Without a healthy gut, the body can’t receive the nourishment it needs to function. Your gut is home to billions of bacteria (known collectively as the microbiome) that play a key role in everything from belly bliss to your mood.
“There are hundreds of known uses for probiotics that include not only digestive help, but also benefits against many health conditions, from the common cold and asthma to certain forms of cancer,” says Jo A. Panyko, BS, MNT, author of Probiotics for Health (powerofprobiotics.com). “Probiotics can help with your external health as well. They have been shown to help reduce the signs of aging, improve nails and hair, and even fight bad breath and acne.”
How Much Do You Need?
Research suggests that you need a minimum of 1 billion live bacteria, measured in colony forming units (CFUs). Many people find that taking more—5 to 50 billion CFUs—is beneficial, especially for gastrointestinal conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome.
Sorting Out Probiotic Strains
Convinced that you need to be taking a probiotic supplement, but don’t know where to start? Use this guide to common strains—and their key benefits—to help you find a formula that meets your needs.
Lactobacillus acidophilus (L. acidophilus) and Bifidobacterium bifidum (B. bifidum)
Help enhance digestive and immune system health. Use L. acidophilus to ease lactose intolerance and B. bifidum for relief from irritable bowel syndrome. L. acidophilus is also great to take if you’re coming down with a cold.
Bacillus subtilis (B. subtilis)
Is a spore probiotic—a robust strain that stands up to heat, sunlight, and stomach acid. Research on B. subtilis shows that it helps alleviate diarrhea, vaginitis, allergic skin conditions, high cholesterol, gas, and constipation.
Lactobacillus casei (L. casei)
Is noted for alleviating antibiotic-induced diarrhea and Clostridium difficile (C. diff) infections, as well as inflammation in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. One study showed that L. casei lessened anxiety and promoted gut health in chronic fatigue sufferers.
Enterococcus faecalis TH10
Comes from lactic acid bacteria (LAB). Recent studies have found that this novel form of LAB shows immune-boosting activity that is more than six times greater than traditional LAB.
Lactobacillus plantarum (L. plantarum)
Has been shown in studies to enhance immune function and overall health, especially among elderly people. Other research supports its use for improving memory and age-related memory loss.
Bifidobacterium longum (B. longum)
Helps tame inflammation and lessen food allergies. Other research shows that B. longum eases depression and anxiety, while also helping the body handle stress more effectively. B. longum helps increase the amount of available tryptophan, which is a precursor to serotonin.
Lactobacillus reuteri (L. reuteri)
Helps reduce symptoms associated with gastroenteritis (stomach flu). It also colonizes the vaginal environment and fights off unwelcome bacteria and yeast. Use it to help restore vaginal health.
Is a proprietary strain of Bacillus coagulans (B. coagulans). Like B. subtilis, B. coagulans is a spore probiotic, and therefore survives the journey through the intestinal tract. It’s often used to help stop diarrhea, including traveler’s diarrhea and antibiotic-induced diarrhea. It also helps promote immune and digestive system health.
Lactobacillus rhamnosus (L. rhamnosus)
Is useful for treating a variety of health issues, including dermatitis, obesity, diarrhea, digestive gas and bloating, vaginal yeast infections, depression, and anxiety.
Isn’t a probiotic strain, but a type of prebiotic fiber that feeds your gut’s good bacteria and improves digestive health. Take it with probiotics to improve their effects.