Although it may be disturbing to think that there are little bugs living in and on your body, we would be in rough shape without these little creatures. These little bugs, especially the ones in our gut, help us to break down food, obtain nutrients from food, process medications, make vitamin K2 and B12, and prime your immune system to fight off cold and flus.
Microorganisms are “microscopic organisms”, usually meaning a bacteria, virus, or fungus. A probiotic is a supplement that contains a concentrated amount of certain strains of beneficial bacteria and sometimes yeast (at type of fungus).
These types of microorganisms are usually live and have the ability to grow and flourish in your stomach and intestines. Plenty of research points to probiotics having benefits for preventing and treating diarrhea, weight loss, brain health, digestive upset (including heartburn and indigestion), and autoimmune disease, all while strengthening the immune system.
All that being said, not all probiotics are created equal. In order to ensure that you’re getting the benefits from taking a probiotic, there are certain qualities that you should keep in mind when purchasing a probiotic supplement.
The overuse and misuse of antibiotics have led to antibiotic resistance, which is when bacteria becomes resistant to antibiotics. This resistance can be passed on from bacteria to bacteria – even among different species.
Let’s say you have a population of harmful bacteria causing your health issue – and some of these are naturally resistant to antibiotics. Antibiotics kill both the good and bad bacteria in your body, but the naturally antibiotic-resistant bacteria remain.
Without all the antibiotic-susceptible bacteria taking up space, the resistant bacteria have room to multiply and they pass their resistance on to other bacteria. These “super bugs” no longer respond to certain antibiotics, leading to longer, sometimes untreatable infections.
Every time we take antibiotics, more resistant bacteria have the opportunity to flourish – and some even become resistant to several different antibiotics. This is where taking probiotics with antibiotics can make a critical difference in your health.
Antibiotics and Probiotics Together
Taking probiotics during your course of antibiotics can replenish the good bacteria and help reduce some of the side effects of taking said antibiotics.
Although it may sound counterintuitive to take probiotic supplements while also taking probiotic-killing antibiotics, research shows that it’s beneficial to your gut health to fortify your system with the protective probiotic supplementation.
Probiotics may also help prevent widespread antibiotic resistance by ensuring that people take their full course of prescribed antibiotics.
Stopping a course of antibiotics early – usually because of intolerable side effects – increases the chances that some of the bad bacteria may survive and become resistant. By reducing or eliminating side effects, probiotics can make it much easier to stay the course.
Talk with your naturopath or health care provider about which probiotic you are on and they will know how long it will remain in your system. This is key information to determine when to take your probiotic so it does not interfere with your course of antibiotics.
Here are 4 Considerations When Purchasing a Probiotic.
It’s important to get the correct strains of bacteria
Basically, a species is the name of the type of bacteria (example, Bifidobacteria), and the strain is the subtype of the bacteria species (example, Bifidobacterium bifidum or Bifidobacterium longum). There can be hundreds of bacteria subtypes, but only a few of them have been studied to shown benefits in health.
The specific species and strains that have shown the most benefits include:
- Bifidobacterium longum – has been demonstrated to be beneficial for regulating the immune system, diminishing inflammation, alleviating environmental and food allergies, and treating ulcerative colitis.
- Bifidobacterium bifidum – has demonstrated specific benefits for eczema, regulating the immune system, and IBS.
- Lactobacillus acidophilus – helps to break down milk into simple sugars, it potentially helps with weight loss, and helps to treat and prevent diarrhea
- Others to consider: Bifidobacterium breve, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus casei, Lacterobacillus reuteri, Saccharomyces boulardii
It’s important to keep in mind that most of the research is performed using a combination of strains and species, and that often the effects cannot be attributed to one specific species or strain. Meaning that it likely requires several species and strains to improve health outcomes, so it’s important to not buy a probiotic that contains only one species or strain.
Ensure that your probiotic is ENTEROCOATED
Enterocoated aka enteric-coated capsules ensure that the substance within the capsule gets released in the intestines. This is done by a polymer barrier that prevents the dissolution of the capsule in the acidic environment of the stomach. This is important for probiotics because this way they get delivered right into the intestines where they provide the most benefit, and avoid being killed by the acidity in the stomach.
Get the right number of CFUs
The CFUs (short for colony-forming units) is the number of bacteria within the probiotic. For the average adult, a probiotic should contain at least 2 billion CFU/serving – that’s 2 billion bacteria/serving. A child could take less. An adult who was on a lot or a strong probiotic could take more. In my opinion, an ideal probiotic would have at least 10 billion CFU in your probiotic (for the average adult), and this is generally what I recommend for my patients as I’ve seen such great results. However, there is limited evidence available outlining the appropriate amount of CFU.
Some probiotics even give you the potency at the time of expiration, letting you know how many CFU may be left in their product near the expiration date. If your probiotic shows this, that’s a great bonus!
A probiotic should contain either live or freeze-dried bacteria and this should be stated on the label. Bacteria can be sensitive creatures and can die over time. That’s why most companies recommend refrigerating their probiotic.
Ensure that there aren’t any extra ingredients that don’t need to be there
Sometimes companies will put fillers into their capsules to make them look full. Some fillers can include magnesium stearate, silica, colorants, and titanium dioxide. Furthermore, good probiotics don’t need to contain sugar, dairy, or soy.