Probiotics are trendy AF. We see them on Instagram, YouTube, and being advertised on TV. Influencers and health gurus are telling you to take them and recommending certain brands. Probiotic drinks such as Kombucha and are “in style;” don’t pretend you don’t insta-story your bubbly drink. I’m here to let you know that there is no one-probiotic-fits-all. My intention with this article is to inform you and urge you do some research before taking one – so you can feel your best and get the most out of what you’re taking! First, let’s dive into the science of it…
As early as 2012, scientists were writing about the specific benefits of probiotic treatments for disorders in humans. Most of the diseases themselves were caused by certain bacterias in the body. As the science continues to evolve, we’ve learned that there are several benefits beyond the initial findings that probiotics treat diarrhea and IBS. While probiotics can do more than ameliorate these two issues, the tricky part is: “probiotic” is a blanket term and I’ve learned that specificity is key when seeking probiotic treatment for other conditions.
For starters, WHAT IS A PROBIOTIC? A term we hear a lot these days, but do we know what it really is? It’s a term used for certain microorganisms that are deemed to be beneficial, aka “good guys” or “good bugs” for the body. Certain human cultivated probiotic products (read: fermented foods, probiotic supplements) mimic our natural microbiota (read: the ecosystem of various bacterias in our digestive systems), and roughly, it’s estimated that our microbiotas have about 500 different bacteria strains, and that doesn’t include yeast type cultures. Bacterial cells outweigh human cells of 10:1 in our bodies. So, clearly, these good bugs are important.
We’ve all known for a while that probiotic strains taken in food products or supplements benefit our bodies, but many of us may not really understand why. For me personally, I viewed probiotics like taking a multivitamin, something I should just take, without much thought, and without feeling much of anything afterward. But when I began my own gut health journey, it started with probiotics and boy, did I have a rough beginning. Bloating, chronic pains, delusions… I wasn’t sure what was happening at the time, but later realized it was the probiotic I was taking, that had been wreaking havoc on my body.
Fortunately for me, I had guidance in my journey and quickly learning that although new research is showing that there are countless benefits for digestion, IBS, IBD, immunity and cognitive function with probiotics. There are several things to consider, before simply popping that probiotic pill, or eating some kimchi. Placing blame on my probiotic put me at ease, and learning that there could be a “better” strain for my body gave me hope.
If you’re a health nut, you’ve probably tried kombuchas, considered taking a probiotic, and often see kimchi variations as you scroll through the ‘gram. Even those of us on antibiotics have been warned by our doctors to take a probiotic to combat the die-off of the “good guys.” But what one? Is there a better of “best” probiotic?
l want to turn your attention to the fact that not all probiotics are created equal. Duh! That’s the title of the article. But, it’s true, so I wanted to say it twice. And please let me disclaim: this article isn’t to make you intimidated or fearful of taking a probiotic supplement. I intend this to be an eye-opening piece to inspire you to think twice before buying a probiotic the grocery store because someone on IG told you that you should.
For starters, as mentioned there are over 500 bacterial strains in our bodies. One popular one we’ve heard of before is E. coli, a bad bug. When you get a large amount of this in your body, it makes you very, very ill. But, in healthy humans, if a tiny trace amount of this starts to creep up, it’s the good guy bacterias that fight to crush it. Therefore, you must know that at any point in time, we all have very uniquely individualized levels of the various strains. What would throw someone else’s system out of whack, may be totally fine for your body. If you were to do a stool test (read: give a fecal sample to a medical professional and have it analyzed), you’d learn that each bacteria has a set “range” that is said to be average in the body; there are no hard and set amounts for the “good bugs.” Obviously, you want all serious pathogens to be nil. Based on your personal levels of good and bad bugs, your probiotic strain will vary. If you find a supplement that is purely lactobacillus and you have normal to high ranges of this already, this probiotic is not going to do you much good. Hold on to your hats; I’m about to show you how big of a science nerd I am, and it’s for your own good!
