Welcome to the Gut Honest Truth blog where a Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner gives you digestible information to tackle your chronic health concerns.
That’s me, Katie Morra;
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On to the post...
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are living microorganisms that may be found in fermented foods, such as yogurt, kefir, kimchi, and kombucha, but also wildly available in supplement form.
Probiotics are the good guys in our gut. We want them to be robust and diverse. They can help our gut microbiome be much more diverse and strong. In addition to microbial diversity, they help prevent bad bacterial overgrowth, can help clear parasites, increase immune resilience, support mood and gut lining barrier function aka minimize leaky gut.
Don't confuse probiotics with prebiotics. Both are equally as important. Prebiotics are the food that feeds probiotics to help them actually thrive and live in the gut, versus just allowing for you to have expensive stool.
Prebiotics are digestible fibers such as asparagus, onions, legumes, leeks, banana, dandelion, greens, oats, chicory, endive, garlic, honey, jicama and Jersusalem artichokes. Prebiotics also come in supplement form. Of course we encourage you to enjoy prebiotic rich foods daily but if that just doesn't seem possibly for you right now, you can seek the capsule alternative. Back to probiotics..
As I said, many times probiotics don't just colonize in the gut. We like to think of them as more transient support in the gut and often regular consumption of probiotic rich foods or supplements is necessary.
Are there different types of probiotics?
These are the three main species of probiotics that are currently on the market:
Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium-blends
This is probably what you are most familiar with and have tried over-the-counter. These are the most research blends and strains and can help support your gut and body in a plethora of ways from mood, immunity, diversity, skin and more.
Actually not a "good bacteria" but a yeast. I like to refer to S. boulardii as "yeast-fighting-yeast". S. boulardii may be particularly helpful at supporting the eradication and/or prevention of C. difficle infection, candida overgrowth, certain parasitic infections such as B. hominis and clearance of H. pylori.
Bacillus or soil-based organism aka SBO
May help replace the bacteria that’s rarely found in our GI tract due to reduced contact with soil. These include Bacillus coagulans, subtilis, and clausii.
You can actually use all three at once, it is referred to as "triple probiotic therapy". You may find maximum support since each operates and helps us in a different way. However, in more sensitive people, I recommend that you start one probiotic slowly at a time and build upon to ensure you tolerate them and don't experience side effects of excessive bloating, gas and changed in bowels. Many people will notice improvements in their gut and health within a few weeks of use.
How do I know if a probiotic is good or not?
Please note that the FDA does not regulate supplements, and many times a consumer does not know what they are or are not getting in the product. However, with a little guidance you can be sure to choose better quality products.
The product is free of artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives.
The product guarantees a number of living units (CPUs) through said expiration date. Side note: just remember that more is not always better and having greater quantity aka CFUs is not the ultimate goal. If the product is good and potent, you won't require 100s of billions CFUs per day. Quality over quantity.
Look for certifications like good manufacturing practices (GMP) or USP (U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention) verification on the label.
The company either tests or has an independent laboratory testing for quality and quantity assurance.
Avoid ordering online via Amazon as the products do not come refrigerated and may be sitting in hot trucks or warehouses which is not supportive to live organisms. Not all products need to be refrigerated but they may still be temperature sensitive.
Can I test whether I need them or not?
Yes and no. Don't you hate that answer? Yes, we can do comprehensive stool testing that looks for a few probiotic strains or species. However, many of these tests do not test a variety of individual strains and remember, many times probiotics are transient in nature and many stool tests require you discontinuing probiotics 2-4 weeks prior to testing, so identifying the growth or what you "need" can sometimes prove challenging. Hopefully as the technology and testing continues to improve we will have more certainty. Sometimes trial and error is the best method here. Slowly tryingIto incorporate one strain or blend at a time and monitoring any positive or negative responses can tell you as much or more than stool tests in relation to how your body functions most optimally with probiotics.
Final considerations and thoughts
All gut microbiomes are not created equal. They’re like a fingerprint. Everyone has their own gut profile and we can't assume we all require the exact same strains and species.
Focus on quality over quality.
Do not forget the prebiotic rich foods or supplemental support.
Comprehensive stool testing can be an amazing support to see if specific strains may be therapeutic towards eradication of pathogenic overgrowths.
Purchase your products from reputable supplement dispensaries like Fullscript.