Our gastrointestinal tracts are homes to trillions of bacteria, commonly termed the “Gut Microbiome”. Much of these bacteria are friendly and help our bodies digest food, absorb and provide nutrients, protect us against harmful pathogens, and support our immune systems. Ideally we want to make sure there is consistently a favorable ratio of friendly to harmful bacteria in our bodies, to prevent us from becoming ill.
Unfortunately, numerous factors can negatively influence the ratio of good to bad bacteria including poor diet, chronic elevated stress, environmental toxins, and certain medications. This is where supplementation can be a useful and wise addition to your daily regimen. However, some probiotic supplements are subpar and will not deliver the quality needed to promote optimal GI health. Below are criteria to look for when purchasing a probiotic supplement to ensure you are getting the highest quality.
Why is it important for your probiotic to have an expiration date? Just like food, it is a sign that the product is fresh during the specified time frame and should be used during that period. You most likely would not purchase a food or drink without an expiration date, since you would have no idea when the food was made or harvested, how long that item has been sitting on the shelf, or if it is safe to consume. When a probiotic has an expiration date, it is an indicator that the cultures are alive, and will remain active and potent1. A helpful hint is to look for a statement provided by the manufacture such as “Potency guaranteed until time of expiration.” This means that the friendly flora will still be living up until it reaches your colon, which is where the probiotics ultimately reside in your gut2.
The method in which the probiotic is packaged, stored and delivered will ensure the probiotics are able reach your intestines alive, resulting in receiving the full range of benefits the supplement can offer. If the probiotics are unable to remain living in the package or are instantly destroyed by stomach acid once consumed, they are of no use to you. With advancements in the methods of packaging and storing probiotics, most no longer require refrigeration, however, they still need protection from exposure to light, heat, and moisture1. To know how to store your product – look for labeling such as “shelf stable,” “refrigeration required,” or “no refrigeration required.” Storing your probiotic properly will protect the bacteria so they remain active and potent by the time you take it up until they reach your colon2.
NUMBER AND TYPES OF STRAINS
Quality brands will list the amount, number and strain types of bacteria included in their supplement. Look for 10 billion Colony Forming Units (CFUs) or higher to guarantee potency that is worth your money. The higher the diversity and number of strains will provide support in various areas throughout the entire GI tract. Specific health-promoting strains to look for include Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria3.
Many supplements, including probiotics, can have fillers that could cause GI distress or other unwanted symptoms. To be safe, look for quality probiotics free of added chemicals and ingredients you would not want to consume (GMOs, dyes, preservatives, gluten, soy, dairy, etc.)2. Check the listed ingredients to find a product that suits your specific dietary and health needs.
1. Williams, D. How to Choose the Best Probiotic Supplement. Retrieved from https://www.drdavidwilliams.com/how-to-choose-the-best-probiotic-supplement.
2. 4 Tips for Choosing a Probiotic. Retrieved from http://www.up4probiotics.com/4-key-tips-choosing-probiotic/.
3. Mercola, J. A Guide To Probiotics – 7 Fast Facts You Should Know. Retrieved from http://probiotics.mercola.com/probiotics-facts.html.