Guidelines to Choosing a Good Probiotic

Winter Farmer's MarketAs we all know the supplement industry is run by greed and money almost to the same degree as the pharmaceutical industry (if that’s possible). I personally believe that we can get everything we need from our food, but at times we may not be able to afford to buy all organic or from farmers markets, we may not have the strength of will to break all our addictions to coffee, sugar, processed foods, chocolate, alcohol or whatever it may be. We may be working overtime trying to make ends meet and pay the bills and not have time to learn how to make bone stock, yogurt, kombucha, sauerkraut and everything else. So I do appreciate that at times it is necessary to use supplements. But be warned if you do so there is a whole lot of products out there that won’t do what they say, and are packaged brightly to tempt you to throw your money at them. I spent time working for a multi-level marketing company (EQUINOX) that sold herb and supplements for a very high price–I ended up totally bankrupt from that venture–this may be part of why I have nearly as much resistance to the supplement industry as I do to the pharmaceutical industry. I much prefer, as do most of us, to use herbal teas, cod liver oil, berries, sauerkraut and yogurt than popping a unknown pill.

In the case of probiotics, eating homemade yogurt and sauerkraut or other lacto-fermented veggies with every meal actually can get the helpful gut flora growing throughout the GI tract faster than a capsule. The fermented vegetables will reach further down into the intestinal tract (which is very, very long) than most supplements can. But for those of you who feel you need an extra probiotic boost, I just want to share these guidelines from Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride’s book Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) on how to choose a quality probiotic. But before you go and spend a whole lot of money on them, please read this article.

“Many brands of probiotics on the market do not have bacterial species listed on the label or do not have claimed bacterial strength….

First of all it always makes sense to work with a qualified practitioner with experience using probiotics, but if you are trying to chose a probiotic yourself, then there are some general guidelines to follow:

  1. A good probiotic should have as many different species of beneficial bacteria as possible. A human gut contains hundreds of known species of different bacteria. We should try to get as close to that as we can. Different species of probiotic bacteria have different strengths and weaknesses. If we have a mixture of them then we have a better chance of deriving maximum benefit.
  2. A mixture of strains from different groups of probiotic bacteria is more beneficial than just one group. For example, many probiotics on the market contain just Lactobacilli. A combination of representatives from the three main groups: Lactobacilli, Bifidobacteria and soil bacteria (Bacillus subtilis) usually works best.
  3. A good probiotic should have a concentrated amount of bacteria: at least 8 billion of bacterial cells per gram. You need to provide probiotic bacteria in large enough doses to see an improvement.
  4. The manufacturer of the probiotic should test every batch for strength and bacterial composition and should be prepared to publish the results of testing.

Once you have found a good probiotic, you need to know how to use it. A good therapeutic strength probiotic will always produce a so-called “die-off reaction”. What is it? As you introduce probiotic bacteria into a digestive system, they start destroying pathogenic bacteria, viruses and fungi. When these pathogens die they release toxins. These are toxins which make your patient autistic or schizophrenic or hyperactive. So, whatever characteristic symptoms the patient has may temporarily get worse. Your patient may also feel more tired than usual, generally “off-color” or develop a skin rash. It is a temporary reaction and usually lasts from a few days to a few weeks in different individuals. To make this reaction as mild as possible, build the dose of your probiotic slowly.

Start with a very small amount. Observe the patient for any “die-off” symptoms. If there are none then increase the dose. When you see a reaction, let your patient settle on this dose until the “die-off” symptoms disappear. Then increase the dose again. Keep increasing the dose in this manner until a therapeutic level is reached. The period of building up the dose can take from a few weeks to a few months in different patients.

The therapeutic dose level of probiotics is individual. Here are some general guidelines:

  • An adult should have around 15-20 billion bacterial cells per day.
  • An infant up to 12 months of age can have 1-2 billion bacterial cells per day.
  • A toddler from 1-2 years old can have 2-4 billion bacterial cells per day.
  • A child from 2-4 years old can have 4-8 billion bacterial cells per day.
  • A child from 4-10 years can have 8-12 billion bacterial cells per day.
  • From the age of 12-16 we can increase the dose to 12-15 billion per day.

Once the patient has reached the therapeutic dose level it should be maintained for around six months on average. It takes at least this length of time to remove the pathogenic flora and start re-establishing normal gut flora. Adhering to the diet is absolutely essential in this period. If you carry on feeding your pathogens in the gut with sugar and processed carbohydrates then the probiotic will not have much chance of helping you.” -p 170-171

Once you have re-grown the helpful microflora in your gut you still need to continue to eat fermented foods. Humans were designed to have these helpful bacteria every day in every mouthful of food or drink that we put into our bodies. In places like Korea families traditionally made kimchi that was passed down from mother to daughter through generations. Traditionally, certain strains of bacteria would have been cultured by these families creating a symbiotic relationship between the bacteria and the humans which allowed for optimum functioning of a healthy intestine, which is key to a well balanced emotional system, among other things.

Some Probiotic Micro-organisms:

  • Lactobacilli. A large family, which produce lactic acid. Found in large numbers in breast milk.
  • Bifidobacteria: About 30 species in this family have been identified. These bacteria are most numerous in the bowel, lower intestines and reproduction areas. They produce antibiotic-like substances and help nourish the body by synthesising B vitamins, amino acids, vitamin K, iron and vitamin D among other things.
  • Saccharomyces boulardii: A yeast which can be used as an antagonist to the pathogenic Candida albicans (found on lychee originally).
  • Escherichia coli (E. coli): This is a very large family of bacteria which includes pathogenic members which cause serious havoc and even death. The physiological strains of E. coli are normal and usually occupy the bowel and lower intestines and should not be found anywhere else. They also digest lactose, produce vitamins (K and B), produce colicins and powerfully stimulate the local and systemic immunity. They are very active against pathogenic microbes including pathogenic members of their own family. (I wish I had known this when I got typhoid-caused by E. coli). Mutaflor contains the physiological strains of E. coli and was created by Alfred Nissle when he discovered that people with this strain in their stool didn’t get typhoid.
  • Enterococcus Faecium or Streptococcus faecalis: Normally live in the bowel and control pathogens by producing hydrogen peroxide.
  • Bacillus subtilis (soil bacteria): Used to protect German troops from dysentery and typhoid during WWII. Strong immune-stimulating properties and considered particularly effective with allergies and autoimmune disorders. They are transitional microbes which do not colonise our gut. They are great at breaking down rotting matter and clearing out the gut.

Summarized from page 167-169 of Dr. Campbell-McBride’s book.

More information on home-made probiotics: yogurt, kombucha, sauerkraut, kefir and what to look for and what to avoid in probiotic supplements.

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