Digestive Problems

Your Guide to Finding the Best Probiotic to Suit Your Needs

Date: 16 June, 2011
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Last week we told you about the draconian European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), who’s been rejecting almost all the health claims submitted for probiotic products out of hand…despite mounting studies confirming their numerous health benefits.

The most recent probiotic rejection by the EFSA involved a gut health research dossier submitted by the company Valio, a probiotic manufacturer. Their dossier was based on the Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (LGG) probiotic strain and it included 600 published studies, 38 doctoral dissertations, and about 50 immune-specific studies.

Despite all the evidence, the EFSA maintained that the numerous studies failed to demonstrate the health benefits of this particular probiotic strain! They also said that Valio cannot make any immune protection claims for their probiotic, since some of the studies were conducted on people suffering from diarrhoea and not on healthy people!

Making up your own mind

To date, the EFSA has refused almost 90 per cent of all the health claims submitted for natural remedies and supplements…despite the fact that the majority of the rejected claims were all backed by sound scientific studies… Left to the EFSA, our health and wellbeing is certainly not in good hands… so it’s time to make up our own minds.

It’s true that a vast amount of probiotic supplements have flooded the market in recent years. All of these boast new, exciting ingredients and bacterial strains to help improve your gut health and strengthen your immunity.

The key to making sure that you are taking the best possible probiotic is to find out whether its claimed benefits are backed by ample research.

Below is a guide, taken from the writings of Dr Georges Mouton (an internationally renowned gastroenterologist), to help you sort the premium probiotics from the mediocre ones.

The following tips can help you find a good probiotic

1. Different probiotic strains: Probiotics have different genus, species and strains with a diverse range of properties and benefits for the person taking them. The best probiotic supplements acknowledge this and apply specific strains to target specific health conditions. For example, the Saccharomyces boulardii strain will help with diarrhoea and the Lactobacilli strains can help those taking antibiotics. When it comes to probiotics, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’, because we all have varying needs and a different bacterial make-up in our digestive tracks.

2. It’s all in the research: It’s important that the probiotic you choose lists the individual probiotic ‘strain’ names, because the health benefits of probiotics are species- and strain-specific. For instance:

Lactobacillus = genus
acidophilus = species
NCFM® = strain

When you have the actual probiotic strain name (and not just the genus and species), you should be able to Google it and see a list of clinical trials which have successfully proven the benefits of that specific strain.

3. Quality control: As well as being scientifically tested for specific health conditions, probiotic strains should all pass the following criteria to help guarantee their effectiveness:

    * Ability to survive at room temperature (even refrigerated probiotics need to be stable whilst away from the fridge)

    * Ability to resist gastric acidity & biliary salts (so that they survive their journey to your gut, where they get to work)

    * Ability to stick to the intestinal wall (it is only then that probiotics can multiply in the gut)

    * Ability to inhibit pathogens once in the intestines

In-vitro testing (testing for safety in humans) should be carried out on probiotics to make sure they can pass these essential criteria. Again, these tests are carried out on probiotic strains themselves, and not just the genus and species.

4. Strength in numbers: A good, strong probiotic should have at least 1 billion microorganisms per daily dose… anything less would have a limited effect. To put things in perspective, the human body is home to over 100 trillion bacteria. So, even children need billions of good bacteria in supplements to reap their benefits. But there’s no point in taking a probiotic with a high number of ‘friendly’ bacteria if it is of poor quality.

5. Time of manufacture guarantee: Probiotics are of a delicate nature. Whether they are kept in the fridge or on the shelf probiotics will lose viability. This means that ‘billions count at the time of manufacture’ will decrease with time. Therefore high quality probiotics should be made with plenty more billions than what is stated on the pack. Always opt for a billions count which is viable until the time of expiry.

6. Too much of a good thing: In general, it is good to take a number of different probiotic strains. However, a high quality multi-strain probiotic will contain 5 or 6 different probiotic strains, and not 20. Too many probiotic strains have been shown to ‘cannibalise’ each other within the capsule. Make sure your probiotic supplement has been tested to ensure that the different strains used can survive together in harmony!

7. The importance of prebiotics: Prebiotics like Fructooligosaccharides have been shown to stimulate the growth of probiotics in the body. Therefore, it may be a good idea to consider a synbiotic supplement with both probiotics and prebiotics in one supplement. The effects of synbiotics can be longer lasting, giving you more health benefits.

8. Beware of additives: This might be stating the obvious, but make sure there are no added sugars, colourings or flavourings in your probiotic (especially in those aimed at children) to make them more appealing.

9. Value for money: Look out for manufacturing packaging tricks, like ‘billions per gram’ as opposed to ‘per capsule’. A typical probiotic capsule is roughly 250mg so listing billions per gram can mislead people into thinking it is a much higher dose than it actually is in reality. Other tricks to look out for include small pack sizes and high daily dosages. A simple way to compare the value of probiotics is by dividing the retail price by the course length, and again by the billions count per capsule. When it comes to probiotics, you usually get what you pay for.

Digestive Health: Related Reading:

The Link Between Antibiotics and Gut Disorders

Treat Candida Successfully With Natural Remedies

Probiotics Could Provide Relief For Coeliac Disease Patients

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McFarland, L.V. & Bernasconi, P. (1993) ‘Saccharomyces boulardii : A review of an innovative biotherapeutic agent.’ Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease; VOl. 6. Pp. 157 – 171.

Hochter, W. et al (1990) ‘Saccharomyces boulardii in acute adult diarrhoea. Efficacy and tolerance of treatment.’ Munchener Medizinische Wochenschrift; Vol. 132 (12) pp. 188- 192.

Cetina-Sauri, G. & Basto, S. (1994) ‘Therapeutic evaluation of Saccharomyces boulardii in children with acute diarrhea. Annales de Pediatrei; Vol. 41 (6) pp. 397-400.

Dr Benes, Z. et al (2006) ‘Lacidofil (Lactobacillus acidophilus Rosell-52 and Lactobacillus rhamnosus Rosell-11) alleviates symptoms of IBS.’ Nutrafoods, Vol. 5 pp 20 – 27.

Vanderhoof, J.A. et al. (1999) ‘Lactobacillus rhamnosus (GG) in the prevention of antibiotic –associated diarrhea in children with respiratory infections: a randomised study. Pediatrics 1999; 104(5): e64.

EFSA Panel Members, ‘Scientific Opinion on the substatiation of health claims related to non characterised microorganisms pursuant to Article 13(1) of Regulation (EC) NO 1924/2006’ EFSA Journal 2009, (7):1247, pp. 64.

Chapman, C.M.C., et al., (2010) ‘Health Benefits of probiotics : are mixtures more effective than single strains ?’ European Journal of Nutrition; Vol 50 (1) pp.1-17.

Kumar et al. (2005) ‘Beneficial effects of probiotics & prebiotics on human health’ Pharmazie Vol. 60 (3) p. 163-171

Saavedra, J. & Tschernia, A. (2002) ‘Human studies with probiotics and prebiotics: clinical implications.’ British Journal of Nutrition, Volume 87 (6) Supplement s2, pp. 241 – 246.

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