Probiotics - Are you wasting your money?

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Probiotics are everywhere - from your physician's office to your local supermarket. How do you know if they actually do anything? Through a basic understanding of our 'good' and 'bad' bacteria, we know that probiotics are essential to our vitality and health. Using probiotics can lead to greater beneficial gut bacteria, which can support a wide range of health benefits. However, gut health is not as easy as buying a ‘good’ probiotic from the supermarket. Probiotics ARE good for us, and make a great purchase, so long as you follow these 3 tips:

1. Strain is the game

Probiotic strain matters tremendously; in fact, the strain of probiotic is essential to choosing the correct probiotic for your condition. Looking at the back of the probiotic bottle, you will see several words that comprise the genus, species, and strain of probiotic; for example:

Genus: Lactobacillus
Species: Acidophilus
Strain: CL1285

Lactobacillus has over 180 species, two of which are: L. acidophilus and L. rhamnosus. L. acidophilus has many strains, such as, DDS-1, LA-5, NCFM, CUL-21, La-14, etc. Each strain has a different effect on the body. Knowing the importance of strain, we then must consider...

2. Pick the correct strain for your condition

There are at least 5600 strains of gut bacteria and many of them don't have a direct benefit to overall health. Certain strains have been shown to have specific health benefits. For example, a single strain may benefit immunity, lower cholesterol, IBS, allergies, side-effects from antibiotics, and inflammation. It is essential to match the probiotic strain to the condition that you are trying to treat.  For example, one strain will benefit diarrhea, while another will benefit constipation. Some great resources on finding your appropriate strain can be found here, here, and here.

3. Look beyond marketing

Often instead of buying specific strains, companies will buy a single species, such as a conglomeration of strains of L. acidophilus. This is much less expensive and contains numerous non-specific strains. Take a look at the label of your probiotic bottle - there should be specific strain IDs next to the species listed. Also, be wary of terms such as 'proprietary blend' and the lack of specific amounts for each probiotic.

With a little due diligence, probiotics are an excellent purchase and are a valuable component of your health and wellness toolkit.