Probiotics are healthy bacteria found in foods and supplements that are often referred to as “good”, “friendly” or “beneficial” bacteria. They mimic the optimal types of healthy bacteria that should be in your gut to create a healthy gut environment.
There are two main types of probiotics:
- Spore Forming or “Soil-Based” Probiotics
- Lactic Acid Probiotics
Spore Forming Probiotics mimic the same healthy gut bacteria that our ancestors were frequently exposed to “back in the day” when the soil and foods contained tons of these healthy bacteria. Spores are the most basic building block of a new cell and they have the ability to “seed” the digestive tract with healthy bacteria.
Lactic-acid Producing Probiotics. Particularly: Lactobacilli species and Bifidobacteria species. These types of bacteria are abundant in the human gut already, however, many people are deficient in them from poor nutrients in foods, and stress.
Benefits of Probiotics
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- Protection of the intestinal barrier
- Boost antioxidants
- Prevention of stress-induced bacteria alterations
- Gut-brain connection activation
- Limit inflammation
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- Aid in nutrient absorption
- Increase metabolism
- Reduce toxic burden
- Boost immune function
Sources of Probiotics
- Fermented Veggies (carrots, beets, cucumber relish, cauliflower, green beans, etc.)
- Pickled Veggies (no added sugar or additives)
- Fermented Salsa
- Fermented Horseradish
- Goat’s Milk Yogurt & Kefir
- Kefir (Coconut, Water, Goat’s Milk, Raw Milk)
- Yogurt (Coconut Yogurt, Grass-fed Plain)
- Low-Sugar Kombucha (5-6 grams per serving)
- Beet Kvass
6 Little Known Facts About Probiotics
Not all probiotics are created equal. Know these facts before buying:
- Most Products DON’T Contain the Probiotics They Claim
Research indicates that anywhere from 80-90% of formulas sold on shelves do not contain the probiotics they claim. Many probiotics are altered or destroyed in the processing, manufacturing and shipping process.
- Not All Probiotics Survive Digestion.
Many supplemental probiotic strains are killed off by stomach acid before reaching the large intestine (where they belong). Of those that do “survive”, survival rates in the gut have been estimated at 20–40% for selected strains. This is why a potent formula (several hundred billions of CFU’s—colony forming units) is essential along with a quality supplement manufactured with this in mind (some formulas are symbiotics—paired with pre-biotics to reach the stomach acid, as well as higher absorbed—powders and liquids).
- 3. Not All Probiotics are Beneficial for You
The majority of probiotics sold on shelves are the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium probiotic strains—the MOST abundant types in most people’s bodies already. Thus, for some people who may already have a lot of these bacteria, the overconsumption of these strains can lead to dysbiosis (imbalanced gut bacteria), no benefit or worsening of gut symptoms (especially if you have bacterial overgrowth, yeast infections, histamine intolerances, or other underlying gut pathologies). If you find probiotics “make you sick” after 7-10 days of taking them, chances are that bacterial variety is not for you.
- 4. Refrigerated Probiotics are Not Necessarily “Better” for You
If a probiotic is fragile and requires refrigeration, then how will it survive the high temperatures and acidity of the stomach? Not very well. Although it is best to keep lactic acid bacteria probiotics in the fridge to prevent further heating damage, soil based organisms are shelf-stable and more likely to survive stomach acid and arrive to the site of colonization so they can perform their probiotic functions.
- Not All Fermented Foods are Really Fermented
Although many foods claim to be full of probiotics—like yogurt, kombucha, and sauerkraut—many of these are false marketing. For example, fat free or low fat yogurt cannot contain essential probiotics primarily because they are highly heated and processed in order to become fat free in the first place—this process “cooks out” the probiotics. Kombucha is another great example—is your kombucha more of a juice or actual fermented food? While every kombucha has sugar, many of products do not sit long enough during manufacturing to actually ferment, ending up with more sugar and less ferment. The BEST bet for fermented foods is always homemade versions. Next in line, is your local farmer’s market or natural grocer. And lastly, foods sold on grocery shelves.
- Probiotics are NO Good Without Prebiotics
For a long time, people have thought of probiotics as “beneficial bacteria” and believe that, by taking them, they fill their need for good bacteria—sort of like a car at a gas station that’s low on gas. However, that’s not really how probiotics work. If you take probiotics without prebiotics, they only work temporarily(as long as you take them). While they can still help balance the immune system, fight inflammation and boost overall gut health, as soon as you stop taking them, they go away. In addition, they don’t increase bacteria overtime UNLESS prebiotics are present. Prebiotics (found in foods and supplements) are the essential food sources for probiotics to help them stick and increase what’s already there.
Pre-biotics are starches and fermentable fibers found in foods that feed probiotics beneficial bacteria (probiotics). Pre-biotics are like the “glue” that help your healthy probiotics populate and stick in your gut.
Pre-biotics are arguably more important than probiotics because they help your probiotics stick in your gut microbiome and increase beneficial probiotic counts in your gut too.
