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Best Probiotic For Gut Health: 4 Things You Should Look For

If you’ve ever browsed online or in-store for probiotics, you’ve probably noticed there are literally thousands of different probiotic supplements to choose from. From Acidophilus this to Bifidobacterium that - not to mention all the different doses and delivery mechanisms - it can feel like you’re reading some sort of Ancient Elvish shopping list from Middle Earth. But don’t worry, because in this article, we're going to explain exactly how to pick the best probiotic for you.

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    I’m excited to run through the top 4 things to look for in a probiotic supplement. My goal for you is that by the end of this article, you’ll finally know how to compare probiotics and choose the best one for your needs.

    But just before we get started, I wanted to mention something really important. You see, at Essential Stacks, we sell digestive health supplements, including probiotics. So to make this article really useful and unbiased for you, I won’t be mentioning the names of any of our products. Instead, this is a 100% pitch-free guide to probiotics. Let’s go!

    1. Which probiotic strains are best for you?

    So the first thing you need to work out when looking at probiotics, is which strains are best for you. And that’s because just like the Ocean's Eleven team, different probiotic strains have different super powers. And just before we look at some examples of how they differ, let’s bring up a table so you can see all the most popular probiotic strains in one glance.

    Lactobacillus

    Bifidobacterium

    Bacillus

    Lactococcus

    Streptococcus

    Saccharomyces

    Acidophilus

    Animalis

    Clausii

    Lactis

    Thermophilus

    Cerevisiae, incl Boulardii

    Casei

    Bifidum

    Coagulans

    Gasseri

    Breve

    Subtilis

    Lactis

    Infantis

    Paracasei

    Lactis

    Plantarum

    Longum

    Reuteri

    Rhamnosus

    Salivarius

    So most probiotic supplements made today use strains from these 6 different families of good bacteria. You’ve probably heard of a few of them, such as Lactobacillus Acidophilus. While the others may sound like something out of a Stephen King novel…I’m looking at you Bacillus Subtilis!

    The good news is all you need to know right now, is they each have different super powers. And to make this easy to understand, let’s look at 2 quick examples.

    • So something like Saccharomyces Boulardii - its superpower is that it can help stop diarrhea, especially when caused by antibiotics or eating adventurous food on holidays (hello travelers diarrhea)!
    • Meanwhile, a probiotic strain like Lactobacillus Plantarum - specifically the 299v version - its superpower is that it can be really helpful for people with IBS. In particular, it can help relieve abdominal pain and bloating.

    So the big takeaway here is that if you want to take a probiotic for a specific gut health goal, then you will usually want to select individual strains that have been clinically studied to help this goal.

    And I’ll be honest, this is really hard to do, because you need to wade through thousands of research papers. But fear not, because as always the research team at Essential Stacks has got you.  And we actually created a free Probiotic Strains Comparison Tool. And in it we run through all the different digestive health issues and show you which individual probiotic strains have been studied to help.

    Now with all of that said, for most of us the reason we want to take a probiotic supplement is to support our overall gut health. Meaning, we want to increase levels of good bacteria in our gut, so that we can digest food better, support beautiful bowel movements, encourage a healthy intestinal wall and of course crowd out the bad bacteria, so they can’t cause problems in our GI tract.

    In other words, we’re looking to take a probiotic with a broad array of benefits. Kind of like a multivitamin for the gut!

    And if that’s you, then the number one thing you want to look for when it comes to strains is a diverse range of them. Meaning, instead of a probiotic with just 1 or 2 strains, you will want to find one with a team of 10-12 different strains - just like what Danny Ocean did in Ocean's Eleven!

    2. How many probiotics per serve?

    So the next question is how many probiotics do you want per serve? And I know this can be really confusing, since you’ve probably seen some probiotic supplements offering 1 billion colony forming units or CFUs for short while others offer 10, 50 or even 500 billion CFUs per serve.

    Well, this once again depends on what your goal is. And to make this easy to understand our research team put together a quick comparison table, which I’ll walk you through now.

    Probiotic CFUs

    Goal

    Example

    1-10 billion CFUs

    Suitable for individual strain probiotics

    E.g. L Plantarum 299v 10 billion CFUs

    10-25 billion CFUs

    Ideal for multi strain probiotics for moderate general gut support 

    E.g. 8 strain probiotic 20 billion CFUs

    30-50 billion CFUs

    Ideal for multi strain probiotics for advanced general gut support 

    E.g. 10 strain probiotic 50 billion CFUs

    100-500 billion CFUs

    Ideal for medical probiotics - specialized support

    E.g. 450 billion probiotic for Ulcerative Colitis

    So first up, the 1 to 10 billion CFUs per serve range. This is ideal when you’re taking a single strain probiotic. For example, L Plantarum 299v. And the exact CFU amount you’ll want will depend on what studies have shown works best for that strain and your specific health goal. As an example, L Plantarum 299v has been shown to work for IBS at the 10 billion CFU dose, so that is the amount you would want to see per serve.

