Getting Proactive About Probiotics
I believe a well-made probiotic is a crucial part of a lifelong wellness strategy. So much so, I’ve named it one of my “Vital Five” nutrients--nutrients that almost all of us will benefit from, but are often lacking from even those with the best diets.
Some people see a clear need for probiotics: their guts are a hot mess. I know I fall into that category, and so do A LOT of us here in the US. A probiotic, along with other holistic good gut health practices, can turn that frown upside down.
Others are luckier, but I still feel that a probiotic should be a part of their daily regimen. Let’s look at all the reasons why!
“My gut’s great! Why do I need a probiotic?"
Wow… Are you bragging? Well, you should! Being lucky to have a healthy gut without much effort is really a gift.
Even if you fall into this select group, I still believe that people should increase their probiotic intake. My reason? We have to be proactive about probiotics.
Because of our ever-changing food quality, varied diets, stress levels, medicines, and supplements we eat, our gut is constantly under attack.
We discussed the microbiome with Cornell Professor Emeritus Rodney Dietert on our podcast By All Accounts, We’re Bugs. He said that seemingly benign things like living in a city or staying frequently at hotels can radically change your microbiome.
Since our gut lining is one of the primary defense mechanisms against infection, and a big chunk of our immune system is found in or around our gut, we want to keep up defenses.
A well-made probiotic is like the cavalry, rushing to rescue the front and reinforcing the “good guys” numbers.
I believe we should be calling in the cavalry even if we don’t have a problem today. There are too many variables at play and the role of the microbiome is so important. Since a well-made probiotic is not an excessive cost (usually no more than $1 per day), it’s a no-brainer.
What We Think Is Normal, Sometimes Isn't
As a practicing holistic pharmacist for over 15 years now, I’ve treated thousands of patients with “gut-gone-bad.” One thing that’s for certain is the definition of what constitutes a normal gut is all over the place. Everybody poops, but most people don’t do it regularly enough.
Many people can definitely optimize their gut health. Some who try a correctly made probiotic will notice an improvement from what they thought was normal.
As such, I’ve made probiotic use one of my “Four Pillars of Gut Health.”
While we may be good, we can always strive to be great. Especially with our GI tract.
Antibiotics Are A Given
Even if you opt out of regular probiotic use, you can’t hide from them forever.
You will probably need an antibiotic at some point. This is the time where using a probiotic is most essential.
We covered this in Gut Wars, but here’s the quick and dirty:
- A good probiotic will help decrease your risk of “superinfections” - a problem that happens because antibiotics kill off the good bacteria, or normal flora, of the gut
- Probiotics should be started right away - within 12-24 hours of your first antibiotic dose
- Probiotics should be continued for 5-10 days after completing the course, as the antibiotic activity persists for a short time after you take your last pill
- Probiotics shouldn’t be taken at the same time as your antibiotic - space the two apart by 2-4 hours.
In the spirit of prevention, we should always use a probiotic while on antibiotic therapy.
All Probiotics Are Not Equal
The supplement industry’s poor regulations lead to the Wild West of products we currently have. Most of the products we buy aren’t what we think or hope they are.
The probiotic market is where the industry shows its true colors. This is why I stress “well-made” so much when I talk about probiotics.
Not only do the products have to be manufactured correctly, but the probiotics themselves have to survive the whole process AND be able to colonize the gut to have an effect.
Numerous third-party tests of various brands over the years have shown no “reputable,” “trusted,” or regarded brand is safe.
Dr. Jessica ter Haar, PhD, was recently on our podcast The Pros of Probiotics. She’s a probiotic formulation consultant and currently the Science Director for the International Association of Probiotics. She and I reviewed all the things a customer needs to consider when buying a probiotic.
Here’s the quick guide to selecting a proper probiotic:
- Specific strains, specific benefits: Look for probiotics that have a first, middle, and last name, like Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG. Only by using specific strains in our probiotic can we know if we are matching our problem to the right solution.
- Evidence matters - get the right strains that are researched in humans based on actual evidence.
- Good dose - a high CFU (Colony-Forming Units) count is important. Avoid products that list the strength as weight (i.e. mg).
- More isn’t better - In ‘Mericuh bigger is better. Sometimes too many strains can cause problems. Plus, capsules aren’t clown cars; you can only fit so much inside them, and high strain count might mean small doses.
- Temperature stability - If a strain needs refrigeration, it should be kept cold through the entire supply chain, with short “excursions” permitted.
- Stay away from soil bacteria.
Remember, everything that we read--the label, the website, the flyer--is marketing. The only source of relative truth is on that Supplement Facts Panel. With a little practice, you can be a pro at identifying bad probiotics.
Probiotic Complete is Neal’s Favorite Probiotic
We make probiotics completely simple with Probiotic Complete. It is four of the most studied strains in special DR capsules and packaging to ensure potency through expiration. The strains are temperature stable, so no worry about refrigeration
Probiotics Are A Part Of A Great Gut Strategy
Other Good Gut Health Tips:
- Avoid inflammatory foods like processed or packaged foods
- Eat gut-healthy foods like healthy fats, dark leafy greens, and colorful fruits.
- Stay hydrated - most of us don’t drink nearly enough.
- Eat dietary fibers, including prebiotic-rich fruits and vegetables. Shoot for 25-30g daily.
- Consider specific prebiotic supplements for added support. We love arabinogalactan, found in our Prebio Complete.
The only way we can guarantee future success in our wellness strategy is to be prevention-minded. A true holistic mindset is focused on preventing disease wherever possible.
So even if your gut is good-to-go in your eyes today, there’s a good chance that something could change in the future.
If you take an antibiotic without a probiotic, you risk a severe GI infection called C. diff. Rice water stools and even STRONGER antibiotics are the result. That’s enough for me to take two probiotics a day.
Using a probiotic proactively at worst will be an extra pill to take, but at best could help support your gut and immune health, bringing you to a new, healthier normal you didn’t even know you needed.
You can and should use probiotics preventatively. You might even end up better than before!
Just trying to keep it real...
Neal Smoller, PharmD
Owner, Pharmacist, Big Mouth