Benefits of Pre-biotics
- Help you go #2
- Nutrient Absorption
- Ease Digestion
- Help probiotics stick in the gut
- Decrease bad bacteria in the gut
- Balance blood sugar
- Regulate cholesterol levels
- Control appetite
- Reduce inflammation in the gut
- Balance mood
Sources of Prebiotics
There are 5 main types of pre-biotics or “fermentable fibers”
- Resistant Starch
- Soluble Fibers
Although there are technically other types of fiber in all sorts of veggies, fruits, other plant foods and supplements, these “fermentable” fibers are most beneficial for feeding gut bacteria.
- Chicory root
- Jerusalem artichoke
- Dandelion greens
- Burdock root
- Oat Fiber
- Barley fiber
- Reishi, maitake and shiitake mushrooms.
- Fruits (especially peaches, apples, pears, oranges, grapefruit, apricots)
- Green Beans
- Cooked & cooled potatoes
- Cooked & cooled parboiled white rice or other properly prepared rice
- Cooked & cooled legumes and lentils (soaked or sprouted)
- Green plantains & Dehydrated plantain chips
- Green tipped bananas
- Cooked & softened tubers and root vegetables (rutabaga, turnips, radish, carrots, beets)
- Summer squash
- Winter squash
Probiotics + Prebiotics Shopping Guide
6 Things to Look for When Shopping for a Probiotic & Prebiotic
- Soil Based Organisms
Generally the best tolerated probiotics by the most people, and highly shelf-stable (i.e. the probiotics are actually in there). Look for names and strains such as:
- Bacillus clausi
- Bacillus subtilis
- Bacillus coagulans
- Baciullus Bifidus
- Bacillus Indicus
- Bacillus licheniformis
- Quality Lactic Acid Bacteria
Not ALL forms of lactic acid based probiotics are “bad.” Some lactic acid bacteria strains can be beneficial for some people— especially those without gut conditions like SIBO or yeast overgrowth. It’s good to mix your probiotics up every 2-3 months. The problem? There are TONS to choose from—which one should you get? For these types, opt for refrigerated varieties, and names such as:
- Lactobacillus plantarum
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Streptococcus thermophilus
- Bifidobacterium lactis
- Bifidobacterium breve
- Bifidobacterium infantis
- Bifidobacterium bifidum
- Bifidobacterium lactis
- Bifidobacterium longum
- Saccharomyces boulardii
Even better: Eat fermented foods, if tolerated, to get in your lactic acid varieties (and save money). Fermented foods contain natural lactic acid bacteria.
- Know What the Numbers Mean
There are 2 things that describe the “potency” or strength of probiotics, including:
- CFU’s (colony forming units—the total number of bacteria in the bottle)
- Number of Strains (how many different strains or types of bacteria there are)
For a well-rounded probiotic, choose a probiotic that has about 4-6 strains and at least 50 billion CFU’s.
You get what you pay for. No, you don’t necessarily need to drop $70-$100 for a “good probiotic,” but that $10-$15 one from Whole Foods or Target is probably not going to cut it (i.e. you may be wasting your money and not getting your probiotics anyhow).
- Manufacturer Transparency
The tell-tell sign of a “good probiotic” is one that the manufacturer is accessible, OPEN to questions, educational about probiotics and their manufacturing process. Ask questions and demand answers.
- Don’t Forget Pre-biotics
Prebiotics, or “fermentable fibers,” are the highly under-rated necessary foods and supplements to combine with probiotics for optimal absorption. There are several different types of fermentable fibers and a variety of these (found in veggies, some fruits, and fiber supplements) are ideal to get the biggest bang for your probiotic buck.
Best Probiotics for Everyday:
Best Probiotics for Constipation
- Soil Based Organisms (Terraflora Symbiotica)
- Seed Probiotic (high dose)
- Transient Commensals (the types of bacteria found as transients on your stool test)
- Coli Nissle (Mutaflor)
- Lactobacillus plantarum (Jarrow Ideal Bowel Support)
- Bifidobacteria infantis
Best Probiotics for Loose Stools
- Transient Commensals (Megaspore Biotic)
- Seed Probiotic (high dose)
- Saccharomyces boulardii
The BEST source of prebiotics is to eat fiber-rich veggies and fruits. However, if you find you’re constipated regularly, a small dose of a fiber supplement may also be helpful. Here are some of our top recommendations:
- Larch Arabinogalactan
- Unmodified potato or plantain starch/flour *certified gluten-free brand
- Glucomannan powder
- Partially Hydrolyzed Guar Gum
- Psyllium husk powder
- Acacia fiber: may be used as an alternative to psyllium husk
How to Take Your Probiotics & Prebiotics
Incorporate probiotics and prebiotics into your daily routine.
- Soil Based Probiotic
- 16 oz. Warm Lemon Water
- Fermented Food (condiment-sized serving, as tolerated)
- Digestive Enzymes
- Eat a Prebiotic Fiber
- Digestive Enzymes
Quality Lactic Acid/Bifidobacteria Probiotic or Soil Based/Spore Probiotic*
- Bifido Maximus Probiotic (The Gut Institute)
- Gut Pro Probiotic (Organic 3)
- Seed Probiotic
- Ideal Bowel Support (for constipation)
- VSL#3 (for diarrhea)
Soil Based/Spore Probiotic
- Terraflora Symbiotic
- Megaspore Biotic
- Garden of Life Primal Defense Ultra