Probiotics for Beginners: Putting Good Bacteria Into Your Gut
What are Probiotics?
Generally, when we think of bacteria, we think of the harmful, disease-causing organisms dubbed "germs." But just as some plants are poisonous and others are medicinal, some types of bacteria are beneficial and help support and promote good health.
The human digestive system is home to billions of bacteria, some of which play an important role in our digestive and overall health. When our gut ecosystem is out of balance, our health may suffer as a result.
Probiotics are dietary supplements that contain beneficial bacteria. Taking probiotics can help restore digestive health and may have other benefits as well.
Because probiotics have proven benefits and have recently enjoyed a boom in popularity, the market is flooded with various brands of supplements, not all of which are equal. Here are some basic guidelines to help you select high-quality probiotics.
Look for brands that are formulated by medical professionals. This improves the chances that the supplements will be of high quality and will not contain extraneous ingredients or chemicals.
You may want to ask your medical care provider for advice. Your doctor can also help you identify what types of probiotics are best suited to your particular health needs.
Look for supplements that contain strains (types of bacteria) that have been proven to have beneficial properties. A supplement that identifies the specific strains it contains is likely to be of higher quality, although it may also come with a bigger price tag, as some strains are more expensive than others. One well-known strain is L. acidophilus NCFM, which can withstand the highly acidic environment of the human gastrointestinal tract.
Because bacteria are living organisms, the effectiveness of a probiotic supplement will depend in part on what percentage of the bacteria are still alive, or viable, when ingested. A high-level of shelf-stability is a desirable quality of probiotics, so it's best to avoid supplements that require refrigeration and to pay attention to dates of manufacture and expiration.
Number of CFUs
Look for supplements that advertise a high number of CFUs, or Colony Forming Units. CFU is a measure of how many colonies will grow from a sample in a prepared medium. If a very small sample grows a lot of colonies, that would indicate a high number of CFUs. This number is an indicator of concentration and viability.
Ask your medical care provider what type and dose of probiotics are best for you. Your doctor can also help you identify what types of probiotic are best suited to your particular health needs, and possibly recommend some quality, trusted brands as well.
A Few More Things to Keep in Mind
Depending on your country of residence, regulatory oversight of probiotics may vary. Bear this in mind when evaluating the claims of a product to cure or treat a condition or disease.
Also, everyone's body chemistry and health are unique, and these factors will affect how and if probiotics have noticeable benefits for you.
Probiotics are powerful health supplements with proven benefits; understanding what they are and how they work will help you get the most out of these natural, human-biome balancing organisms.