Probiotics are one of the essential supplements that everyone should be taking. Most people do not realize that they have 10 times more bacteria in their body than they do cells! There’s about 1kg of probiotic bacteria in the intestines alone, and about 90% of your immune function is dictated by bacteria levels. Most people have come across a yogurt label that says L. acidophilus. That is just one strain of healthy probiotic that lives in our body. In addition to the healthy bacteria, there are also infectious bacteria strains living in our bodies. Everyone reading this post right now has Strep. in their throat and E. coli in their stool. However, most of you probably do not have Strep throat or explosive diarrhea! What’s the difference between those that have an infection and those that simply have the bacteria but NOT the infection? It comes down to the balance of bacteria levels. If the levels of the good bacteria outweigh the levels of bad bacteria, then sickness stays at bay.
If bacteria levels have so much influence on our immune function, what can we do to ensure we have enough? Every time you put something in your mouth, you are deciding whether to feed the good bacteria or the bad bacteria. Guess what the good bacteria like to eat? Fruits and vegetables! Guess what the bad bacteria like to eat? Sugar! So, every time you choose a donut, cookie, pasta or sandwich over a salad, apple, or guacamole (had to throw in my favorite snack), you are choosing to HELP THE BAD BACTERIA REPLICATE! If anyone has ever been in a biology lab, they know that the best way to grow infectious bacteria quickly is to put it on a petri dish full of agar (aka sugar). Think of your gut as a petri dish, and the environment within it decides which bacteria will grow. Plain, unsweetened Greek yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kombucha all have very high levels of probiotics in them. Fermented foods are great sources of good bacteria; however, most people do not consume significant amounts of these foods on a daily basis. In addition, if you take an antibiotic, drink alcohol, consume medications or have high levels of stress, you are negatively affecting good bacteria levels in your gut. As a result, I find most people benefit from supplementing with a probiotic.
I encourage people to take a multi-strain probiotic. That means that when you look at the label, it has at least 5 weird names on the back. I also advise patients to take 1 capsule a day for maintenance. Our capsules contain 22 billion live, active cultures. Often times, patients will bring me the probiotic that they purchased at a convenience store, and I quickly point out that they would have to be taking 10 pills in order to get the amount of organisms needed. What seemed like a cost-effective alternative has now cost more in the long run. Also, probiotics that you find at doctor’s offices are highly regulated in terms of temperature regulation at the production facility, refrigeration during storage, and cooling mechanisms during the shipping process. Once the probiotics are in a temperature controlled facility, their bacteria levels are guaranteed until the expiration date on the label. Bacteria quickly die when exposed to excessive heat. If you purchase a bottle of bacteria from a store that has not ensured its temperature regulation, you may be wasting your money on dead probiotics! I also encourage patients to take them away from meals in order to ensure the least amount of digestive activity; this allows more active cultures to make it to the intestinal tract.
If you are someone who has digestive issues, an autoimmune disease, ear infections, autism, or chronic infections, you need probiotics the most! I hope this clears up some confusion about what probiotics are and why they are important, but I encourage you to leave me questions! Once again, the “store” tab on the blog has suggestions for my favorite brands that I use with patients including Orthobiotic, PrescriptAssist, and Biokult. I have different reasons for choosing different brands with people, but they are all generally good. It’s also a good idea to rotate your probiotics to increase strain exposure. If you have been taking one kind for months, try switching to a new kind this month.