Does shopping for probiotics make you feel confused & overwhelmed? You're not alone. Use these 3 simple tricks to find the best probiotic for you.
Probiotics have become increasingly popular in recent years due to their potential benefits for mental health and physical health. Probiotics are live microorganisms that, when consumed in adequate amounts, confer health benefits to the host -- aka YOU! They can be found in a variety of food products, such as yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut, as well as in supplement form. In this blog post, we will explore the benefits of probiotics for mental health and physical health.
Probiotics Equals Healthy Gut
Maybe you already knew that one of the primary benefits of probiotics is their ability to support gut health. But did you know that the human gut is home to trillions of microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi, collectively known as the gut microbiota?
And did you know that the gut microbiota plays a crucial role in the regulation of many physiological processes, including digestion, metabolism, immune function, and brain function?
Poor gut health, which can be caused by factors such as a poor diet, stress, and the use of antibiotics, has been linked to a variety of health problems, including digestive disorders, autoimmune diseases, and mental health disorders, like anxiety, stress, and depression.
Emeran Mayer, MD, is a leading expert in the field of gut-brain interactions, and has contributed greatly to our understanding of the role of the gut microbiota in human health. In his book, "The Mind-Gut Connection: How the Hidden Conversation Within Our Bodies Impacts Our Mood, Our Choices, and Our Overall Health," Mayer highlights the crucial role of the gut microbiota in regulating many physiological processes.
The gut microbiota is a complex community of microorganisms that reside in the human gastrointestinal tract. These microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microbes, play a vital role in digestion and absorption of nutrients, and they also help to maintain a healthy immune system.
Recent research has shown that the gut microbiota is also involved in the regulation of many other physiological processes, including metabolism, inflammation, and the production of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine. These neurotransmitters are known to be involved in the regulation of mood, emotion, and behavior.
One of the key ways that the gut microbiota influences these processes is through the production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). SCFAs are produced by gut bacteria as they ferment dietary fiber, and they have been shown to have anti-inflammatory and immune-modulatory effects.
Additionally, research has shown that the gut microbiota can influence the integrity of the gut barrier, which helps to prevent harmful substances from entering the bloodstream. When the gut barrier is compromised, it can lead to chronic inflammation and an increased risk of various diseases. This is known as leaky gut.
The gut microbiota has also been shown to play a role in the regulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which is involved in the body's response to stress. Dysregulation of the HPA axis has been linked to various mental health disorders, including depression and anxiety.
Probiotics can help improve gut health by increasing the abundance of beneficial microorganisms in the gut.
Mental Health Benefits of Probiotics
In addition to their benefits for gut health, probiotics have also been shown to have specific mental health benefits. The gut-brain axis refers to the bidirectional communication between the gut and the brain, which is mediated by the gut microbiota. Research has shown that disruptions to the gut microbiota can contribute to the development of mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and autism spectrum disorder.
Probiotics may help improve mental health by modulating the gut microbiota and reducing inflammation. Studies have shown that probiotics can improve symptoms of depression and anxiety in both animals and humans. For example, a study published in the journal Gastroenterology found that a probiotic supplement containing Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, and Bifidobacterium bifidum reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety in patients with irritable bowel syndrome.
While probiotics from food sources can be beneficial, they may not provide enough of a therapeutic dose to confer significant health benefits. Additionally, poor gut health can impair the absorption of nutrients from food, making it difficult to achieve optimal health. By repairing gut health with probiotics, the gut microbiota can better absorb nutrients and support overall health.
What Kind of Probiotics to Buy: As Easy As 1-2-3
When shopping for probiotics, it is easy to get overwhelmed and confused. To put it into perspective: some estimates put the 2020 global probiotics supplement market at about $6 billion. In other words, there are a ton of brands of probiotics on store shelves and lots of people are buying them. In fact, a search for "probiotics" on Amazon resulted in over 3,000 products. It makes my head spin just typing those words.
