The Ultimate Guide to Probiotics and Probiotic Supplements

Ever try to read a Greek yogurt label out loud? No matter how funny some of the ingredients may sound, this superfood couldn't be more serious. Serving as a bonafide probiotic spokesperson, yogurt represents all fermented foods which are packed with the health-boosting microorganisms.

Like restless worker bees, these microorganisms are a healthy bunch ready to deliver a variety of health benefits to the digestive tract and immune system. But, how about we give you the full scoop?

 What Are Probiotics?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO)(1), probiotics are live microbes (usually bacteria from the Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium genii) which promote several functions of the human body when consumed adequately.

In fact, think of probiotics as a group of "good bacteria" in your gastrointestinal tract. All they are designed to do is aid digestion, eliminate malicious microorganisms which invade the body through food and promote the absorption of nutrients.

So long story short, probiotics help us break down ingested food while giving our digestive system a boost. Keep in mind, though, that probiotics do the human body a world of good in many other ways such as enhancing skin health(2) or treating anxiety(3).

Probiotic Supplements – The Need-to-Know

If you DO decide to add probiotics to your diet, you'll see that the variety of options out there is dizzying. Between the tablets, capsules, and powders, there are many forms of probiotic supplements to satisfy everyone's taste and lifestyle needs.

However, unless you understand how they affect your digestive health, they're good for nothing. That's why we've gathered around the most important facts you need to know about probiotic supplements. Ready to meet your match?

 Genus, Species, and Strain of the Probiotic Supplement

The efficacy and quality of a probiotic supplement vary from brand to brand. That's why you should always keep an eye for the probiotic strain they contain before the purchase. That means that you first need to determine what it is you want to achieve healthwise by taking a particular probiotic supplement. Here are some of the most common probiotic species and the benefits they confer to make your quest easier. 

Bifidobacterium Species

Millions of Bifidobacteria line the walls of the human large intestine for a single reason; to prevent invasive bacteria from harming the human body. But, that's not all. This probiotic species also promotes the production of lactic acid which not only fuels the intestinal cells with energy but also discourages the growth of bacteria in the tract by maintaining an acidic pH.

In its turn, the acidic environment facilitates the absorption of certain minerals, including iron, zinc, magnesium, copper and calcium. Talk about hands-on, effective probiotics!

Some of the health benefits of Bifidobacterium probiotic species(4) include smooth digestion, nutrient absorption, lack of bloating, constipation or leaky gut. Given this, probiotic supplements which feature this species are recommended for travelers who want to avoid occasional diarrhea.

Lactobacillus Species

Unlike Bifidobacterium, the Lactobacillus species(5) reside in the small intestine. What these two species have in common, though, is that they both promote the production of lactic acid which keeps away harmful bacteria and induces the absorption of nutrients.

At the same time, this probiotic species is responsible for producing lactase which is the enzyme that breaks down lactose (milk sugar). Consuming probiotic supplements rich in Lactobacilli results in relief from occasional bloating or cramping, smooth digestion, supports a healthy liver(6), prevents traveler's diarrhea, and promotes vaginal health in women.

Endurance of Bacteria

The way a probiotic supplement is made shows a lot about its quality and efficiency. In fact, the form in which they are produced enables the bacteria to remain alive until they reach your gut. A probiotic supplement weak bacteria which die before they even reach your stomach are not worth your attention. So, opt for a probiotic supplement which ensures that most of the bacteria will reach your intestines alive.

Expiration Dates

Even though the supplement industry doesn't require products to feature expiration dates, you should always look out for one. A stated expiration date not only guarantees that the bacteria are alive and kicking until consumption but also adds to the brand's credibility.

 Final Thoughts

As the invasion of the “probiotic” buzzword kicks into high gear, it's important not to let yourself get carried away. Instead, set your health as a priority by asking all the right questions such as “why do I need it?”, “when does it expire?”, “will the bacteria reach my stomach alive?”. Once answered, these question can't help but lead the way to the right probiotic supplement for you.