[Review] Dumbing Down The Mind-Numbing World Of Probiotics; The Complete Probiotic Buyer’s Guide
The world of probiotics, shrouded by ridiculous words and even more ridiculous numbers, is dumbfounding. And mind-numbing. Lactobacillus casei, Bifidobacteria longum, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacteria bifidum — Helpus meum.
1.5…10…80 Billion CFUs. Oy vey.
At the core, our digestive system is in a state of never-ending Armageddon; perpetually hosting a power struggle between good, probiotic bacteria and bad, harmful bacteria. And that struggle is MASSIVE — the body houses over 100 trillion bacteria at any given moment, equating to approximately 5 pounds in aggregate.
When bad bacteria counts rise and begin to overwhelm the healthy, probiotic defenders (think of them as cops), our bacterial balance-of-power tips the wrong way and sets off a chain reaction of GI & digestive problems, including: bloating, gas pain, constipation, diarrhea, horrible breath, cancer, and other unpalatable things.
It’s bacterial calamity and it’s ugly.
That’s why taking a probiotic supplement is absolutely critical, and one of the only supplements we recommend taking daily. Probiotics actively culture good bacteria, which eat up space and crowd out the bad strains.
Over time they help cultivate a fluid, powerhouse digestive system that’s resistant to a wide-range of infectious diseases; discomfort-free, especially if you have IBS; less likely to develop cancer; “REGULAR;” and that efficiently breaks down food and absorbs nutrients (think lactose in dairy).
Even more salient, you’ll look and feel better — noone likes explosive bloating, faux pregnancy, debilitative cramping, repugnant breath, or all of the other misery that comes with a rancid gut.
What To Look For In A Probiotic Supplement.
Between lofty numbers and nonsensical words, shopping for a probiotic supplement is a complete nightmare. Bacteria merits it’s own vernacular and numerical system; shopping blind will give you an anxiety attack, you’ll significantly overpay, and likely buy a low-value product.
Price aside, there are three major factors to take into account when probiotic-hunting:
1. Bacteria Count.
This is a biggy when it comes to buying probiotics. The AAFP advises:
“Dosage should match that used in clinical studies documenting effectiveness: 5 to 10 billion CFUs per day for children; 10 to 20 billion CFUs per day for adults…there is no evidence that higher dosages are unsafe; however, they may be more expensive and unnecessary”
Aim for anything in the 10-20 billion CFU range (colony-forming unit) as an effective, price-sensitive number. It’s unclear if higher numbers offer additional benefits, but more-likely-than-not, it’s just marketing hype to command more money.
2. Profile of Bacteria Strains.
According to the Cali. Dairy Research Foundation:
“Probiotics are described by their genus (e.g., Lactobacillus), their species (e.g.,rhamnosus) and their strain (e.g., GG). This degree of specificity in describing a probiotic is essential since functions can be strain-specific. For example, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG may have different effects from L. rhamnosus GR-1. The strongest recommendation is for probiotics that are supported by strain-specific research.”
Like with investments, diversification is key — don’t put all of your money into one bacterial basket. Every different genus, species, AND strain can have different functions and effects in the body; a broader spectrum is more beneficial.
Let’s keep things simple. For general health, take a probiotic that contains a lineup of different strains. At a minimum it should include varieties of both:
- Lactobacillus (L.) — commonly comes in the form of L. acidophilus, L. casei, L. bulgaricus, L. fermentum, L. thermophilus, etc.
- Bifidobacterium (B.) — commonly comes in the form of B. longum, B. bifidum, B. infantis, B. animalis, etc.
However, if you have severe IBS, diarrhea, or other digestive issues, don’t be shocked if your doctor prescribes a specific strain.
When you buy a LQ product, more-often-than-not, a large percentage of the bacteria will be dead by the time you shove the capsules down your esophagus. If not then, many inferior strains can’t survive the log flume ride through the stomach’s acidic environment, therefore they never hit the intestines (where they start making hay).
“It is not unusual for companies to produce probiotics which, at the time of manufacture, contain double the amount listed as of the ‘Best by’ date on the assumption that 50% of the cells die before the probiotic reaches that date — particularly if the product is not maintained under ideal conditions.”
And dead microorganisms aren’t all that fun or helpful. To keep the probiotic carnage at a minimum, here’s what to look for:
- Enteric-coating — helps protect against stomach acid.
- Labeling — labels that say viable “through the end of shelf life” and not “at time of manufacture.” CFU when manufactured is NOT equivalent to the amount when taken. Probiotics die if they’re not manufactured or stored properly; the former makes it more likely that you’ll get what you paid for.
- Refrigeration — in general, probiotics survive better at lower temperatures.
- Company — the manufacturer and testing methods are critical. Don’t buy anything that’s “as seen on TV” or Gypsy Brand. Reputable companies only; doing research and checking a product’s website is smart if you have a specific product in mind.
Or just take any of the 4 below.
Our Top 4 High-Value Probiotic Supplements.
We scrubbed the probiotic ecosystem and pulled out the top 4 products, accounting for total CFU, # of strains, price per billion CFU, and quality-testing results provided by ConsumerLab.
The following 4 options offered the best value, and they’re the only probiotics we’d spend out money on (in order of decreasing CFU):
- Garden of Life RAW Probiotics ($27.60/30 servings, Amazon) — 85 billion CFU, 31 strains, $.01/billion CFU
- Nature’s Way Primadophilus Optima Probiotic ($31.59/60 servings, Amazon) — 35 billion CFU, 14 strains, $.01/billion CFU
- VitaminWorld Probiotic 10 ($19.99/60 servings, Vitamin World) — 20 billion CFU, 10 strains, $.02/billion CFU
- NutritionNow PB8 ($13.69/60 servings, Amazon) — 14 billion CFU, 8 strains, $.02/billion CFU
Your gameplan: If it’s your first foray into probiotics, start on the low end (NN’s PB8), take it for 2-3 weeks, and then gauge how your body reacts. If you feel like rainbows and chartreuse-colored unicorns, stick with it; if your body isn’t responding at all, gradually climb up the ladder until one makes a difference.
In addition to a probiotic supplement, fermented foods like tempeh, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, miso, kefir, fermented tofu, some yogurt, and even dark chocolate are powerful, food-based sources to enrich your body with healthy bacteria.
*Lean It UP has no financial interest in any of the products or companies mentioned.
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ELLO ELLO I'm Bryan DiSanto.
I'm the Founder & Editor-in-Chief of Lean It UP
, a CPT/CSN/Fitness Coach, Chef trained at Le Cordon Bleu – Paris, NYU graduate, ex-fat kid
, and all-around fitness junkie.
I also contribute to Men's Health Magazine
When I'm not working on my abs (or somebody else’s), whipping up avocado roses
and avocado toast, or running a Tough Mudder, I'm probably yelling at a Carolina Panthers game somewhere.
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