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Probiotics are a popular natural remedy for a myriad of health issues. These good bacteria have seemingly miraculous powers to boost your gut health, which, in turn, has been shown to aid a slew of digestive disorders, help with healthy weight management, and even boost your mood, even out anxiety, and decrease symptoms of depression.

Of course, when one goes online to find a probiotic, you’ll instantly be deluged with companies offering different types with different strains and different species. How do you know what type of probiotic is right for you?

Let’s take a deep dive into probiotics to find out how to individualize them to meet your health needs!

What are Probiotics?

Probiotics are good bacteria “that are either the same as or very similar to the bacteria that are already in your body.” The human body has both good and bad bacteria coexisting in an intricate ecosystem — referred to as the microbiota — which “contains tens of trillions of microorganisms, including at least 1000 different species of known bacteria with more than 3 million genes (150 times more than human genes).”

When this ecosystem is unbalanced — usually when we have too much bad bacteria — our health generally declines, resulting in a variety of common issues. Research has discovered “that having too many of the ‘bad’ and not enough of the ‘good’ bacteria … can wreak all sorts of havoc on your body’s systems,” from constipation and/or diarrhea to irritable bowel syndrome to heartburn and even to mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. Probiotics are also used not only to boost the diversity of gut microbiota, but as a supplemental treatment for the negative effects of antibiotics. While antibiotics help kill disease-causing bacteria, they unfortunately also destroy “normal bacteria in the GI (gastrointestinal) and urinary tracts.” Probiotics are theorized to help “prevent or minimize the death of good bacteria.”

This is where probiotics come into play!

Diet, exercise, and lifestyle habits play a huge role in the health of our gut, but, unfortunately, the modern American lifestyle mixed with the Standard American diet are reasons overall gut health has declined. Highly processed foods and a stagnant lifestyle — without a focus on movement or exercise — are both toxic to that delicate microbiota ecosystem.

Therefore, probiotics have become all the rage.

Yes, you can get probiotics through your diet — in particular, fermented foods — but the most popular way to increase gut health is via probiotic supplements. These supplements offer a super-easy way to infuse your body with the good bacteria it needs to create a balanced, robust, and healthy ecosystem.

The Make and Model of Your Probiotics

Before diving into purchasing a probiotic, it’s important to understand that — just like cars — probiotics have a certain make and model. For our purposes, let’s say that the strains and species both make up the model. So, what’s the make? Exactly that … where do the organisms come from that reside in your probiotic?

We’re talking traditional probiotics — probiotic supplements that generally use engineered strains and species of bacteria — versus soil-based organisms — which source their bacteria from … well … the soil! Alright, traditional probiotics are a bit self-explanatory, but let’s take a bit of a deeper dive into soil-based organisms.

Soil-based organisms (SBOS) are “microorganisms that naturally occur in soil.” Out in the world, SBOs “enrich the soil and protect the beneficial bacteria that plants use to grow,” therefore it makes sense that these good bacteria would also benefit the ecosystem in our bodies.

Is one better than the other?

More research is necessary to get a truly clear picture of the pros and cons, with that said a test performed in 2011 found that “traditional probiotics had no effect on the long-term microbiome” and “conversely, soil probiotics improved both … ongoing metabolic pathways and general health.”

This may be due to the fact that soil-based organisms have natural protection mechanisms, which makes them “ideal for human consumption because it ensures that the bacteria can make it through the harsh environment that is the human GI tract by withstanding stomach acid and other substances that can destroy or degrade traditional probiotics.”

Therefore, when you’re seeking out a probiotic you may want to consider whether you want traditional or SBO.

Strains versus Species

Alright, let’s take a look at the model! It’s important to do your research and understand the difference between species and strains, how they affect the body differently, and how to identify them on a food or supplement label.

  • The Species

When understanding probiotics you’ll want to start with species. Why?

Turns out that probiotics are actually “identified by their specific strain, which includes the genus, the species, the subspecies (if applicable), and an alphanumeric strain designation.” Common species used in probiotics are “Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Saccharomyces, Streptococcus, Enterococcus, Escherichia, and Bacillus.”

Even though there are seven common species, you don’t necessarily need to sort through all of them. When it comes to the most effective probiotic strains, there are two that you should consider right off the bat:

Bifidobacteria – this strain is believed to “support the immune system, limit the growth of harmful bacteria in the intestine, help in breaking down lactose into nutrients the body can use.”

Lactobacillus – your spidey senses may have tingled when you saw this one as the name “lacto” actually gives away the fact that thisspecies of bacteria produces lactase, the enzyme that breaks down lactose, or milk sugar,” and it also produces lactic acid. When it comes to your gut ecosystem, “lactic acid helps control the population of bad bacteria.” On top of that, lactobacillus also “serves as muscle fuel and increases the body’s absorption of minerals.”

  • The Strains

Strains, on the other hand, are “genetic subtypes of species.” Based on the type of strain that is in your probiotic, you may see different health benefits.

When you’re choosing a probiotic from the shelf or online, you’ll see the species and strain on the label. First, you’ll see the species “abbreviated as B. or L.” and then you’ll see “the individual strain name, such as acidophilus.” 

So, what strains are out there to look for? Here are a few of the most common and their purported health benefits!

B. animalis: Found to boost the immune system and help with “digestion and fighting food-borne bacteria.”

B. breve: Found to “fight off infection-causing bacteria or yeast,” as well as helps the “body absorb nutrients by fermenting sugars” and “breaks down plant fiber to make it digestible.”

B. lactis: Once again, it’s all in the name! B. lactis is “derived from raw milk” and serves as a starter for buttermilk, cottage cheese, and other cheeses.

B. longum: Found to “help break down carbohydrates and also can be an antioxidant.”

L. acidophilus: Found to “helps digestion and may help fight off vaginal bacteria.”

L. reuteri: Theorized to decrease “the oral bacteria that cause[s] tooth decay” and is also thought “to help the digestive system.” 

Related Articles

There’s so much more information out there about probiotics! Especially as they become increasingly popular in health-centric circles. If you’re looking to really dive into the world of both prebiotics and probiotics here are a few additional resources to check out!

Probiotic Recipes:

Learn How to Cook Plant-Based Meals at Home!

Reducing your meat intake and eating more plant-based foods is known to help with chronic inflammationheart healthmental wellbeingfitness goalsnutritional needsallergiesgut health, and more! Dairy consumption also has been linked to many health problems, including acnehormonal imbalancecancerprostate cancer and has many side effects.

For those of you interested in eating more plant-based, we highly recommend downloading the Food Monster App — with over 15,000 delicious recipes it is the largest plant-based recipe resource to help reduce your environmental footprint, save animals and get healthy! And, while you are at it, we encourage you to also learn about the environmental and health benefits of a plant-based diet.

Here are some great resources to get you started:

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