And not just any probiotics. You need the right ones.
I’ve been a long time user of probiotics, since they play such a key role in digestive health. Antibiotic overuse as a child had thrown my system way out of balance, and I knew probiotics were key to the improvements I was looking for. But I haven’t always seen dramatic results, and recently I found out why.
I was invited to meet alternative health expert and television host Bryce Wylde, the author of Wylde On Health. He gave an engaging and informative talk on digestive health and the role of probiotics, and I realized that many of my assumptions were off track. With a background in Chemical Engineering, I usually like to dig deep whenever I make my health decisions, but I realized I still had a lot to learn about probiotics and their relationship to my health.
Did you know that each year over 20 million Canadians, children and adults, suffer from digestive disorders? Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is one of the most common forms, affecting women significantly more than men. Many people don’t know that simple changes in your diet can help with IBS and other digestive issues.
And even if you don’t have significant problems you’re aware of, it’s likely that after years of living a typical Western lifestyle, your system is out of balance and needs some help.
Have you ever thought about using probiotics? Here’s what you need to know. Probiotics are live microorganisms that populate your gut, and are involved in the development of your gut’s mucosal barrier, synthesis of vitamins, metabolism of bile acids, production of short-change fatty acids, reduction in pH in the large bowel, and activation of your immune system. In other words, these guys do a lot of work to keep you healthy, all for free! All you need to do is give them a little TLC.
There are over 100,000 billion bacteria in the human gut, and most of these species vary in 90% of the population. The balance between different species is critical for good health. What throws this bacteria off balance? Things like a diet high in sugar and low in fiber, and the use of antibiotics – all of which are associated with a typical Western lifestyle.
You need to maintain the health of your gut flora because it acts as a security system for your gut, preventing the breakdown of intestinal mucous membrane which can lead to “leaky gut syndrome.” It’s also important for immune support, since 60-80% of the immune system is located in the gut. This was news to me, and left me with a healthy respect for the importance of my gut health, especially after a long winter when I saw people around me dropping like flies every time a new virus made its rounds.
Here’s what really jumped out for my during Bryce’s talk: the clinical effect of probiotics depend on the strain. Each strain has specific characteristics and offers specific benefits. In other words, not all probiotics are created equal. Here I am, paying hundreds and hundreds of dollars over the years for probiotics that may not have been working for me at all. This really got my attention.
Here are a few more key points. The concentration of bacteria in yogurt is not significant enough to be considered a therapeutic probiotic. You need sufficient quantities of live micro-organisms of the right strain to see benefits. What else should you look for in a good probiotic? It should be able to survive passage through the GI tract and be acid/bile resistant. It should come with a guarantee of the number of cells that expected to be alive at the time of expiry. And it should show measurable health benefits. In other words, there should be research to back the manufacturer’s claims. Most of the probiotics I have taken before wouldn’t meet this criteria, and that was really eye-opening for me.
Bryce told us that if the probiotic was doing it’s job, it would not be necessary to take it consistently. You should see health improvements after treatment with probiotics, and you should be able to maintain these improvements without taking the probiotics continuously. You would need to replenish the probiotics only if you did something that created imbalance, like using antibiotics or indulging excessively in a high sugar, low fiber diet.
One other key thing I learned was that you need to feed your bacteria with pre-biotics n order to maintain healthy gut flora. This was news to me! Pre-biotics are non-digestible food components called FOS and GOS (fructooligosaccharides and galactooligosaccharides). These are found in foods like chicory root, garlic, leek, onion, asparagus, whole wheat, and banana. In case you don’t get enough of the right foods, Bryce recommended a great pre-biotic supplement called SunFiber, which keeps your gut bacteria healthy.
Now, after learning all this, I wondered how I could choose the right probiotic with so many on the market. For any serious digestive condition you want a high potency product that contains hundreds of billions of CFU’s proven to support your condition, or mild enough to treat an infant in discomfort, and tough enough to deal with chronic IBS. And you want to make sure the research is there to support these claims.
Bryce shared some information on a few of the probiotics that he’s used extensively in his practice, because they provided consistent health benefits for his patients. They are Ferring Natural Health formulas, based on research and proven strains that promote the healthy bacteria in your body. Bryce recommended Tu-Zen, Bio-Gaia, and VSL#3 – three powerhouse probiotics that are proven to show results. I’ve included some specific information for each one below. Note that the exact proprietary strain is listed, along with some pretty hefty numbers – from 100 million to 450 billion. That’s a lot of bacteria working for me! All mothers take note – BioGaia is safe enough for infants, and is proven to help with colic. I wish I knew about this when my girls were babies!
This is a lot of information to digest. I think the biggest take-away for me what that all probiotics are not created equal, and many of the brands I’ve tried don’t have the science to back their claims. I’ll be expecting more from my probiotic from now on. And I’m looking forward to using the Bio-Gaia and the Tu-Zen to address some issues in my family.
TuZen: Helps to reduce flatulence and abdominal pain associated with flatulence, in individuals with IBS (10 Billion Lactobacillus plantarum 299v active probiotic).
BioGaia: Beneficial effects on common digestive upsets such as diarrhea, constipation, gas, bloating and especially colic (100 million live active Lactobacillus reuteri Protectis).
VSL#3: Level One scientific data and the subject of extensive clinical research in patients with ulcerative colitis, an ileal pouch, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and several other clinical conditions (450 billion all-natural, freeze-dried, lactic acid bacteria Strains: B. animalis subsp. lactis, (DSM 24736, previously known as B. longum); B. animalis subsp. lactis, (DSM 24737, previously known as B. infantis); B. breve, (DSM 24732); L. acidophilus, (DSM 24735); L. delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus, (DSM 24734); L. paracasei, (DSM 24733); L. plantarum, (DSM 24730); S. thermophilus, (DSM 24731)).