Probiotics are a hot topic these days. They are becoming so mainstream that everyone is starting to take them, or at least recognize the benefits of taking them. Probiotics have been shown to improve overall immune system health, return the gut microbiome to a balanced state, support intestinal permeability healing, support allergies in children, and improve eczema.
The most prominent bacteria present in the human gut are lactobacilli and bifidobacteria. These are also the bacteria that is introduced to the infant from the mother within the first week of birth in a breastfed infant. Initially there can be a larger amount of e. Coli, enterococci, and streptococci. In formula fed infants the gut resembles an adults and can contain more bacteroides, clostridia and anaerobic streptococci. The gut of the breastfed infant also goes through many changes when solid foods are introduced. These are just some of the changes that can occur in the first few months or years of life (1). Imagine how much your gut microbiome can change during your lifetime based on foods you eat, antibiotics you take or even stress.
How do probiotics really work?
1. They adhere to the intestinal lining can compete for space with unhealthy microbes. They compete for space creating what is called a “colonization barrier” (1).
2. They compete for nutrients. In the case of Clostridium Difficile the probiotics can utilize the monosaccharides produced in the gut limiting the “food” for the c. diff to feed off of and grow (1).
Don’t you just love science!
It really seems like we should all be taking one and in reality we should. How could we not benefit from the amazing healing properties of these little bacteria? Probiotics however are not all created equal. Similar to animals they are not only genus, and species specific but they are also strain specific. Different strains have been shown to impact certain conditions better than others.
What does this mean for you?
It helps if you have a practitioner you can work with to give you guidance, but sadly so many doctors don’t really understand how the different species can impact overall outcomes as this is still fairly new research. Another option is you can look at an awesome site like
This site has a ton of free info on probiotic choice, and does also offer a membership to have access to the research and strain specific info if you are so inclined.
So how do you choose when you're facing a wall of probiotics?
That is a great question and the answer is it depends. I generally recommend a broad strain probiotic for my clients unless there is something specific they are struggling with. I would say that taking a broad lactobacilli and bifidobacteria preparation is great of general health and wellness. It is also great to understand the need for strain specific as well. A great example is Lactobacillius Rhamnosus GG. It is a wonderful probio. It can help with ADD symptoms, eczema, and antibiotic associated diarrhea, but it won’t help with urinary tract health as well as many others (2).
Probiotic rich foods are also a great way to keep your gut healthy. Add in some kombucha, kefir, water kefir or sauerkraut to your daily routine to keep your little microbes happy. These foods are also great for small kiddos to include in their diet as well, get them started early on fermented foods to and support their gut health from the beginning.
Hawrelak JA. Prebiotics. In: Pizzorno JE, Murray M (eds). Textbook of Natural Medicine (4thed). Elsevier. 2013. Pages 966-978.