Hundreds of different types of bacteria and yeast, our gut biome, live in our small and large intestine. The beneficial microbes are called probiotics (pro: for biotic: life) and help support overall digestive health. When the biome is balanced, probiotic strain populations keep pathogenic microbes such as e. coli and c. albicans at bay. Probiotics produce short-chain fatty acids from insoluble dietary fiber and vitamins K2, B12, biotin and folate, necessary for cellular energy production and proper calcium absorption. Expect to hear more about probiotic benefits as the study of specific strains and species increases in the coming years.
Most commonly, probiotic supplements are taken to help maintain healthy gut populations or to address imbalances due to antibiotic treatments, poor dietary choices or stress. Imbalances can manifest as lower gastric distress, recurrent yeast or thrush infections, post-antibiotic diarrhea or some nutrient deficiencies. Newer research suggests that healthy bacteria populations help maintain the integrity of the intestinal tract lining, and may possibly be a factor in addressing inflammatory gut symptoms and autoimmune disorders.
A lot of people wonder how to choose the right probiotic supplement. As a general guideline, the number and type of strains are more important than the total number of bacteria (measured in CFU or Colony-Forming Units). Look for strains in the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species first in dosages from 5 to 20 CFU. High quality supplement companies will list an expiration date and guarantee potency through expiration. Newer encapsulation and manufacturing techniques mean that refrigeration isn’t as important as keeping the probiotics away from direct sources of heat and light. Probiotics in the form of non-digestible dietary or supplemental fiber feed helpful bacteria and encourage colonization. In addition, you can incorporate probiotic fermented foods such as cultured dairy yogurts and kefirs, kimchi, kombucha, or sauerkraut for more regular, comfortable, and efficient digestive health.