Taking the wrong probiotic is like taking pain killers to prevent pregnancy — it won’t work. Learn how science plays a vital role in your probiotic decision.
Probiotics are tiny but powerful organisms that, when taken appropriately, can oﬀer substantial health benefits. While many people believe probiotics are strictly for the gastrointestinal tract, scientific evidence asserts far-reaching and diverse benefits of probiotics that extend far beyond the gut.
Probiotics help impact the composition and diversity of the microbiome, modulate the immune system, impact systemic metabolic responses, improve the barrier function in the gut, and increase colonization to improve resistance against pathogens. These mighty microorganisms can be great allies in the fight against various infections caused by viruses and bacteria.
However, it’s important to note that the effects and benefits of probiotics are strain-specific and disease-specific. Taking the probiotic with the best-looking label or the best price doesn’t necessarily mean it will provide the best benefit for your specific need. Just as you would be wasting money on painkillers if you wanted to prevent pregnancy, you may be wasting your money if you don’t purchase the proper probiotic for the specific health issue you’re trying to resolve.
Just as you would be wasting money on painkillers if you wanted to prevent pregnancy, you may be wasting your money if you don’t purchase the proper probiotic for the specific health issue you’re trying to resolve.
Look for evidence before you purchase
Not all probiotics are created equal, nor is the science that validates their eﬀectiveness. There are many probiotic products on the shelves that make claims that aren’t substantiated by scientific evidence. This is confusing, frustrating, and unfair to consumers.
It’s also important to know that not everyone needs to be taking a probiotic supplement, at least not all the time. If you’re eating a balanced diet, including fermented foods, and are generally healthy, you shouldn’t need probiotics. However, in some situations such as the cold and flu season or when you’ve been prescribed an antibiotic, probiotics can be helpful.
We now know that specific probiotic strains may minimize the risk of developing common infectious diseases, shorten the duration of cold and flu, shorten the duration of upper respiratory tract infections, reduce the need for antibiotic use, and lower work or school absences. Clinical and experimental studies have shown that specific probiotic strains combat common respiratory viruses including influenza, rhinovirus, and respiratory syncytial virus.
Selecting the proper probiotic and taking it appropriately for the symptoms or condition you wish to relieve is imperative. Make sure you’re making informed choices. The Clinical Guide to Probiotic Products Available in Canada, developed by the Alliance for Education on Probiotics, provides a comprehensive summary of probiotic brands that have been reviewed and rated based on the scientific evidence available for specific probiotic strains.
What’s in a Name?
Everything! It is essential that the brand you select shows the unique name of the probiotic you need to use on the label. The name is a combination of three important elements – its genus, species, and strain. The strain is particularly important because it not only reflects physical characteristics of the probiotic but how it will act, interact, and react with your individual microbiome.
Essential Information on the Label
Probiotics are live cultures and are available as supplements or are added to products called functional foods. All products containing probiotics should have a label that clearly states the 3-part name of the probiotic, the dosage, the number of colony-forming units (CFUs), storage instructions and expiry date.