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How to choose the right probiotic?

Probiotics are good bacteria that flourish in the gastrointestinal tract to support healthy digestive and immune function.

The question is how to choose your probiotic between all other probiotics on the market?

Here are some key questions which will guide you to the right choice:

1. Where the probiotic is originally sourced from?

Most of the probiotics on the market are originally sourced from the mouth or digestive tract of people or animals.

This means that if you are vegan or vegetarian, then you should look for probiotics whose bacteria are extracted from alternative sources such as flowers etc.

2. Does the fermentation process of the probiotic take place in an environment containing major food allergens (lactose, gluten, soya, nuts)?

Fermentation, ie. the moment when the extracted probiotic bacteria multiply, is part of every probiotic’s production process. During that process the probiotic bacteria is usually mixed with milk where to multiply. At the end of this process you can always find traces of the substance from the fermentation process in the final product.

Most probiotics on the market contain traces of at least one major food allergens as lactose, soya, gluten or nuts.

If you have any food allergies, before using any probiotics, make sure that the product has not been fermented in and does not contain any lactose, gluten, soya or nuts.

If you are vegan/on a plant-based diet, it is also important to know that probiotics that use milk as part of their growth solution cannot be vegan regardless of whether the probiotics are contained in vegetable or vegan capsule, as the major allergens and/or the animal traces are in the actual product.

3. Has the product been researched and by who?

Many probiotics companies do not have scientific research behind their products and of the very few that do, only a small fraction have a reputable academic institution as a research partner.

Why is this important?

It is important because as a value for your money you should be sure that the product that you are buying is actually effective. Everybody on the probiotic market claim that their probiotic bacteria can inhibit pathogen bacteria but a few can actually prove it with a research made specifically for their products and corresponding strains of bacteria.

4. What is CFU and what these numbers of CFU means?

CFU is Colony Forming Unit aka bacteria cell. The CFU count on the packaging of the probiotics shows the number of bacteria in one serving.

But CFU number is only one of the criteria to make a probiotic effective against pathogen bacteria.

The strains of probiotics vary in terms of their size, enzyme production and effectiveness - factors that are as important as the CFU number. So, comparing only the CFU count across different probiotics with different strains is like comparing the strength of a group of mammals based only on their number. For example, comparing the strength of group of elephants and group of mice, based on their number rather their individual qualities, is irrelevant. The same applies when comparing different strains of bacteria. Therefore, you should not take a decision based only on some big numbers.

5. How many strains of bacteria are contained by a probiotic?

One more time - more is not necessary better! It is arguable whether probiotic with more strains of bacteria is better than a probiotic with only one strain. This is so because it is not proven if the different strains of bacteria in a multi-strain probiotics do not compete with each other resulting in survival of the strongest ones at the end. So, it is more likely that the “multi-strain” probiotics are a good marketing strategy and that there might not be a significant difference between taking probiotic with one or twenty strains.

In conclusion,:

  • Check where the probiotic bacteria is extracted from

  • Check where it had multiplied and whether there any traces of major food allergens in the final product

  • Check whether there is any scientific evidence that the probiotic is effective

  • Check whether the probiotic is actually effective. Do not get caught by the biggest CFU numbers.

  • More strains does not mean better probiotic!

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