women sitting with computer

New to probiotics? Here’s what you need to know.

April 15, 2019

You’ve heard of probiotics. You know the basics: They aid with digestion and offer a host of other benefits. You want to incorporate them into your diet …but you’re not quite sure where to start. So if you’re new to probiotics, here’s what you need to know.

How to read the label.

While most supplements are measured in milligrams, probiotics are measured in CFUs, with numbers in the billions. CFU stands for Colony Forming Units and refers to the number of live bacteria cells capable of dividing and forming colonies. You’ll want to look for dosages of at least 1 billion, though products can contain 50 billion or more. If you’re healthy and are looking for maintenance, aim for a dose of 1 billion to 5 billion CFUs per day.

Because probiotics must reach the intestines live and intact in order to produce results, choosing a stable supplement with bacteria count guaranteed through the product’s expiration date is critical. In other words, it’s not enough for a product to list the organism counts at the time of manufacture. Supplements must also be stable at room temperature (for storage purposes) and heat resistant (so they can travel through the body).

How to choose a probiotic.

“Probiotic” is a catch-all term for good bacteria. But there are many, many different kinds of bacteria in the gut – and on the shelves as supplements – and they each provide a different benefit. These different kinds of bacteria are organized into genus and species. For example; in the case of lactobacillus gasseri, “lactobacillus” is the genus, and “gasseri’ identifies the species. Taking this one step further, some (but not all) manufacturers include a strain code, which is a unique identifier of the strain, which can be traced back to its origins.

The type you choose will depend on your health goals. Strains in the Lactobacillus genus, for example, are generally helpful for boosting immunity and fending off allergies. Strains in the Bifidobacteria genus, on the other hand, are linked closely to digestive health and reducing gastrointestinal symptoms. Often, products will provide a combination of probiotics to encourage diversity in the gut for better overall health.

How to make it part of your routine.

It’s common to experience some mild stomach upset, gas or bloating when you first start taking probiotics. Some experts believe these fleeting symptoms are a result of the “bad” bacteria dying off in the new healthier environment. If symptoms are bothersome, try to avoid inflammatory foods (like sugary or processed options) and load up on anti-inflammatory antioxidants instead.

If symptoms persist, it’s possible that you are taking bacteria strains that may not be compatible with your system. You may want to try a different combination of probiotics that are in line with your health goals. While this process could take a little time and trial to find a match, it will be worth it for supporting your overall well-being.

 

This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.

Recommended Products

Daily Probiotic

Immune health and digestive support*

Find Out More

Multi 9 Probiotic

Strong gut health balance and support*

Find Out More

Kids Probiotic

Promotes Regularity and Immune Health*

Find Out More

FAQs

Q

What can probiotics do for your health?

Your gut comprises about 70% of your immune system and is critical for brain function, to balance body chemistry, and for converting nutrients into a usable form the body can absorb. When your microflora (gut bacteria) is imbalanced, your health suffers. Probiotics are important for replenishing and restoring microfloral balance. Probiotics are live microorganisms that are believed to be good for overall health, and specifically for digestive health. To help alleviate the symptoms and conditions that harmful bacteria can cause, we need to maintain our beneficial bacteria. Known as ‘friendly’ or beneficial bacteria, probiotics produce a variety of compounds, including natural lactic acids that help to inhibit the growth of the harmful bacteria, thereby preventing them from gaining a foothold and causing illness. Probiotics can be found naturally in some foods, in fermented drinks, and in supplements.

Q

Do you have to refrigerate probiotic supplements?

Not necessarily. Some probiotics are shelf stable and do not need to be refrigerated. But many probiotics do require refrigeration. What’s important to understand is that refrigeration doesn’t equal efficacy. If the label indicates CFU counts "at the time of manufacture," it means that the amount of live bacteria the product contained when it was bottled is not guaranteed at the time you consume it. Look for products that guarantee CFU counts through expiration, instead, regardless of whether they need refrigeration.

Q

Are probiotics safe for kids?

Check the product and its strains for specifics but generally speaking, yes!  Probiotics are safe, effective and often recommended for children due to their role in supporting the immune system, addressing skin issues and easing digestive woes associated with antibiotic usage.

Q

How do probiotics support the immune system?

Numerous studies have demonstrated that probiotics supplements that include strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria, can help support the immune system and reduce the risk of infections, such as respiratory infections (cold, flu) and ear infections. There are several ways in which probiotics do this. They enhance the innate immune system and modulate inflammation; they compete with and block harmful bacteria from adhering to the cells in the digestive tract; they enhance the gut barrier and they stimulate the protective immune responses from the gut. There is also evidence that Lactobacillus probiotics may enhance the protective effects of vaccination against influenza, basically boosting the efficacy of the flu shot.