There are two types of probiotics: one that produce L-Lactic Acid (LAB: lactic-acid producing, which means that as it lives, its metabolism produces L-lactate) and D-Lactic acid, D-lactate producing. L-lactic acid is super easy for our bodies to process, thus, we’ve never been cautioned by the FDA or and probiotic companies against taking too many probiotics…. It was almost like, “there’s no such thing as too much.”
Moving on, D-Lactate producing bacterias are normally fine too, except for people dealing with gut issues (Like me!). If you’re someone with leaky gut, sibo, candida, or H.Pylori etc, you’ve been watching your carbs and trying to eliminate grains to heal. If you know grains are tough for you to digest, it’s likely that you’re going to struggle with the probiotic L. acidophilus, which is in yogurts and basically all generic probiotics. When you take L. acidophilus in large quantities while dealing with gut issues, a build of of D-lactic acid called acidosis occurs.
When this happens, oddly enough, your body decides to stop using oxygen to process glucose and breaks it down anaerobically. Without adequate amounts of oxygen in the metabolism, cells will not produce enough ATP, which is needed for the firing of neurotransmitter molecules.
OK, that was sciency BUT, here’s my real-life example:
I started taking probiotics, and had some bad experiences, as mentioned. It’s important to know that minor bloating or discomfort is normal. You might experience malaises like bloating, discomfort etc for 3 to 7 days during what scientists call the Herxhiemer effect, (read: die-off of pathogens, causing their toxins to float around in our system). But after those 3 to 7 days on a probiotic, while also taking an antibiotic, I was still feeling die-off headaches symptoms and going through bouts of anxiety that were making me feel like I was dreaming, or in slow motion. Brain fog filled up most of my day. As you read before, the D-lactate acidosis can and will affect your neurotransmitters, and thus, your brain function becomes less optimal.
So, a few things to consider here:
- It is normal to feel a little bloated for a while. But, make sure you count the days you’re on the probiotic.
- If it’s been over a week of symptoms, and you’re not experiencing die-off, and you feel chronically tired, brain foggy, confused, and central nervous system dysfunction, you may be experiencing the d-lactate acidosis and should stop taking that probiotic.
Don’t let this scare you too much, especially if you’re not currently experiencing any gut dysfunction. However, if you have leaky gut, sibo, candida etc, you can and should still take probiotics, you simply need to find the right one, at the right strain for the right duration. Read on!
- General wellness, or Strategic Healing
For those of us with iron stomachs, or in general good health, you can confidently assume that your gut has adequate amounts of the “good bugs.” If you’re like me and fighting H Pylori or C.Diff (not good guys), the probiotic supplement Flora Myces with Saccharomyces Boulardii, it can help you heal faster than someone else, with different pathogens in their gut. What I’m getting is that what could make me feel unwell, might not affect someone else.
Take my boyfriend Jeff, for example: he takes a generic probiotic by Renew Life with 50 Billion bacteria with 18 billion bifidobacterium stains and 32 billion Lactobacillus strains in it. Meanwhile, I take two probiotics, twice a day, based on professional guidance (more on what I take below!).
If you’re someone who is unsure what to take, I’d begin by adding probiotic foods like kimchi, yogurts and stay consistent with when you take it, what you eat with it and note how you feel.
Checklist for the probiotic beginner:
-Set a goal/intention for taking the supplement
-Start with small amounts of probiotic foods (which contain Lactobactullius probiotics like L Acidiphilous), same food item, same time of day, same food afterward.
-Keep note of how you feel
-Try it for two weeks
-If you’re not feeling well, try a true probiotic supplement, at a low dose, and increase the amount each week. 20 billion, 30 billion, 40 billion etc.
It is important to note that these strains in fermented foods like Bifidobacterium lactis, Lactobacillus acidophilus, and Lactobacillus bulgaricus do not kill the bad guys thoroughly, if at all, (it depends how much you consume).
