2018-03-01 14:28:30 UTC

Probiotics 103: Choosing the Right Probiotics

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Probiotics have been around for many years. Now, there are so many to choose from it can be hard to figure out which are right for you. Scientists and doctors say more studies are needed to figure out which probiotics are helpful and which might be a waste of money.

In general, not all probiotics are the same, and they don’t all work the same way. Each group of bacteria has different species, and each species has different strains. This is important to remember, because different strains from the same species may have different impacts on different parts of your body. For example, consider the species E. coli and the strains that come from it: Nissle are probiotics and can help the body, while other strains (e.g., 0157:H7) are pathogens and can harm the body. 

Keep in mind that probiotics are considered dietary supplements and are not FDA-regulated like medicines. They are made in different ways by different companies. How well a probiotic works may differ from brand to brand and even from batch to batch within the same brand. 

Probiotics also vary in cost. Higher cost does not always mean higher quality or performance. 

Side effects may vary, too. The most common are gas and bloating. These are usually mild and don’t last long. More serious side effects include allergic reactions, either to the probiotics themselves or to other ingredients in the products. In people with a weak immune system, they could possibly cause an infection.

Probiotics can be bought from your supermarket, pharmacy or health food store, as well as on the Internet. Not all claims made on labels are true, so talk to a health care professional for more advice.

Here are some tips to help you choose:

1. Check the label.

  • For the most part, the more information on the label, the better. 
  • The label should tell you the probiotic’s group, species and strain, and how many of the microorganisms will still be alive on the use-by date. More number or type of bacteria does not mean they are more effective.
  • Although some products guarantee how many organisms were present at the time it was manufactured, often it is less clear how many organisms are present when these products are actually taken.

 2. Call the company.

  • Unfortunately, many labels don’t say exactly which strain is in the product; many list only the group and the species, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus or Bifidobacterium lactis
  • If you’re planning to take a probiotic for a specific condition, call the company, and find out exactly which strains it uses and what research it has done to support its health claims. You may be able to find this information on its website, as well.

3. Beware of the Internet.

  • If you order products from the Internet, make sure you know the company from which you are ordering.
  • There are scammers out there who are willing to send you fake products labeled as probiotics. At best, the ingredients could be harmless, like garlic powder. At worst, they could be laced with powerful herbs, prescription medications or illegal drugs. Some companies may simply take your money and disappear.

 4. Stick to well-established companies and companies you know.

  • The longer a company has been around, the more likely its products have been tested and studied. 
  • Some places that have been making products with probiotics for a while are:
    • Attune Foods.
    • Bicodex.
    • BioGaia.
    • Culturelle.
    • Dannon.
    • General Mills.
    • Kraft.
    • Nestle.
    • Procter & Gamble.
    • VSL Pharmaceuticals.
    • Yakult.

The best tip for choosing the right probiotic is to talk to your doctor. 

Storing Probiotics

  • Remember to store your probiotic according to how it says on the package. Make sure the product has a sell-by or expiration date. Probiotics are living organisms. 
  • Even if they are dried and dormant, like in a powder or capsule, they must be stored the right way, or they will not be helpful.
  • Some require refrigeration, but others do not. 
  • They also have a shelf-life, so make sure you use them before the expiration date on the package.

©AGA, July 2016

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