Sometimes people get confused between probiotics and digestive enzymes. Today I will talk a bit about probiotics.

Probiotics are good bacteria that naturally occurs in the gut. We take these as supplements to help rebalance the ratio of beneficial-to-bad bacteria in the gut microbiome and encourage helpful microbes to flourish and proliferate, while reducing the number of unhelpful microbes in the gut.

When the microbiome is unbalanced, it can affect digestion, moods, mental health, immune health, and even brain function.

For probiotics to do their job, we must optimize the conditions for the “good” bacteria to settle in and reproduce.

This starts with nourishing the microbiome with real food.

If we eat processed foods or foods with added sugars and chemicals we nourish the potentially pathogenic bacteria in our guts. As these multiply, they crowd out the beneficial bacteria. Bad bugs love sugar in all its forms.

However, pathogenic bacteria can’t thrive on high-fiber, organic vegetables, healthy fats like avocado and coconut oil, and good quality proteins. These foods feed the beneficial bacteria in our gut. Real, unprocessed food without added sugars, artificial sweeteners or preservatives supports the growth of good, beneficial bacteria in the microbiome.

What is the best way to get good microbes into our systems?

Many people think they have this covered because they eat plenty of yogurt. Yogurt is probably the least effective way to influence your gut microbiome unless it is homemade from raw milk from an organic grass fed cow.

The majority of the yogurt sold at the grocery store is made from factory farmed, pasteurized, homogenized milk that may contain genetically bioengineered hormones that are injected into dairy cows to boost milk production.

Pasteurization uses high temperatures to destroy bacteria present in the milk. If the manufacturer has added the probiotics before pasteurization, which is necessary for fermentation, there will be no live cultures left in the finished product. If probiotics are added after heat treatment, you have a better chance of receiving some live cultures.

Commercial yogurts also typically contain lots of sugar or artificial sweeteners. Because sugar feeds pathogenic bacteria, eating sweetened yogurt most likely cancels out any potential benefits from the small amount of probiotics it may contain. This applies equally to most of the non-dairy “yogurts” out there. That is why I invented my recipe for coconut cream kefir which is part of my Wellness Program. You know the probiotics in it are live, otherwise it doesn’t ferment and just smells bad!

What about antibiotics?

If you have to take an antibiotic or give one to your child, don’t wait until you finish the full course before starting probiotics. It is true that the antibiotics will kill good bacteria as well but research has shown that you can help replenish your microbiome’s beneficial bacteria by taking a probiotic supplement during the course of treatment. Just be sure to take it a few hours before, or several hours after the antibiotic. Eat lots of veggies and go easy on the wine and simple carbs. Be sure to continue supplementing with probiotics after completing the course of antibiotics.

Things to look for in a Probiotic:

  • Make sure to buy a reputable brand that you can trust.
  • Look for a potency count (CFUs or “colony forming units”) of 30 billion or higher. That’s how many microbes you will receive per dose.
  • Check the shelf life so you know how long the CFUs will retain their viability.
  • Most probiotics are best refrigerated. The kefir starter I recommend goes bad out of the fridge quite quickly so most probiotic capsules probably do as well.
  • Look for a product with multiple strains of bacteria. We do not know which ones are in short supply so it is best to cover the bases.

Some valuable strains include Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus plantarum that reside in the small intestine and Bifidobacterium lactis, Bifidobacterium longum, and Bifidobacterium bifidum that reside in the large intestine.

Probiotics have helped many people with flatulence, heartburn and GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease) and many people swear by them for preventing colds and flu. I truly believe they can help improve moods as well. It is doubtful that taking them for a limited time can change the make-up of the gut permanently. Diet is crucial and so is limiting stress for a healthy microbiome. Try taking them for a few months, perhaps until you have tried 2 or 3 bottles of different brands, and see how you feel.