Probiotic supplement : Your Guide
– What are probiotic supplements?
– What is in probiotic supplements?
– Future of probiotic supplements
– Freeze dried probiotic capsules
– Probiotic supplement benefits vs Probiotic Foods
– Choose the best probiotic supplements for you
– Probiotics gut health / Probiotics immune system multi strain probiotic supplements
– Best Probiotics supplements : what to check for on the label
What are Probiotics Supplements?
Probiotics are live bacteria thought to have health benefits when taken.
Probiotic supplements (also known as probiotic pills & probiotics capsules) contain these probiotic bacteria.
What is a Probiotic Supplement & What is in Probiotics Supplements?
Probiotic supplements usually contain several types of live (or freeze dried) bacteria and / or yeasts.
They come in different formats :-
– probiotic pills or capsules
– probiotic powders
– liquid supplements
The most common beneficial bacteria found in probiotic supplements, are a mix of various strains of Lactobacillus & Bifidobacterium as well as Saccharomyces yeasts.
These probiotics are currently the strains that have been researched most by scientists, as they have been found to give various health benefits
Research into probiotics is at an early stage and so far we only know of a few types of helpful bacteria that have health benefits.
We know about these from fermented foods and the dairy industry where milk is fermented into yogurt by adding bacteria.
Also unlike many of the bacteria that live in our guts, currently known probiotics survive & grow in oxygen, making it easier to produce them for supplements.
Future of Probiotic Supplements
As new technology develops, scientists are able to research new bacteria species for their health benefits, for example Soil Based Probiotics (also known as SBOs) including Bacillus subtilis and Bacillus coagulans.
In the future, as scientific knowledge increases & testing processes continue to evolve, we are likely to find new types of bacteria with wider health benefits that we can use as probiotics.
One day, scientists will be able to easily test which bacteria are present in our microbiome & which probiotics will interact best with them to deliver specific health benefits
Future probiotics : it’s likely we’ll be able to tailor & personalise probiotics to work with our unique blend of gut bacteria.
What are freeze dried probiotics supplements?
In the lab, bacteria are grown (cultured), stabilised & then freeze dried.
These freeze dried bacteria remain dormant, but still alive.
Freeze dried bacteria will start to multiply again once they reach your gut.
Probiotic supplement benefits vs probiotic foods
The benefits probiotics supplements bring include:-
– Specific Strains
You can choose which strain to take
Research has shown that some strains appear more effective than others for treating certain conditions
– Dosage / Quantity
You’ll be able to choose higher numbers of the exact type of the helpful bacteria you choose
The key is to get high enough numbers (think in billions) of the specific probiotic you need.
Probiotics supplements can be more convenient to take than eating probiotic foods, when you’re on the the go
Probiotic foods may contain more types of beneficial bacteria than probiotic supplements
However the types & quantity of probiotic bacteria can vary significantly from batch to batch,
so you’ll have less control over which exact bacteria and how many of them, reach your gut.
Which Probiotic to Take? Choosing the Best Probiotic Supplement
Choosing the best probiotic supplement for you depends on the health benefit you need for your specific health concerns.
– Research into probiotics so far has shown that specific bacteria strains can help specific health issues
– Look for a product that is formulated for your particular health concern.
– See the guidelines issued by the The World Gastroenterology Organisation (section 4)
for an scientific evidence based guide to the exact strains & dosage to use for specific health conditions.
These guidelines cover (amongst other conditions):-
– Probotics for IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome),
– Acute diahhrea
– Antibiotic associated diahhrea
– Lactose intolerance
– Ulcerative Colitis
These further scientific recommendations on exact probiotic strains for specific conditions, can help you choose the right probiotic strain for you.
Discuss probiotics with your doctor before taking, if you are pregnant / have any immune system / digestive disorders.
How to choose best probiotic supplement for you
Look on the label:-
Which Strain & exactly how much of the strain does the supplement contain?
