Good Vs Ineffective Probiotics
Michael Larsen is the father of twins, one of whom was diagnosed with Autism in 2008. After implementing the Body Ecology diet along with plenty of young coconut water kefir their daughter, Tula, is now fully recovered and living a full and healthy life. Michael and his wife, Holly, founded the company Tula’s Coconut Kefir which also sells young coconut meat yogurt. (My gut says yum.) They also give workshops across North America on fermented foods and gut health.
What is The Best Probiotic? by Michael Larsen.
What qualities make a probiotic food, beverage or supplement more or less effective? Probiotics have gained much attention recently as beneficial and healthy – and for good reason. They can be very effective in boosting immune function, aiding digestion, and even alleviating the symptoms of many health conditions.
Understanding what makes a good probiotic versus an ineffective one will help you make wise choices that will benefit you and/or your family and your pocket book. There are effective ways to deliver probiotics and there are other, often more cost effective ways that provide little or no benefit to the end user. There are companies releasing products with probiotics in them that are simply less viable. So what do you need to know?
How do probiotics work?
Probiotics enter the body, travel to the lower portion of the gastrointestinal tract (the small and large intestine) and begin to colonize there. They live, reproduce, and die there. The surface area of the lower G.I. tract is roughly equivalent to the surface area of a tennis court.
This area represents the surface where friendly microflora extract and convert the foods we eat into nutrition the body’s various cells can use (we can’t do this on our own). Probiotics promote the growth of friendly microflora.
There is a concept in biological science called competitive inhibition. Simply put, bacteria, fungi (both good and bad) and pathogens compete with each other for a place to call home on our tennis court. Certain foods help give the competitive advantage to good bacteria, others, such as sugar and high-glycemic carbohydrates, give the advantage to the bad. Of course competitive advantage can also be gained by numbers. Covering your tennis court with large numbers of good bacteria gives the advantage to those species.
Another good way to think about your tennis court is to imagine it has grass growing over it. A healthy lawn is given food, water and nutrition that promotes the growth of grass – giving the advantage to the grass.
A good landscaper knows she must quickly plant grass seed on empty patches of soil or weeds may gain the advantage in that space and obtain a toehold in the lawn. She also knows if the lawn gets too dry or lacks the right nutrition, the weeds gain the advantage and begin to take over.
Our G.I. tract is a lawn inside us upon which we depend for our overall good health. This lawn provides us with nutrition (again we don’t process nutrition on our own). This lawn is also the front line of our immune defence. Probiotics promote a healthy lawn, sugar and carbs are weed food.
Why do we need them?
We’ve always needed them. When we are born, we pick up flora from our environment. During birth, they enter our nose and mouth as we pass through the birth canal. We get them from our mothers’ milk. We get them from putting things in our mouths. As we grow, we need to get them from our foods.
Why didn’t my great grandparents need probiotics?They did. They got theirs from their food. Live fermented foods where a more common part of meals in the past. Every culture in the world has/had them – sauerkraut, unsweetened yogurt, kefir, miso, kimchi, soured pickles, fish sauce, etc. Additionally, our great grandparents didn’t have an onslaught of pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, and other environmental toxins to deal with. All these give the competitive advantage to the weeds (yeast and pathogens).
Also, our great grandparents rarely ate out. They cooked almost every meal for themselves. They did not eat processed foods and the majority of their foods were prepared in a less-than-sterile kitchen. Modern food processors and restaurants maintain nearly sterile environments where no bacteria, good or bad, can get into the food supply. My great grandmother wasn’t afraid to eat an apple with a brown spot on it. She didn’t know that brown spot contained millions of friendly microbes for her gut. She simply viewed it as worthy of eating. It was. It is difficult to find an apple like that in today’s grocery stores. She got hers off the ground under the apple tree in the yard.
Colony Forming Units (CFU’s)
One of the most important measurements of the potential for a probiotic to colonize your “lawn” are cfu’s (Colony Forming Units). Large numbers of beneficial microbes gives the competitive advantage to the healthy microflora. The best probiotics will tell you how many cfu’s of viable probiotics their product contains either on the package or on their website.
Pay attention how these cfu’s are measured. Many probiotic food and supplement manufacturers list the number of cfu’s measured at the time of manufacture. This is not the correct time to be considering the efficacy of a probiotic. We care about how many live, active, bio-available cfu’s there are at the time of consumption. It doesn’t matter how many cells grew in a Petri dish test in the lab. What matters is how many are likely to thrive in our lawn – in our bodies.
A truly live, active probiotic food will have cfu counts that are changing. The product will literally be alive and will be going through a life cycle. When a product claims a single defined number of cfu’s, it is likely to be measured at the time of manufacture. Conversely, when a product lists a range for its cfu count, it is more likely to be alive and going through a life cycle, thus indicating the cfu’s are at the time of consumption. This is when it counts. A good indicator that your probiotic beverage is vigorously alive is the telltale “psssst” you’ll hear as you open the cap. This means the probiotics inside are alive and producing gases as they grow.
Can probiotics be pasteurized?
A pasteurized food or beverage will not contain live probiotics. The heat from the pasteurization process will kill all the good bacteria as well as the enzymes in the food (which also promote healthy flora). Look for raw probiotic foods.
Are pill probiotics effective?
Dried/pill-form probiotics cfu counts are typically measured at the time of manufacture. These are dormant cells that have been subjected to a heated spray-drying process. Many of these cells will come back to life upon ingestion into the body, but the exact number of viable cfu’s cannot be measured and it is reasonable to expect large numbers of them never colonize.
Do I need more than one strain of probiotic?
Recent scientific studies strongly suggest that multi-strain probiotics are more effective at promoting healthy flora. While single strain probiotics certainly provide some benefit, this is one area where it seems bio-diversity is a better approach. Look for probiotic products will multiple strains of beneficial bacteria.