Probiotics are the friendly organisms that help improve your digestive health.By comparison, bacteria are often associated with poor health. They can cause infection and make you sick. However, wiping the body clean of microbes isn’t an effective solution. Your body needs certain bacteria to digest food and lower the risk of various health problems.
Facts About Probiotics
Probiotics are popular these days. According to the National Health Interview Survey, probiotics are the third-most used natural product.
Supplements can help treat digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease. They can prevent or reduce the severity of diarrhea. Some research shows that probiotics can help improve urinary health, vaginal health, skin problems and oral health.
Probiotic Strains and Strengths
Two families of probiotics live in the intestines. These are Lactobaccilus and Bifidobacterium. When you’re looking at the label on your probiotics, any strain that begins with “L.” is a lactobaccilus. Bifidobacterium strains begin with “B.”
Probiotics may work best when they’re combined. Different strains benefit various health conditions.
For example, L. acidophilus lives in the upper gastrointestinal tract and can ward off yeast infections in women. B. longum resides in the lower bowel and supports healthy cholesterol levels. B. lactis can encourage the body to rid itself of some types of bacteria that cause food poisoning. L. brevis has been shown to improve brain health.
L. rhamnosus can be taken for traveler’s diarrhea. L. fermentum supports a healthy level of bacteria in the gut.
The number of bacteria in a probiotic is measured by colony-forming units, or CFUs. The higher the number, the more active live organisms a supplement contains. The number of CFUs is usually in the millions or billions.
Most experts recommend that you use a probiotic that contains at least 1 billion CFUs. Some say that a product that has up to 50 billion CFUs per dose is preferable. You may not need a product with as many as 100 CFUs unless you have a problem creating your own probiotics or are on long-term antibiotics, which wipe out the beneficial bacteria in your body.
Depending on your situation, you may benefit from taking a supplement that contains a greater variety of organisms rather than high levels of bacteria. Especially if you’re taking probiotics for overall wellness, you will probably benefit from consuming a diverse set of microbes. Learn more here.
Packaging and Formulation
Probiotic supplements generally come in pill or capsule form. Shelf life is important. Some products specify the number of CFUs that the product contains at the time of manufacture. They don’t always tell you how many CFUs live through the processing and shipping process or how many will survive the trip through your digestive tract.
The most effective probiotics are labeled with the number of CFUs that are still in the product on the expiration date. This helps you understand exactly what you’re getting.
You must store probiotics properly. Many need to be refrigerated. If you order this type online, many of the bacteria may die if they don’t stay cool during shipping. Even stores that stock the supplements may leave them on the shelves or in hot warehouses. Shelf-stable probiotics may deliver more potency regardless of how they’ve been stored.
How to Take Probiotics
Probiotics consume nutrients from your food to survive. “Bad” bacteria do the same thing. If you’re filling your body with chemicals and processed foods, you’re feeding the detrimental bacteria. Although taking probiotics can counteract some of the effects of a poor diet, it doesn’t negate the consequences of unhealthy food choices.
Probiotics may work best when taken on an empty stomach. Processed and spicy foods may create an inhospitable environment in the gut, wiping out the good bacteria before they have a chance to do their work. If you take probiotics after you eat, your stomach acid may kill the microbes on their way to your intestines.
If you experience stomach pain when you start taking probiotics, you may want to take a smaller dose. Gradually increase it as your body becomes accustomed to the supplement.
You may not feel noticeably different when you take probiotics. However, if you’re taking the best kind for you, you should feel confident that your gut health is balanced and your immunity is improved.
Keep taking your probiotics consistently. Although the useful bacteria will live in your system for some time, you must keep consuming them to maintain their beneficial effects. Switching strains periodically can also ensure that you’re addressing different areas of your health.
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