There are a lot of probiotic products out there – thousands of them, in fact. But if you want to avoid wasting your money, you need to make sure you buy true probiotics that contain beneficial bacteria. Otherwise, you won’t receive any benefits.
What Are Probiotics?
If you’ve seen the advertising for probiotics and are thinking of including them in your daily dietary regimen, it’s obviously important to know what you’ll be getting. True probiotics contain billions of good bacteria that help keep the harmful bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract from taking over. When the bad bacteria outnumber the good ones, that can lead to a wide range of health problems.
Probiotics come in many different forms. Many people prefer the convenience of using capsules, but others would rather sprinkle probiotic powders in liquid, or simply drink them in a juice or tea. Whatever form you prefer, it’s very important that you buy true probiotics that contain members of the Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus families of bacteria.
All true probiotics contain strains of Bifidobacterium bacteria. If you see a product that doesn’t have it on its label, find one that does. Bifidobacterium bacteria are found in the large intestine, helping to strengthen the intestinal wall so that harmful microbes stay out.
The B. bifidum bacterium can help the digestive system function properly. It breaks down fibers the body can’t digest and also helps strengthen the immune system.1 B. bifidum has also been shown to produce vitamin B12.2 In addition, research suggests that the bacterium can help lower the chances you will catch a cold or the flu.
But there are several other members of the Bifidobacterium family that help us as well. For example, B. infantis is one of the first bacterium that develops in the body. It helps break down the lactic acid contained in breast milk. As we grow, B. infantis continues to provide benefits. One study showed that women taking supplements containing the bacterium experienced substantially fewer symptoms associated with irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS.4 The B. longum bacterium has been shown to reduce the symptoms associated with diarrhea that can sometimes occur after taking antibiotics.5
breve also helps us stay healthy in a couple of different ways. It contributes by inhibiting the growth of the candida yeast, which can lead to a severe bout of irritable bowel disease. 6 B. breve has also been shown to fight harmful oral bacteria.7
lactis is another bacterium that will be in all true probiotics products. It plays an important role in breaking down the lactose found in dairy products. Research suggests B. lactis may help to block toxic effects of wheat gliadin, potentially helping people with celiac disease.8 Like other members of the Bifidobacterium family, B. lactis helps the body absorb vital nutrients and digest sugars and fibers. Research shows that it can also help our bowel movements stay regular, reducing the chances we’ll become constipated.9
This is another family of beneficial bacteria that should be in all true probiotics products. These bacteria also help keep harmful bacteria in check within the gut, and there are also several different strains. Lactobacillus also helps the body break down lactose and it plays a key role in producing lactic acid, a substance that inhibits the growth of bad bacteria.
The Lactobacillus family contains many powerful strains. For example, L. rhamnosus has been shown to help people suffering from irritable bowel syndrome.10 Studies even indicate the bacterium could help reduce the severity of seasonal allergy attacks such as hay fever.11
One of the most important characteristics of L. rhamnosus and other Lactobacillus bacteria, is that appears to be heartier than many other types of beneficial bacteria. It can withstand harsh stomach acid, which kills most other good bacteria. As a result, it may help lessen many digestive issues and also aid in protecting the body against developing urinary tract infections.12,13
brevis, according to research, helps strengthen the immune system and prevent ulcers.14 It may also play a role in helping us maintain good oral health.15 L. gasseri has been shown to help the body shed abdominal fat and lower cholesterol.16,17 It also shows promise in relieving pain in women suffering from endometriosis.18
But there are other beneficial Lactobacillus bacteria that should always be found in any true probiotics products. L. plantarum helps the body absorb certain vital vitamins and minerals, and can also aid in reducing the symptoms of diarrhea associated with taking antibiotics.19,20 L. acidophilus is an extremely potent bacterium, helping the body produce lactose and also playing a role in reducing cholesterol.21,22 L. acidophilus has also been shown to help boost the functioning of the immune system.23
Buying True Probiotics
Again, it can seem overwhelming to navigate through the thousands of differing probiotic products that are out there. But if you follow just a few simple guidelines, there’s a very good chance that the one you choose will deliver substantial benefits.
You already know that you need to look closely at the labeling and make sure the products you are considering contain members of the Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus families of bacteria. But even if a product has those bacteria, it won’t do you any good if the microbes are dead.
If you see a phrase on the label stating something to the effect of “viable at date of manufacture,” look for something else. The reason is that there is no guarantee the bacteria are still alive. On the other hand, if the label says, “viable until the expiration date,” there is a good chance the bacteria will be alive to do their jobs when you ingest them.
Another piece of information to look for on the label is the number of CFUs (colony-forming units) of bacteria that are contained in each serving. This number can vary dramatically, from one billion CFUs to hundreds of billions. Most experts, however, believe that products containing 15-30 billion CFUs will provide sufficient benefits. Probiotics containing higher numbers can be extremely expensive.
The Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus families of beneficial bacteria have been intensely studied, and their benefits have been well documented. Only true probiotics contain these microbes – if you buy ones that don’t, you’ll just be wasting your money.