If your doctor has ever prescribed an antibiotic, he also may have told you to eat yogurt or take a daily probiotic supplement along with it. There is good reason for that. Our digestive systems are home to trillions of bacteria, many of which we rely on to support our health. Sometimes, though, medicine you need to get rid of bacteria that makes you sick can also kill the friendly bacteria that keeps your digestive system in balance. That's where probiotics come into play.*
Visit any pharmacy, supermarket or online nutrition store and you’ll find an enormous selection of probiotic supplements. Turns out, not all friendly bacteria is created equal. So how do you choose the right formula for your particular needs?
Registered Dietitian Angela Pezzarossi, RD, LD suggests checking with your doctor first, “It’s best to check with your doctor who knows your medical history before picking a probiotic. For example, probiotics aren’t usually recommended for the dialysis population because they increase absorption of phosphorus and calcium. For a generally healthy person with no medical issues, a simple probiotic supplement like acidophilus is appropriate and inexpensive.”
Start by considering why you want a probiotic supplement. Personally, I started taking one after a full month of travel. I felt run down and exhausted, and altogether not well. Travel is hard on my gut (I call it travel-tummy), so I decided to try a probiotic. When I went to choose one, I was overwhelmed by the options.
Compare Your Needs to the Label Information
Labels are the best place to start searching for information. Look for supplements with “live and active cultures.” If you have specific dietary needs, like vegetarian or egg free, narrow your search to formulas that meet those needs.
Check the Dates
Next, check the viability, or use-by date. That’s the date that the bacteria are guaranteed to still be active. Always make sure the product has not expired. You also might notice that some labels note bacteria count "at time of manufacture." Be warned that these formulas may contain fewer bacteria than indicated on the label, as the number of viable cells is only guaranteed at the time the supplement was packaged.
Look for Strains and CFU Counts
Now, look at how many strains of bacteria are in a formula. The more strains included, the higher quality the supplement is generally considered to be. The same applies to the number of bacteria or CFU. For everyday, basic support, a formula with fewer strains and CFU may be sufficient for your needs. For maximum support, choose a formula with multiple strains and higher CFU count.*
Decide What Works for You
Lastly, choose what format is most appetizing to you. Powders can be easily mixed with other foods, and thereby hidden. Capsules are quick and easy to swallow. Liquids deliver the probiotics quickly, but most have a very short viability once you empty the pouch into the liquid. There’s no right or wrong— just be sure you can follow the dose instructions on the label.
For my travel-tummy, I used a liquid probiotic supplement that had to all be consumed within 12 hours. The next day, I started taking probiotic capsules every morning to support my overall health. This combination worked well for me, but I personally prefer quickly swallowing a couple of capsules, like VitaCost Probiotic 10-20, to powders and liquids.
If you drink a smoothie every morning, consider getting your probiotics in powder form and adding the powder to your smoothie. Your taste buds will never know it’s there, but your gut will. Or, if you’re a soda drinker, you could replace a soda with a liquid probiotic drink. The juice ones are pretty tasty. And don’t be afraid to try a few kinds. Take capsules for a few months, then switch to powder. It’s all about finding the right combination for your body, and that can take a little testing to get just right.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.