How to find the right probiotic for you

Probiotics have gotten quite a bit of attention lately. They are showing up in a lot of items, articles, and posts (this one included). And there is good reason for it: The science on probiotics is finally catching up with what our bodies have known for centuries.

But before I dive into that science, let’s back the train up for those of you who are unfamiliar with or relatively new to the world of probiotics.

What are probiotics: Probiotics are consumable bacteria that can provide health benefits to those who regularly ingest them. Probiotics are typically consumed through fermented food or by way of a supplement, and they stay in our system for a short period of time (compared to the resident bacteria that make up our microbiota). There are multiple strands and strains of probiotics, and evidence suggests almost all natural occurring varieties are beneficial for the body.

Who should use probiotics: Probiotics are recommended for almost anyone, but particularly for folks who have recently completed a round of antibiotics as these friendly bacteria are integral to fortifying our immune system.

Why should one take probiotics: Studies show that probiotics can help the body protect itself from invading pathogens. And if that isn’t enough reason to consume probiotics, studies also show that regular consumption of these bacteria improve digestion, guard against disease, and aid weight loss.

Sauerkraut is a delicious probiotic that adds a kick of flavor to any salad or bowl. 

Sauerkraut is a delicious probiotic that adds a kick of flavor to any salad or bowl. 

So, yea, probiotics are a pretty good thing to add into your diet. You want to consume them often and you want a variety in your system. But how do you know which probiotics to take and how much to take in? This is where the science is catching up – and it is particularly fascinating to yours truly. You see, the science on probiotics indicates that people who regularly ingest them are generally healthier than those who do not. It also suggests that consistent consumption of probiotics can improve one’s overall vitality. However, despite all the research, scientists are unable to definitively state which probiotics are most beneficial to the gut.

This may be shocking to some people, but this scientific outcome (or lack their of) actually makes a lot of sense. Think about it. Our bodies are unique. So, naturally, the bacteria you need to flourish (pun intended) is unique to you. This is why (despite the claims out there) there is no scientific evidence to proclaim one particular type or strand of probiotic can improve everyone’s health. Different people need different probiotics. It's that simple. 

For those of you reading this, the question then becomes, how do you find the right probiotics for you? Great question. Luckily, the formula is fairly simple: Eat more whole foods, consume probiotics often, and listen to your body. The first step is pretty straight forward. Eat more greens, fruits, quality proteins, and whole grains. This will ensure you’re feeding the probiotics the fuel they need to do their jobs. As for the latter two steps, here’s some tips:

Consume probiotics often: It’s up to you to decide how you want to consume probiotics, but I recommend getting them through fermented foods, like sauerkraut, kombucha, and miso. Because probiotics are not considered drugs by the FDA, they do not have to not need their approval for sale. That means companies who create probiotics do not necessarily need to show the supplement’s effectiveness to sell it. That being said, there are good probiotic supplements out there. If you're interested in one, talk to your local health food store or visit Labdoor to assess which probiotic is best for you. For a list of some of the best natural probiotics, read Dr. Axe’s “13 Great Probiotic Foods You Should Be Eating”.

Listen to your body: This one may seem a bit trickier than just eating fermented foods or taking a supplement, but it can be done. In fact, you do it often. Have you ever gotten a craving for a banana or for tacos or for some water? Of course you have. You get those calls when your body needs something. And it usually needs what it calls for (with the exception of sugar, which is discussion for another time) because your insides are lacking a certain item. Start heeding these craving calls and you will, ultimately, eat the foods that best feed the probiotics you’re ingesting, and, thus maximize their ability to defend, treat, and build your immune and digestive system.

That was a lot, but the science around probiotics can be a complicated. But you don't need to make it complicated. Just work on upping your probiotic intake and eating more healthy food to amplify their benefits. Your body will take care of the rest.

If you want to learn more about your microbiota and probiotics, grab The Good Gut. And if you liked this post and want more like it, sign up for the Erica Ballard Health Newsletter.