Most of our immune system is in our guts, so we need a healthy and strong digestive system in order to get and stay well. Our bodies naturally contain hundreds of different bacterial species (around 2kg in an adult’s gut) which help break down food and keep the intestines healthy, but we can also benefit by consuming more probiotics, and not just after a course of antibiotics. I could write a hundred articles about probiotics, it is such a fascinating topic. Instead I’ll point you to a wonderful article by Dr. Joseph Mercola for a useful overview.
I have been asked many times which probiotic supplement I recommend, so I thought I would line a few of the big brands up and compare them. In some cases this proved difficult as they do not all provide the same information regarding their products and some use differing units of measurement. I need to be clear here – I am not a qualified health professional, nor am I a chemist, scientist, medical researcher or any such expert when it comes to probiotics. I am someone who is interested in health and nutrition, and it is through this pathway that I have come to understand the importance of probiotics.
Like some other living organisms, probiotics can be categorised according to genus, species and strain. Some health practitioners prescribe specific probiotic strains to target different health conditions. I have not compared strains (apart from number of), but it is fascinating when you start looking into what effect the various strains can have on a body. Some strains bind and flush out pathogens, some directly inhibit e-coli, and others can reduce the occurence of thrush and calm the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
The three popular brands I chose to compare are Ethical Nutrients Inner Health Plus, BioCeuticals UltraBiotic 45 and BioKult.
Number of bacteria. This is basically how potent each capsule is.
Inner Health Plus – 25 billion per capsule
BioCeuticals – 45 billion per capsule
BioKult – 10 billion per gram / 2 billion per capsule (this doesn’t seem right when compared to the others – anyone know something I don’t about this?)
Number of bacterial species.
Inner Health Plus – 2
BioCeuticals – 9
BioKult – ‘multispecies’ (amount not specified)
Number of strains of beneficial microbes. Anything more than 5 strains is considered full-spectrum and therefore most beneficial.
Inner Health Plus – 2
BioCeuticals – 9
BioKult – 14
Inclusion of prebiotic fibre. This is important to encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria in the large intestine. Most probiotics serve the small intestine well, so the inclusion of a prebiotic maximises the benefits. There is some caution to prebiotics, and that is that they also feed pathogens (the bad bacteria). As a side-note, sugar also feeds pathogens, which is just one more reason to limit it in your diet. If you have serious gut issues that you are working to heal, the inclusion of prebiotics in your probiotic supplement may cause some bloating or flatulence. This is why some of the more expensive and potent brands of probiotic supplements do not include a prebiotic.
Inner Health Plus – Yes
BioCeuticals – No
BioKult – No
Having considered that, it is useful to look at how we can consume probiotics naturally rather than synthetically. Dr Mercola had the following to say:
It’s unusual to find a probiotic supplement containing more than 10 billion colony-forming units. But when my team actually tested fermented vegetables produced by probiotic starter cultures, they had 10 trillion colony-forming units of bacteria. Literally, one serving of vegetables was equal to an entire bottle of a high potency probiotic! Fermented foods also give you a wider variety of beneficial bacteria, so all in all, it’s your most cost effective alternative.”
This is one of the driving reasons that I have been spending hours in my kitchen experimenting with sauerkraut, kefir, rejuvelac, raw yoghurt and so on. I aim to consume cultured / fermented food daily, and I also keep a jar of probiotic supplements in my fridge for days that I feel I need an extra boost or to give to my children when they are run-down or unwell.
I implore you to do your own research into probiotics and the important role they play in overall health as well as in assisting to heal specific conditions. There is a growing body of medical and scientific research confirming the value of what many traditional cultures have known and done with their food for generations, that is creating healthy gut flora.