Top 5 Things to Look for When Choosing a Probiotic
Regulating gut health is a critical part of improving total wellness, and it starts with healthy gut flora. There’s no better way to foster a healthy gut microbiome than with probiotics! In our previous guide to probiotics, we took a look at what they are and why they’re an important supplement to consider.
But not all probiotics are the same. Just like any supplement, your mileage varies depending on the quality of the formulation. For example, taking a supplement with only 1 or 2 kinds of bacterial strains won’t give you the same benefits as taking a supplement with 4 or 5. To get the most out of it, you have to know what to look for when choosing a probiotic.
What Are Probiotic Supplements?
Probiotics are supplements that are packed with live, active bacteria. These bacteria should be from strains proven to have a beneficial place in your gut’s microbiome. Some people take them for improving overall health, while others seek out certain strains to alleviate specific health issues such as gastrointestinal symptoms, digestion, immunity and pH balance.
Benefits of Different Probiotics
While there are many kinds of probiotics out there, at the very least, you should know that the well-studied varieties come from the following three general strains: Lactobacillus, Bifidobacteria, and Streptococcus.
Lactobacillus bacteria live primarily in the small intestine. They help support the immune system and the digestive system.
Bifidobacteria occupy the large intestine and colon. These bacteria are crucial for a variety of functions:
- Produces essential short-chain fatty acids
- Gives colon cells energy
- Regulates metabolism
- Regulates blood sugar
- Contributes to healthy bowels
- Aids in memory formation in the brain
Live cultures of Streptococcus Thermophilus make it easier for people who are lactose-intolerant to digest dairy products. The bacteria break down lactose, the sugar in milk, that lactose-intolerant people find difficult to digest. Finding a probiotic with Streptococcus would be beneficial to someone with lactose intolerance or issues with digestion.
Below, we’ve outlined 5 key variables to consider before buying a probiotic. We’ll explain what to look for, why each variable is important and what to avoid. Proper gut health starts with a good education in probiotics!
1. 50 billion CFU or higher
In our last post, we discussed Colony Forming Units (CFUs). This is the number of live bacteria in each probiotic serving. The number varies depending on the formulation, sitting somewhere between 1-10 billion. Unfortunately, this isn’t usually enough to have a real impact for most people. You should be looking for probiotics with 50 billion CFUs or more!
Let’s clarify something upfront: More isn’t always better. 50 billion CFU isn’t automatically better than 10 billion CFU. The reason to look for a higher CFU number is because it generally represents multiple cultures in a formula, which do more for gut health. Higher CFUs per serving introduces your gut to more healthy bacteria.
2. Multiple strains
Piggybacking off of the last point, always look for multi-strain probiotic blends. These will almost always have higher CFU ratings, which means if you’re searching for one, you’ll likely find the other!
The reason to choose a probiotic with multiple strains is simple: Diversity is good for your gut. Different bacteria cultures play different roles in regulating gut health. Diversifying your probiotic enables your gut to reap the benefits. Instead of trying to nail down one type of culture to address chronic inflammation and another to help brain fog, a multi-strain probiotic will create a balance of healthy gut flora across the board.
3. Prebiotic from inulin
There’s a lot of confusion between probiotics and prebiotics. It’s easiest to think of it this way: Probiotics are healthy bacteria in your gut; prebiotics are a type of fiber that nourishes them. To promote good gut health, you should supplement your probiotics with prebiotics. The good news is, many probiotic formulations already do this. It’s important to look for one that includes both.
Make sure you’re taking a probiotic that includes a prebiotic made from insulin. Insulin is a soluble fiber found in plants, easily broken down deep within the digestive tract. It’s low in calories and offers a slew of benefits—everything from promoting weight loss to controlling blood sugar levels (for diabetics).
This tip has less to do with the probiotic itself and everything to do with how it’s packaged. It may seem trivial, but choosing blister-packed probiotics over a big bottle of pills makes a big difference. Here’s why.
Humidity is a big problem for probiotics. When they’re lumped together in a bottle, pills are subject to humidity, which can ruin your probiotic. More than just corrupting a few pills, you’ll be stuck with an entire batch that’s no longer viable! In blister packes, pills are separated and airtight, eliminating problems with humidity and spoilage.
5. Dairy-free formulation
In recent years, dairy has been shown to cause health problems in many people, even outside of those with lactose intolerance. While most people associate probiotics with yogurt (which may contain lactose), many of the best probiotic formulations are completely dairy-free. This gives you the benefit of healthy gut bacteria, without the addition of lactose and other enzymes that may throw things off balance.
Find probiotics that fit the bill
Choosing probiotics that fit all these criteria ensures you’re getting a product with the most potential to help you foster a health gut microbiome. It may seem tedious to check for 50 CFU or shop around until you find blister packaging, but it’s worth it to get the best caliber probiotics!
How to Get Started with Probiotics
There are a few main things you should look out for when shopping for probiotics.
You need live cultures. The label should indicate the presence of live and active bacteria. In order for the bacteria to remain active without refrigeration, they need to be “shelf stable” and protected in hermetically sealed blister packs or at a minimum protected from heat and light. You should see an expiration date or manufacture date as well (Cultures are unlikely to be beneficial two or more years after the manufacture date).
Look for billions. For an adult, you will want a product that has at least 20 billion colony-forming units at the time of manufacture or guaranteed through the life of the product. Any less is likely to be ineffective.
Find a Probiotic with Prebiotic Fiber. Recent studies have shown that probiotics that contain prebiotics can help create a good environment (“food”) for the beneficial probiotics to survive. Chicory or Artichoke Root are good fibers that can be added to increase effectiveness of your probiotic.
Use trial and error if needed. If you’re initially unsure of what kind of probiotic you need, you should start with a multi-strain probiotic first, which can cover multiple issues and see if you feel the results. If not, you can try a more specific strain or consult with a health professional to find what works for you.
How to Tell If Probiotics Are High Quality
There is a high CFU count per capsule. Higher counts of colony-forming units (CFUs) will ensure potency over the life of the product. Some doctors recommend starting with probiotics with CFU counts of at least 20 billion. Our Omax Probiotics Contain 5 CFU for kids, 20 CFU for women and 50 billion CFU for adults. Omax Probiotics start with more than the label claim, so you can be assured to get the proper amount through the expiration date.
The product includes strains and doses shown to be effective in clinical trials. It helps to check that research supports the type and dosage you are considering. If so, that is a reassuring sign regarding the probiotic’s effectiveness.
How to Get the Right Probiotic Dose
Check the dosage on the product that manufacturers recommend for getting results. If you can, verify that it aligns with research. A good rule of thumb is to start with at least 20 billion CFUs. If you are still unsure or have severe GI tract issues, you may want to ask a doctor to help advise you on types and dosage.
What Strain of Probiotic Should I Look For?
In the Lactobacillus genus, some of the most beneficial strains you can look for are:
- L. acidophilus
- L. plantarum
- L. paracasei
- L. rhamnosus
Lactobacillus acidophilus is best for regulating normal inflammation levels in the digestive system. If you’re trying to control diarrhea related to antibiotic use, Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Lactobacillus acidophilus are the ones you should seek.
B. lactis and B. longum are two to look for in the Bifidobacteria category. B. lactis helps regulate body fat and eating habits.
Before you do too much shopping, you can always check out Omax’s Triple Action Probiotic + Prebiotic Inulin. We’ve done the legwork to create the very best probiotic product, so you don’t have to search high and low, between products that just aren’t quite right. Give it a try today!