– Does the supplement have the minimum effective dose of bacteria needed for your desired health benefit (as above)
– Generally many millions or billions of bacteria are needed to make it through the stomach acid into the gut in order to have any health benefits
– CFU (Colony Forming Units) per dose or serving, shows how many live bacteria or yeasts are alive & present in each dose
– Scientific recommendations (as above) will tell you the dose (ie. number of CFUs) you need to deliver the health benefit
Expiry Date / Shelf Life
– Numbers of live probiotic bacteria in your product can decrease over time, as it sits on shelves / in the fridge
– Check the CFU is valid right up until the end of the expiry date, so that you get enough of the beneficial bacteria.
– CFU at time of manufacture doesn’t guarantee that the probiotic bacteria will still be live & active when you need them.
– Look for CFU valid until the expiry date / end of shelf life, so you get the dose you require
– Some probiotics supplements need to be kept in the fridge to keep the bacteria alive.
– Many probiotics can die off if exposed to heat / moisture / light, depending on how they were manufactured.
– So, follow the advice on the label about how to store your probiotics correctly
– Stick to well known manufacturers, because a good reputation, quality control & investment in research & development is key.
– Check they list their website & contact details
– Look on their website for details of the studies conducted with their products, to back up any health benefit claims
Probiotics Gut Health / Probiotics Immune System Multi Strain Supplement?
You may have thought about taking a probiotic supplement, if you are in good health & want to support your overall gut health & immune system.
Medical opinion is divided on whether broad spectrum, multi strain probiotic supplements (also known as polybiotics) are worth taking to support your overall gut health and immune system, rather than for a specific condition (as above).
Probiotics are considered safe to take by healthy adults, though if you are pregnant, have immune system or digestive disorders you should talk to your doctor first.
There are many multi strain probiotic supplements available in the shops.
If you want to try a general supplement to support your overall health, bear in mind:-
– Quantity is vital :
Think Billions, not Millions of beneficial bacteria (shown on the label as CFU or colony forming units)
Pharmaceutical grade probiotics, like VSL#3, that have clinical evidence to back up their claims, contain many billions of bacteria in each dose.
Other probiotic capsules and pills can contain much smaller quantities of beneficial bacteria, which may mean they can’t deliver the same health benefits.
– Beneficial Bacterial Strains
If you’re taking probiotics to support overall gut health or immunity, look for a supplement with a range of beneficial bacteria strains.
These probiotics are sometimes labelled multi strain probiotic or polybiotics
The following strains are commonly included in a multi strain probiotic supplement:-
- lactobacillus acidophilus
- lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus
- lactobacillus plantarum
- lactobacillus reuteri
- lactobacillus rhamnosus
- lactobacillus paracasei
- bifidobacterium animalis lactis
- bifidobacterium bifidum
- bifidobacterium infantis
- bifidobacterium longum
- bifidobacterium breve
- streptococcus thermophilus
- enterococcus faecium
Probiotic Supplement Health Benefits : Labels
Probiotics are generally classed as food supplements rather than drugs (eg by the FDA in the USA).
Whilst they are safe to take, they don’t have to meet such stringent testing requirements as medicines
And can’t make such strong health claims (ie to treat disease) as medicines can.
The EU has banned the word “probiotic” on packaging & marketing materials
– This useful guide to Probiotic Labelling from the ISAPP will help you understand probiotics labelling
– Many probiotics are now called live cultures or live and active cultures
– They contain probiotic bacteria (so check the label for which strains they contain)
– but they are no longer allowed to call their products “probiotics”
– Probiotics labels are worded carefully with the bacteria they contain & inferred health benefits
The Science Bit
The information I share on this site distills the research I’ve read on the microbiome, prebiotics & probiotics.
You’ll find links to the relevant research studies on each page.
I’m not a scientist / dietician / nutritionist. I’m a food lover & home cook, putting microbiome research findings into action in my kitchen.
Find out more about the scientists leading research into the microbiome on the FAQs page