    Okay, now let’s look at the 10 to 25 billion CFU range. This is ideal for multi strain probiotics aimed at moderate general gut support. In other words, the perfect daily probiotic for a healthy individual looking to support the balance of good bacteria in their gut. And a good example of this would be an 8 strain probiotic, with 20 billion CFUs per serve.

    But if you find your gut is in need of a bit of extra care, especially in regards to digestion, bowel movements and even bloating, then you might want to go to the next level and look at probiotic supplements in the 30 to 50 billion CFU range. These offer what we would call advanced general gut support. You’ll find these not only have more good bacteria, but also from a wider range of probiotic strains. Usually around the 10 to 12 mark. And of course, that means there are more superheroes to help out throughout your GI tract.

    Finally, there is the 100 to 500 billion CFU range of probiotics. And these are powerfully dosed probiotics, designed for specialized gut support. Often they target more serious gut health issues and so we like to think of them as more like a medical-grade probiotic. A great example of this…is a 450 billion CFU probiotic targeted at ulcerative colitis support. For most people though, these probiotics are going to be too strong and rather unnecessary for meeting their goals.

    3. Is the probiotic guaranteed to expiry?

    The next big thing to look for is whether a probiotic supplement guarantees the amount of probiotics or CFUs all the way through to expiry or best by date. And here’s why this is important...

    • So first of all, as you probably know, probiotics are living organisms. Which means they die slowly over time.
    • And between the time the probiotic is manufactured, shipped, stored and then sold to you, some of the beneficial bacteria may have already died and gone to little probiotic heaven.
    • Meaning you are not getting the dose you think you are. And just as importantly, you are not getting what it says on the label.

    So here’s how you can make sure you are getting what you pay for…

    1. First, look at the Supplement Facts table of your probiotic supplement. Find the CFU count.
    2. It will usually have an asterix or other symbol next to it, which signals there is more info about this on the label.
    3. Find that text on the label and see if it says Guaranteed to expiry or something like Formulated potency to best by date. If it does, you’re all good and will be enjoying all the probiotics you paid for.
    4. But if it doesn’t say this, and instead says something like At time of manufacture, then you should think about avoiding it as you really have no idea how many probiotics you’re actually getting by the time you take it.
    5. The only exception to this, would be some single strain probiotics that contain hardy strains like S Boulardii, which are well known for surviving throughout their shelf life… INTACT. And these exceptions are mentioned in our Probiotic Strains Comparison Tool we mentioned earlier.

    4. Will the probiotic survive my stomach?

    The final thing you want to look for, is whether your probiotic supplement has been designed to survive the journey through your stomach. You see, it turns out that our stomachs filled as they are with highly acidic juices, can be a death pit for good bacteria - like Mordor for poor little Frodo and Sam!

    So here’s the easiest way to know if your probiotics will actually get to where they’re needed, being your intestinal tract.

    • First up, look at which strains are in the probiotic. For example, strains like B Coagulans and S boulardii are what we call ‘acid resistant’ strains. Meaning they can survive your acidic stomach. And we cover all of these in our comparison tool mentioned earlier.
    • Meanwhile, other strains may have a tougher time surviving your stomach. And for these strains you have 2 options.
      • First up, you can choose a probiotic supplement that uses special capsules that protect the probiotics as they go through the stomach. If you look on the label of probiotics using this technology, you should see one of these terms: either enteric coated capsules, time release capsules, delayed release capsules or “DR capsules” for short. And you can basically think of these capsules like mini protective space shuttles, able to transport your little probiotic superheroes safely to their destination.
      • Alternatively, if you find a probiotic and it doesn’t have this protective technology, then you’ll need to be careful. Basically, you need to pay special attention to when you take your probiotic, as well as what type of meal you take it with. It can actually get quite complicated, which is why we wrote a separate article on When to take a probiotic.

    5. What else matters when picking a probiotic?

    As you’ve seen, there are quite a few things to look for when choosing the right probiotic for your needs. And while we’ve covered the 4 main things to look for, there are quite a few other questions you should be asking…

    • For example, should my probiotic contain a prebiotic or not?
    • Or how do I know if it is free of allergens like gluten, dairy and soy?
    • And even - what about refrigeration…does my probiotic need to be shipped and stored cold?
    Well, for answers to all of these other questions, checkout our in-depth Guide to Probiotics, which we’ve published on our website.

    Evidence Based

    An evidence hierarchy is followed to ensure conclusions are formed off of the most up-to-date and well-designed studies available. We aim to reference studies conducted within the past five years when possible.

    • Systematic review or meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials
    • Randomized controlled trials
    • Controlled trials without randomization
    • Case-control (retrospective) and cohort (prospective) studies
    • A systematic review of descriptive, qualitative, or mixed-method studies
    • A single descriptive, qualitative, or mixed-method study
    • Studies without controls, case reports, and case series
    • Animal research
    • In vitro research

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