One of the most common questions I get is, “which supplements should I be taking?” The answer is, unless you have a deficiency, imbalance, or you’re under stress, you shouldn’t need to take handfuls of supplements. Sure, a multi helps fill in the nutritional gaps, and fish oil is an excellent way to reduce inflammation. Everyone can benefit from keeping his or her gut flora healthy, but should you take a probiotic? Which one is best?
There’s no one size fits all probiotic for everyone, and you shouldn’t continue taking the same one indefinitely.
Your gut is home to an unfathomable trillions of bacteria, both “good” and “bad.” This is your gut microbiome. Our gut bacteria outnumber our body cells 10 to 1, which is pretty remarkable. That means that in order to positively affect the health of your body, start with your gut! (there’s a reason for the popular saying “all disease begins in the gut.”) The majority of our immune system resides in the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract), and the health of our gut also directly impacts our brain health and mood. So, we gotta keep those bacteria happy and plentiful.
The Friendly Neighborhood in Your Gut
We all have the good guys, probiotic bacteria, and the bad guys, pathogenic bacteria. That’s good– the bad guys challenge the good guys to work harder. Then there are some easily swayed guys–the commensal bacteria–that can be either good or bad, depending on the environment in the gut. Think of your gut as a neighborhood. There are nicely maintained houses and cops that keep the bad guys and vandals out (good bacteria). But if the cops get lazy or disappear, the bad guys move in and trash the neighborhood, making it undesirable (bad bacteria). Along the way, the bad guys peer pressure others (the commensal bacteria) into trashing the hood, and you have a good neighborhood gone bad in the gut. The technical term is dysbiosis. When the bad bacteria overtake the good bacteria, you notice symptoms such as belching, heartburn, gas, bloating, difficulty maintaining weight, constipation or/and diarrhea, candida infections, skin rashes, nail fungus, and diagnoses like IBS and Crohn’s.
So. Should I Take Probiotics?
Yes and no. If all is going well in your gut, about 90 percent of the bacteria should be the good guys. These folks do just fine including fermented foods and beverages like raw kraut and kefir (dairy or non-dairy) regularly to nourish their gut flora. And the carbohydrates you eat nourish your gut microbes too. But I’d say this is hardly the norm these days or even common, unfortunately. When I work with clients to heal ongoing GI issues, I’ll typically recommend that they rotate between different probiotics so they get a variety of important strains such as L. acidophilus, Bifidobacterium animalis, L.casei, Lactobacillus salivarus, bacillus coagulans, Bifidobacterium longum, Lactobacillus plantarum and Saccharomyces boulardii.
Here are the folks that should be taking probiotic supplements:
- struggle with persistent GI issues like constipation, gas, bloating, indigestion
- working on healing leaky gut
- been diagnosed with inflammatory GI issues
- have multiple allergies and/or asthma
- have taken many rounds of antibiotics
- frequent yeast infections or UTIs
- recurrent diarrhea
- working on reversing autoimmune conditions
- on a weight loss program
- you have a skin condition like eczema, psoriasis, acne
- struggle with anxiety
- babies with colic or eczema
Probiotic supplements may not be right for you if
- you’ve been diagnosed with SIBO
- they cause your digestive symptoms to worsen*
Here’s the thing: Each one of us has a gut microbiome as unique as our fingerprint. We all have different levels of the bacterial strains that live there. Certain stool tests can measure the beneficial, pathogenic, and commensal bacteria and tell us which strains are low. That’s ideal for knowing which strains to supplement with. For the rest of us who haven’t measured our gut bacteria, my go-to all around favorite is Prescript Assist, which is soil-based. This is a combo probiotic/prebiotic with over 20 strains of bacteria and is most beneficial for those addressing constipation or who want all-around probiotic support. Klaire labs makes an excellent all around probiotic too.
If you’re healing leaky gut and want to recolonize your gut bacteria after doing a parasite cleanse or a candida cleanse, this probiotic is a high potency, all-around excellent probiotic that’s high in the strains you want to repopulate your GI tract. This is the equivalent of the flowers and the nice new houses you want to plant and build once you’ve kicked all the bad guys out of the hood and are rebuilding.
If you’re prone to diarrhea and yeast infections, Saccharomyces boulardii is your guy. This is a yeast-eating strain of bacteria. Take this one also if you have to take antibiotics to protect your gut, but take it 6 hours away from the antibiotic. Sac b is also great if you’re doing a candida cleanse or traveling abroad and want to prevent traveler’s diarrhea. If you’re prone to candida overgrowth or yeast infections, this is an excellent probiotic for women.
If you’re working on healing leaky gut or want to recolonize the gut, I recommend starting with the Orthobiotic, then transitioning to Renew Life and finally Prescript Assist for a few months. I also rotate this one in from time to time. It’s so inexpensive and works great!
This wonderful article matches specific probiotic strains (including brands) to conditions for best outcome. This article reviews the top probiotics out of 221 contenders (many of which are mentioned in this post).
I don’t recommend taking probiotics (ESPECIALLY the same brand!) longterm. It’s possible that if you continually take the same strains you can experience overgrowth in beneficial strains, which is no bueno. Once you’ve achieved your GI health goals and your digestion has improved, you can maintain your benefits by getting a good spectrum of probiotic foods. My top choices are raw kraut and fermented foods like kim chi or beverages such as water kefir. This CocoBiotic coconut water kefir is a rich source made with mineral-rich coconut water. All you need is an ounce daily or a 1/4 cup of kraut. Combine these probiotic-rich foods with prebiotic-rich foods to work on nourishing your microbiome.
Your prebiotics feed your probiotics. Starchy root vegetables, pumpkin, honey, green tea, artichoke, onion and garlic are excellent prebiotics. Resistant starch such as green tipped bananas, potatoes, or this banana flour added to smoothies is a great choice too.
*If You Experience Uncomfortable Symptoms from Probiotics
It typically means you have very low probiotic levels to begin with, you could have SIBO, or you’re taking a strain that isn’t right for you (you may have too much of it already). There is often dysbiosis present which needs to be fixed. I typically start these folks with probiotic foods and recommend stool testing to see if there are pathogens or parasites present.
If you’re clearing up a GI infection, you want to boost your immune health, you’re working to lose weight, or you’re healing leaky gut and dysbiosis issues, probiotics are your friend. I recommend transitioning between different probiotic brands to get a better variety of strains. Once you’ve reached your goals you can rely solely on probiotic and prebiotic foods and drinks, but even then it doesn’t hurt to take a good one like Prescript Assist for a month or so if you’re under stress, traveling, or feeling run down.
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