Don't worry, there is a simple, 3-pronged approach that takes the guess work out of buying probiotics. The good news is that you don't need to match a certain probiotic to a certain health issue. All you need to know is that there are 1000s of species, and most of them fall into three main categories: (1) Lacto & Bifido, (2) fungus, and (3) soil-based. Buy a probiotic containing species from those 3 categories, and you're done!
Category One: Lacto & Bifido Species
The first category, Lactobacillus & Bifidobacterium, is the most well-researched probiotics blends by scientists in hundreds of clinical trials. These probiotics produce lactic acid, which helps to maintain a healthy pH balance in the gut. Lacto & Bifido blends do not colonize the gut. Colonizing the gut means that good bacteria crowds-out bad bacteria in order to achieve balance.
Category Two: Saccharomyces boulardii (Fungus)
The second category, Saccharomyces boulardii, is a healthy fungus that has been shown to improve gut barrier function and reduce inflammation.
Category Three: Bacillus Species (Soil-Based)
The third category, soil-based probiotics using various Bacillus species, can colonize the gut and provide long-term benefits. As you might have guessed, soil-based probiotics are found in Earth's soil.
Lacto & Bifido
Saccharomyces Boulardii (Fungus)
Bacillus Species (Soil-Based)
Heavily researched by scientists, with 500+ clinical trials
Researched by scientists with about 100 clinical trials
Researched by scientists in less than 20 clinical trials
Does not colonize the gut but improves the health
Does not colonize the gut but improves health
Lactic-acid producing bacteria
Specializes at metabolizing sugar
Found in Earth's soil
When shopping for probiotics, read the list on the back of the bottle that shows which strains and species of probiotics are in there. Sometimes the list is a giant paragraph, the long Latin words all start to melt together, and your eyes get crossed. That is totally understandable because there are 1000s probiotic species!
To make it easy, on myself, I found two probiotics that cover the three categories: Ancient Nutrition SBO Ultimate and Garden of Life Raw Probiotics Ultimate Care. I have tried many different probiotics over the years, and these two probiotics have worked best for me. Everyone is different, and it helps to find the right combination of what works for your specific body type, mental health challenges, and physical health issues. There are risks associated with probiotics so be sure to talk to your doctor about which probiotic is right for you.
Quality Matters in a Probiotic
In addition to buying a probiotic containing each of the three categories, it is important to choose a high-quality probiotic supplement. The International Probiotics Association has established guidelines for qualifying a microorganism as a probiotic, which include factors such as safety, efficacy, and the ability to survive in the gut. Therefore, look for a probiotic supplement that contains the aforementioned variety of strains and has been tested for purity and potency.
Consumer Lab is one trusted source for supplement purity and potency. According to their website, Consumer Lab is "the leading provider of independent test results and information to help consumers and healthcare professionals identify the best quality health and nutrition products." I find the membership to Consumer Lab beneficial because I can easily check to see which supplements and products have passed their stringent testing process.
Buying supplements can be confusing because there are so many products and manufacturers, and supplements are not regulated by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) so it's up to the consumer to verify the quality of the products they purchase. Supplements of all kinds are notorious for containing toxins, like heavy metals, and also more or less of the key ingredient they claim to contain. To read more about how to purchase supplements that aren't contaminated with heavy metals and contain the exact ingredients they claim to contain, read my blog post here.
When to Take Probiotics
The good news is that you don't need to stress about when to take probiotics. Previous research dictated that you should take probiotics on an empty stomach while other research purported benefits of taking probiotics with food. The latest research demonstrates that what is most important is that you take the probiotics consistently, daily, and for a period of about six weeks. In fact, naturopathic practitioner, Dr. Michael Ruscio, recommends taking them any time of day, with or without food.
In conclusion, probiotics have many potential benefits for mental health and physical health. They can improve gut health by increasing the abundance of beneficial microorganisms in the gut microbiome, which helps to restore balance to the ecosystem of microorganisms in the gut. When the gut microbiome is imbalanced, it can lead to a host of issues such as inflammation, digestive problems, and even mental health issues.