Everyone’s talking nowadays about the need to have good “gut flora”. The range of probiotic yogurts in the shops is amazing. I ended up talking to a woman the other day who was so confused about which yogurt she should take for optimum health. I was delighted to help and see her heading off with something which would yield benefits for her.
Bad diets and leaky buckets
I guess the first thing to say in relation to taking probiotics is that if your diet is bad, probiotics may be better than nothing, but really you are throwing your money away. It’s like a leaky bucket, as fast as you are putting the water in (probiotics), your bad diet is killing them off or supporting other less favourable bacteria which will outperform them.
Live and Active!
And not all probiotics (supplements or yogurts) are the same. In terms of probiotics yogurts here’s what you should look for:
- Refrigeration: Probiotics have a short shelf life and are destroyed easily by heat and by acidic environments. IT is important therefore, that yogurts are kept refrigerated. Transport methods and leaving the yogurt at room temperature will destroy the bacteria and may result in little or no benefit.
- Choose organic: Pasteurisation and semi-sterilisation destroys bacteria. Avoid yogurts saying “heat treated after culturing“.Most organic yogurt manufacturers add in the bacterial culture, after the milk has been treated.
- Look at the label: The label should state the strains of probiotics used. As bacteria work in synergy, ideally this would be a mixture – Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium and Streptococcus are common species. Lots of strains is not necessarily better however (see below).
- Live and active: Taking probiotics should repopulate your gut, so they need to be alive! Look for Live and Active on the label.
- How many? – Most yogurts won’t tell you how many probiotic bacteria they contain (known as CFUs colony forming units. If they do say anything it should ideally be above 10 billion CFUs. However, the quality of the bacteria is important. A high count with poor bacteria is not worth much!
What about probiotic supplements?
- Specific conditions: The term “probiotics” covers a wide range of different bacteria each of which can bring different benefits. Some are great for immunity, others for bowel function. If you are looking to treat a specific condition, this is where you might want to take a supplement. Your health practitioner should know which strains will help you best and the supplement will be mixed to give optimum results.
- Use researched strains: Most high quality probiotic supplements use strains which are well researched. This is very important. Like the leaky bucket analogy above taking lots of strains, which are not shown to have any benefit for your condition, is also wasteful.
- Bacterial quality: Because they are being used therapeutically, these supplements should be of higher quality of the bacteria and contain specific strains, researched and proven to give optimum results for the particular health issue.
- Fridge or shelf: Probiotic supplements are available in fridge or on store shelves. Because probiotics are live, the shelf based probiotics are manufactured slightly differently. They have additional excipients and some extra drying steps to help the probiotics survive room temperature. Their initial bacterial counts will be higher, because they will degrade quicker at room temperature. If you do choose these, it is no harm to keep them in your fridge.
So, bottom line, if you are in good health and just want to improve your general immunity, energy, digestions/intestinal function and, yes, mood, then live, active, organic probiotic yogurt is your best option.
If you have had a long illness, then a probiotic supplement, selected for your specific needs should be taken for a month or two to rebalance. Once you are feeling better, you can move back to yogurts. For assistance with a particular health condition, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.