Let me begin by saying, I believe that the gut is the starting point for good health. Our gut plays a major role in coordinating our entire immune response. Maintaining a proper ratio of “good” versus “bad” microorganisms in our gut is paramount for good health. The “good” or friendly bacteria in our gut are called probiotics. Probiotics are responsible for several important biological functions such as aiding in digestion, keeping other harmful bacteria at bay, and stimulating the immune system. Our body is composed of over 100 trillion bacterial cells from over 500 species not including viruses and fungi. That number stresses the importance of probiotics and the role that they play in keeping our gastrointestinal (GI) system in balance.
- Aid in the digestive process
- Detoxify the colon
- Promote regular bowel movements
- Manufacture vitamins and essential fatty acids
- Produce natural antimicrobials to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and fungi
- Stimulate immune function
- Reduce reactions to food allergies
- Aid in the prevention of food borne illnesses
- Alleviate the severity of celiac disease
- Help maintain healthy cholesterol levels
- Prevent the formation of carcinogenic compounds in the colon
- Aid in weight loss
- Aid in the prevention of dermatologic conditions such as acne and eczema
Unfortunately, as we age many lifestyle factors disrupt the balance of friendly bacteria and lead to poor health. These factors include antibiotic use, certain medications like antacids and gastric acid inhibitors, a high fat-low fiber diet, traveling on a regular basis, and food and water contaminants (chlorine, pesticides, etc.). When a patient asks me to recommend one supplement that I consider integral to their health, probiotics are my answer. In fact, I recommend that every patient (pediatric to geriatric) take probiotics on a daily basis. With all of this being said, most of the food and supplements marketed as probiotics contain little to no health value according to researchers. There are a couple reasons for this. First, most probiotics are present in too small a quantity to offer any health benefits. Secondly, many probiotics haven’t undergone proper testing. In fact, the International Journal of Food Microbiology studied 55 probiotic products and not every product tested even contained the friendly bacteria. Out of 30 powdered probiotic supplements tested, more than one third contained NO bacteria at all. In addition, other bacteria were found in some products that were not listed on the label. Despite this evidence, companies continue to make claims that their products are effective and consumers continue to believe them. So, how can you be sure that the probiotics you purchase are what they say they are? Follow the guidelines below. These guidelines are not just for probiotics either. Every supplement that you use should follow these guidelines. Don’t let nutritional companies fool you into believing that all products are equal.
1) Check for GMP certified manufacturing.
a) Many companies claim good manufacturing practices (GMP), however, very few are actually certified. When choosing a company, look for certifications from the following organizations: National Products Association (NPA), National Sanitation Foundation (NSF), and the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). The more certifications a company has the better you can rest assured that you’re getting what you pay for!
2) Check for purity of ingredients.
a) Make sure every raw ingredient is tested for safety, quality, and efficacy. Even if a company uses good manufacturing practices, the raw ingredients they receive may not be tested for effectiveness. Make sure that the ingredients your company uses are tested for what they say they do.
3) Check for safety reviewed ingredients.
a) Make sure the ingredients that are used have been thoroughly researched and documented in literature for its safety as a nutritional supplement.
4) Check for human clinical evaluations.
a) The only way to know if a product is effective is to see how it works in real patients. Make sure clinical trials have been published in respected peer reviewed journals.
5) Research the company’s scientific staff and facilities.