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You know 90% of the cells in your body aren’t human, right? Don’t fall off your chair if you didn’t, it’s a simple fact! Our bodies contain 100 trillion bacterial cells, about 10 times the number of the rest of the cells. And this is true of each of us on the planet – irrespective of age, sex, race, etc.
Stress, processed foods, ageing and the consumption of antibiotics reduce the number and efficiency of this ‘good bacteria’ in our body. Consuming probiotics increases the numbers and functional efficiency of the good bacteria, leading to an enhanced state of health.
Today, one of the most exciting frontiers of medical research is trying to identify individual probiotic signatures. Each of us have a different “microbiome” or bacterial composition that makes up who we are.
This is affected by a mind boggling number of factors – from the first set of bacteria you got your mother when you came out through the birth canal (assuming natural birth), to whether you were breast fed, to how much you got to play in the dirt in your childhood to the food you ate, to how much antibiotics you consumed…you get the idea.
So, choosing a probiotic depends greatly on the constitution and your diagnosed condition.
While this ideally needs a practitioner to help you, we’ve put together most important thumb rules you need to use to get started.
Ensure that the probiotic has 6-8 non-competing strains of bacteria. Probiotics with too many strains of bacteria may pose a risk of overgrowth. The two most important kinds of probiotics are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. While the former lives in our large intestine, the latter lives in our small intestine. A good probiotic should contain 6-8 strains of these two put together.
Dr. David Perlmutter, neurologist, leading expert on probiotics and author of several
bestselling books on the subject, likes these five strains for their overall effectiveness:
The probiotics you find on shop shelves indicate a CFU number – this stands for ‘colony forming unit’, and indicates the number of live bacteria in a sample of the product. An ideal CFU number to look out for in a supplement is between 6 – 10 billion CFU each day (also written as 6 x 109 or 10 x 109)
Pick a product that ensures that (a) the bacteria are live when you buy them, meaning, they have been shipped and stored under proper refrigeration and are “viable through end of shelf life” (b) the product guarantees ‘delayed-rupture technology’, to protect probiotics from stomach acid and deliver it live to your intestine, where it needs to go.
We’re still learning about probiotics so going with the above rules of going with a broad-based 6-8 strain probiotic combination may be the best way to make a choice by yourself. However, if you’re suffering from certain specific problems, there are research studies that support the use of certain specific strains of bacteria.
The probiotic strain Saccharomyces boulardii may be helpful in preventing traveler’s diarrhea, which is usually a result of consuming contaminated food or water.
Streptococcus thermophiles, Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus bulgaricus produce the enzyme lactase that can help break down lactose. Absorbing it becomes possible for lactose intolerant folks.
Eczema, psoriasis, etc.: Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Lactobacillus fermentum have been studied to help those with skin conditions.
Saccharomyces boulardii has been shown in several studies to help prevent / cure diarrhea that happens when we take antibiotics.
So, don’t just go by your gut. Use this guide to get your probiotic journey started. Here’s wishing you happy shopping and a happy gut!