by the World Health Organization as “live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.” Basically, all this means is that this trendy, albeit complex term you’ve been drilled about on nearly every health + wellness platform is a mere scientific term for “living bacteria”. Probiotics can be ingested in pill form, powder form, liquid form, or food form (think: anything fermented).
And though incredibly trendy as a supplement today, probiotics have been used as medicine for thousands of years. Dr. Robynne Chutkan from The Digestive Center for Women taught us that Romans advocated the use of fermented raw milk as an antidote for GI infections, and in the early 1900’s, a Russian scientist named Elie Metchnikoff promoted the use of probiotics after noticing that Bulgarians who consumed lots of fermented products were living significantly longer than those who did not.
In modern day, probiotics have been tried and true proven to remarkably improve, and more often than not completely heal: acne, digestive disorders, bacterial vaginosis, dysbiosis, leaky gut, sinus infections, UTIs, yeast infections, allergies, anxiety + depression, autism, autoimmune disorders, chronic fatigue syndrome, heart disease, obesity, and so very much more.
HOW DO I KNOW IF I NEED PROBIOTICS?
According to Dr. Chutkan, “a daily probiotic isn’t necessary for everyone." She says that if you’re a naturally healthy plant-based eater, use minimal medication, and live a balanced lifestyle, then “simply eating lots of deeply pigmented vegetables and incorporating fermented foods may be all you need.” Hello typical week on Sakara Life!
However, if you’ve had a childhood (and/or adulthood) chock full of antibiotics, acid surpressors, birth control pills and steroids, then taking a probiotic will show real promise, real quick. When it comes to reversing gut microflora and positively influencing the microbiome, we see (microscopically of course) change within just 36 hours! Also, if you currently are, or have at some point been a heavy drinker (yes, this means more than just a few glasses a week), or have a poor diet of processed and GMO-laden foods, then a probiotic is essential for gut flora restoration and a more comfortable digestive process. Dr. Chutkan says to “keep in mind, not all probiotics are created equal. It’s important to take the correct strains of bacteria for the condition you’re trying to treat, and to make sure that they’re present in adequate amounts.”
THEN WHAT KIND OF PROBIOTIC SHOULD I BE TAKING, AND HOW MUCH?
Dr. Chutkan says to choose a probiotic with at least a 50 billion colony-forming unit (CFU) count, with the two most important groups of bacteria: Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria.
Also, she says to “make sure the product contains multiple compatible strains of bacteria designed to work together, since different strains have different functions and no one strain can provide all the benefits. Most robust probiotics contain several different strains.”
When choosing a probiotic, be conscious to not exclusively gravitate towards a one-size-fits-all supplement. Much like popping random vitamin pills has become en vogue and frequently ineffective, popping probiotics is ditto the same. Marketed probiotics contain anywhere from 1 billion to 900 billion CFU, so be mindful of how much you're ingesting. Dr. Chutkan also advocates choosing a probiotic pill that comes in enteric coating, to protect the live bacteria within from being destroyed by stomach acid. Also, just as you do with food, check the shelf life of your bottle. Does it need to be refrigerated? Many probiotics do!
“There are several companies that claim to independently test health products for purity and strength to help consumers identify the best-quality ones, but many of them receive grants and funding from the probiotic manufacturers whose products they endorse, so the information is not always unbiased. When you’re doing research, look for data unencumbered by a financial relationship…” Chutkan warns.
The most common probiotic strains?
- Lactobacillus Acidophilus — helpful for restoring natural flora in bacterial vaginosis
- Lactobacillus caesi — helps reduce gas, bloating, and poorly digested carbs
- Lactobacillus rhanmosus — successfully treats diarrhea and various digestive issues, as well as strengthens the immune system
- Lactobacillus salivarius — reduces symptoms of IBS and suppresses harmful bacteria in the GI tract that can contaminate the pancreas
- Streptococcus thermophilus — helps with the breakdown and absorption of simple sugars and increases immune functions by decreasing symptoms of the common cold. It is also helpful for treating candida and other forms of yeast overgrowth.
- Bifidobacterium longum — helps prevent against pathogens causing diarrhea and ameliorate allergies
- Bifidobacterium lactis — beneficial in reducing bloating, as well as constipation, IBS symptoms, and celiac disease
WHAT FOODS CONTAIN PROBIOTICS?
Again, think anything fermented: kimchi, miso, sauerkraut, coconut yogurt, kombucha and jun. It is also important to note that probiotics are not exclusive to fermented foods! Organic greens, fruits and vegetables contain trillions of strains of live bacteria that have grown symbiotically in and on the foodstuff to keep it alive and thriving (just as eating it will do for your beautiful body!). "Other supplements that are beneficial for the microbiome include plant fibers like acacia and psyllium that encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria; curcumin (aka turmeric) to help reduce inflammation; and zinc and L-glutamine to repair and restore the intestinal lining," Chutkan advises.
Stick around with us at Sakara for the remainder of June to learn so much more about what it really means to cultivate a thriving microbiome, and the modern-day essentials you can regularly use to have one.