Where you buy your supplement matters. Therapeutic grade is a major key. Why? Especially if you’re seeking this for healing gut health issues, anxiety, depressing or general fatigue, you need a higher grade you can trust. There are a lot of manufacturers out there selling subpar strains; picking one up at the grocery is not *always* your best option.
But what about the specific type? When I mentioned my boyfriend’s probiotic, I noted that it had both Bifidobacterium the Lactobacillus strains. To keep you from getting too confused, there are three total probiotic umbrellas and various types underneath each umbrella.
First, you have the Lactobacillus strains we’ve mentioned before, like L acidophilus, easily found in fermented foods, like yogurt and kimchi.
Second, there’s Bifidobacterium, which is found in dairy products, and fermented cheese.
Finally, there are soil-based organisms, used as a probiotic. (Often called SBOs)
Which one is right for you? Well, that depends.
For the average Joe looking to take the probiotic for precautionary, general health measure, like my boyfriend Jeff, eating fermented foods can help with the maintenance of gut health, giving your body tiny doses of the good bugs.
For someone trying to heal their gut, a soil-based organism may be the better bet, given that their high potency is capable of cleaning out some of the bad guys before you add the good guys in. They need not be refrigerated and include subspecies from the Bifidobacterium probiotic, B Subtilis. Why? They are resistant to stomach acid, changes in temperature and degrading factors like antibiotics.
For me personally, I take a combo of Prebiophage and Flora Myces (which is Saccharomyces Boulardii) . Prebiophage has some prebiotics in it to feed the good guys which are already in my gut, and then also a 5 billion probiotic blend of bifobacterium, Lactobacillus bacterias and streptococcus bacteria strain. 5 billion is a far cry from the 50 billion Jeff takes, a prime example of how much variance there is in gut supporting products.
Flora Myces has been used as a probiotic but is technically a yeast culture, potent enough to fight away/protect against pathogens, but also add good bacterias into the small and large intestine. Specifically for me, it works to fight Clostridium Difficile, which was causing bloating and stomach pain. It also works well against H Pylori.
- Lifestyle and History
Before you consider taking anything, think about your current state of health.
How is your immune system functioning? (A strong immune system is a good sign of a healthy gut). How is your digestion? How are your bowel movements? Are you chronically tired, or very energetic? Answering these questions will help you determine what type of probiotic will benefit you the most.
Another consideration might be, what supplements are you currently taking? If you’re on a supplement like Biocidin, or even ingesting an antimicrobial like coconut oil, you could unintentionally be killing the probiotic you took to help yourself. Note: you can take both in the same day, but they must be digested at least two hours apart.
Further, it’s crucial to take a probiotic with an antibiotic (unless your doctor tells you otherwise). Antibiotics tend to eradicate all microbes to kill infections diseases, so adding in more good guys is ideal. What’s really neat is that the D-Lactic acid producing bacterias are a strain which will survive/thrive in spite of antibiotic treatment. D-Lactate producing probiotics are the following: Lactobacillus acidophilus, L. Bulgaricus, L. fermentum, E. Faecalis, and L. Delbrueckii Subsp Lactis.
Finally, if you have a compromised gut, you could consider taking a probiotic that doesn’t produce D-Lactate (they make these!) to avoid any brain fog or CNS issues.
I hope that this article opened your eyes to the complexity that is probiotic treatment. It’s been studied for years and yet there’s still a whole lot more to learn. What we do know is that the right strains in the right doses can do a lot of positive things for our health. We also know that the wrong strains or too much of any strain can cause some discomfort and even neurotransmitter issues, especially if you’re suffering gut health issues. Please reach out to a licensed professional before taking any supplement when you have chronic issues going on. Email me for referrals to a Functional Nutritionist who can offer better guidance than I can. I am not a licensed practitioner but know several who can help you!
Hope this helps! Please leave questions below!
J Food Sci Technol. 2016 Feb; 53(2): 921–933.
Published online 2015 Nov 9. doi: 10.1007/s13197-015-2011-0