Probiotics are one of the bestselling products in the dietary supplement industry, but also one of the most misunderstood. Microbiome research is now uncovering all of the benefits of a healthy gut, like weight loss, improved digestion, healthier skin, urinary tract health and enhanced immune function. Understanding probiotic basics can help you choose the right one.
What are Probiotics?
Probiotics are living microorganisms, usually bacteria, that when ingested can provide a whole host of benefits. Probiotics come in supplement form but can also come from food sources like yogurt, kefir, and kombucha.
The two most clinically studied groups of probiotics are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Each group comprises different species, and each species has many strains. Each strain has a specific purpose or health benefit that it provides to you.
This is one of the most common strains of probiotics found in food and supplements and best known for:
- Supporting the immune system
- Limiting the growth of potentially harmful bacteria in the intestine
- Helping to break down lactose into nutrients the body can use
Lactobacillus: The Probiotic Strain Known for Digestion
This species of bacteria produces lactase, the enzyme that breaks down lactose, or milk sugar. These bacteria also produce lactic acid. Lactic acid helps control the population of bad bacteria. It also serves as muscle fuel and increases the body’s absorption of minerals.
Probiotic strains are genetic subtypes of species and each one has a unique impact on the human gut. You will usually see probiotic strain names on labels combined with the species name. For example, the Bifidobacteria or Lactobacillus species are often abbreviated as B. or L. and combined with the individual strain name, such as acidophilus. This gives you the probiotic L. acidophilus. This is how the name will appear on food or supplement labels.
Benefits of Multi-strain Probiotics
Probiotic supplements that contain one or more strains of bacteria are referred to as multi-strain or sometimes poly-strain probiotics. High quality probiotic supplements will contain at least five to six strains, with some containing ten or more, such as Omax’s Triple Action Probiotic + Prebiotic Inulin.
These are other common strains you may come across on probiotic labels:
- B. animalis
- B. breve
- B. lactis
- B. longum
- L. acidophilus
- L. reuteri
What are CFUs or Colony Forming Units?
If you’ve shopped for a probiotic supplement before, you’ve surely noticed the really large number noted as CFU, or Colony Forming Units. CFUs represent the number of live probiotic bacteria that are supposed to be in each serving. While CFU is certainly an important thing to look at, there are a number of other factors to consider when choosing a probotic, something that will be discussed in our follow up blog, Top 5 Things to Look for When Choosing a Probiotic.
The amount of CFUs needed ranges person to person and if there is a specific ailment you are trying to resolve. Most supplements on the market contain anywhere from several million to 50 billion, such Omax’s Triple Action Probiotic + Prebiotic Inulin.
Gut health is really the key to overall health and wellness, and while a probiotic alone can’t optimize your gut microbiome, choosing one with high CFUs and multiple strains may certainly help to improve your overall gut health. So do not buy just any old any old acidophilus!
Make sure to check out our follow up blog as we discuss the Top 5 Things to Look for When Choosing a Probiotic.