Probiotics: How to Choose the Right One

A healthy mouth and intestines rely on the help of many different microorganisms. Disruptions in the microbial content have been linked to many different diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, colon cancer, tooth decay, gingivitis, and more. Maintaining a healthy, beneficial microbial population in the mouth and gut may help strengthen immunity and prevent or improve various diseases. This article will help guide you in selecting the most appropriate probiotic for you.

Key takeaways:

What to consider when choosing probiotics

Not all probiotics are created equal. Each probiotic supplement can contain various strains and dosages of beneficial microorganisms. With each strain of bacteria possibly producing a different effect, there are important aspects of a product that should be evaluated before purchasing.

Important considerations include:

  • Dosage. Probiotics report dosages in the number of colony-forming units, which signifies the estimated number of microbial cells in the product.
  • Strain. Each family of bacteria contains numerous different strains and subtypes. Identifying beneficial strains specific to your needs is important.
  • Scientific evidence. Choosing specific strains or products that are supported by science ensures the product is effective for your condition.
  • Product-specific characteristics. Select the appropriate form (capsule, powder, lozenge) and know storage requirements such as refrigeration.

Finally, increasing probiotic foods may be a better alternative to supplements. Foods such as yogurt, kimchi, and other fermented foods can provide a microbial-rich source of nutrition. In addition, these foods support the needs of beneficial microorganisms and help them flourish in the body.

Reading the label

Understanding the label is important to selecting the best product for your needs. Many products can use busy and confusing labeling. Here are the important aspects to look at when evaluating a product.

Identifying the bacterial strain(s) contained in the product helps identify products supported by science and narrows your options. The strains contained are often listed using the microbial family, species, and strain that is contained. For example, Streptococcus salivarius M18 is the M18 strain of the salivarius species that belongs to the Streptococcus family.

Colony-forming units (CFUs) estimate the number of living microbes contained within the product. This is important to identify products with sufficient dosages, but it is important to remember that higher numbers of CFUs do not always indicate a better or more effective product.

The ingredients provide a list of substances contained in the product. Reviewing this can help to identify unwanted ingredients and possible allergens.

Finally, the label contains the manufacturer and their recommended directions for use. In addition, the label can provide some information on the intended benefits of the product.

What to ask for at the drugstore

The pharmacist at your local drugstore can provide a wealth of information and help guide your decision in selecting the appropriate product. Conveying the right information to the pharmacist will allow them to make the best recommendations.

The most important thing to ask for at the drugstore is probiotics for oral or gut health. These probiotics are not interchangeable and require specialized products depending on their use. Discuss with the pharmacist what condition you wish to treat, as specific bacterial strains may be better for certain conditions. Before making any selection, let the pharmacists know of any allergies to avoid any adverse reactions.

This information will often allow the pharmacist to identify the best product for your needs. Once you select a product, be sure to address any questions with the pharmacist as they can fill in any gaps in knowledge about the particular probiotic.

Identifying the right oral health probiotics

For a probiotic to affect oral health, the microbes must come in contact with the oral cavity. Therefore, the oral health probiotics used should be in the form of a lozenge, chewable tablet, mouthwash, toothpaste, gummy, or powder that has direct contact with the mouth.

In regards to probiotics for oral health, the particular strain used in the probiotic has a direct effect on the condition it may alleviate. Therefore, selecting a probiotic with strains that have shown effectiveness in treating your specific condition is important. For example, if gingivitis is your main complaint, find an oral probiotic with Lactobacillus reuteri which may reduce swelling and inflammation of the gums. If you wish to prevent cavities, selecting a probiotic with Streptococcus A12 would be a better choice.

Finally, selecting products from reputable manufacturers with good reviews can ensure the product is of high quality and may be effective in providing relief for your intended use.

Identifying the right gut health probiotics

For probiotics to reach the intestines where they produce their effects, they must survive the acidic fluids of the stomach. Therefore, many products will use acid-resistant capsules or other protective measures to deliver the strains into the intestines.

In regards to gut health, some strains are particularly helpful for certain conditions, however, the majority of health benefits associated with probiotics are produced by these four microorganisms:

  • Bacillus spp
  • Lactobacilli spp
  • Bifidobacteria spp
  • Saccharomyces spp

Choosing a probiotic that contains sufficient numbers (CFUs) of these bacteria is important for the probiotic to alter the populations of microorganisms within the intestines.

How to compare different brands

Picking a brand of probiotics you can trust is important as the FDA does not regulate these products. Therefore, some products may contain fewer bacteria than listed on the label or different bacteria than specified. Choosing a reputable manufacturer can increase the likelihood the product is produced using approved standards and contains the ingredients listed.

Asking your doctor for recommendations on brands they trust can ensure you are getting a quality product. Your doctor will also recommend products with strains beneficial for gut health.

Comparing the number of CFUs can also differentiate brands. Picking a probiotic with sufficient CFUs to alter the microbial content in the gut is important, but more is not always the best option. Paying attention to how CFUs are listed is also important as some will state at the time of manufacturing of the product it contained a certain number of CFUs. However, picking a product that lists the CFU provided until expiration is preferred.

How much bacteria is too much/little?

There is no perfect dose of probiotics, but the National Institutes of Health suggests probiotics should contain between 1 billion and 10 billion CFUs per dose. In these quantities, they should be taken once to twice a day, as directed by the manufacturer.

Taking supplements with higher CFUs (e.g. 50 billion) can produce gastrointestinal discomfort, bloating, and gas. These higher doses can also be more dangerous in patients with weakened immune systems and should be avoided.

On the other hand, too little of a dose can result in a reduced or no benefit from the probiotic. Adequate CFUs prevent you from wasting your money on a product and give the probiotic the best chance to produce meaningful results.

Choosing a probiotic that starts in your mouth or your gut

The main deciding factor is whether you are using it for oral health or another condition. The stomach acid destroys any probiotic that is not protected such as the remnants of a lozenge or powder. Preventing oral health probiotics from providing benefits outside the local effects in the mouth. Gut probiotics can assist with healthy digestion, influence immune responses, and produce substances beneficial to our health. Thus providing local and body-wide effects.

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