“To say a product contains Lactobacillus is like saying you’re bringing George Clooney to a party. It may be the actor, or it may be an 85-year-old guy from Atlanta who just happens to be named George Clooney. With probiotics, there are strain-to-strain differences.”
I’ve definitely noticed that there is a lot of new research is looking at probiotics and how they may be involved in helping with everything from stomach issues like IBS to improvements in stress management and strengthening the immune system. But is there any research to back these claims? Is there a difference between regular old yogurt and yogurt that is advertised as having special probiotic benefits?
Probiotics are living microorganisms (often bacteria but they can also be other types of microorganisms like yeasts) that are shown to have some sort of health benefits. I most often think of probiotics as being in yogurt, but they are also in all kinds of fermented foods like kefir, sauerkraut, miso, pickles, and kimchi (future posts on specific probiotic foods to come!). Probiotics can also be taken in a pill or powdered form as a supplement.
The American Gastroenterology Association provides a great comparison of different probiotic products specifically tested for gastrointestinal disorders. This is important because different strains of probiotics have been shown to be helpful for different conditions. It is also important to note that the FDA has not yet approved any health claims for probiotics.
SOME RULES OF THUMB FOR PICKING A PROBIOTIC
- In yogurt, look for the phrase “contains active cultures” on the label to confirm that the product includes the living organisms that make probiotics work. Lots of products, like pickles and sauerkraut, are pasteurized before being sold which kills the live bacteria. If the bacteria aren’t active, they can’t do their thing. (USA Today)
- Some of the common strains to look for include Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species such as: bifidobacterium lactis HN109; lactobacillus reuteri ATCC55730; lactobacillus rhamnosus GG9LGG; and lactobacillus casei DN-114 001. (USA Today )
- In general, not all probiotics are the same, and they don’t all work the same way. Each group of bacteria has different species and each species has different strains. This is important to remember because different strains have different benefits for different parts of your body. For example, Lactobacillus casei has been shown to support the immune system and to help food move through the gut, but Lactobacillus bulgaricus may help relieve symptoms of lactose intolerance. (American Gastroenterological Association)
- Beware of products that promise a specific health improvement. The Food and Drug Administration has not approved any specific health claims for probiotics. Many probiotic products are sold as dietary supplements, which do not require FDA approval prior to marketing (which also means the product hasn’t been tested by the FDA for safety or effectiveness). (NIH)
- Remember to store your probiotic according to the package instructions and make sure the product has a sell-by or expiration date. Probiotics are living organisms. Even if they are dried and dormant, like in a powder or capsule, they must be stored properly or they can die. Some require refrigeration whereas others do not. They also have a shelf-life, so make sure you use them before the expiration date on the package. (American Gastroenterological Association)
For more information on probiotics here are some great articles:
American Gastroenterological Association – Probiotics: What They Are and What They Can Do for You http://www.gastro.org/patient-center/diet-medications/probiotics#Choosing a Probiotic
American Gastroenterological Association – A Gastroenterologist’s Guide to Probioticshttp://www.cghjournal.org/article/S1542-3565(12)00369-2/fulltext#tbl2
NIH National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine – Oral Probiotics: An Introductionhttp://nccam.nih.gov/health/probiotics/introduction.htm