Updated: Feb 22
Gut health is becoming a hot topic, lately. I am encouraged by the number of ads I am seeing about gut health and probiotics. I am also getting more questions at the pharmacy about which probiotics are good to take. The answer is usually a follow-up question, “what are you trying to achieve by taking a probiotic?”
As scientists learn more about gut health and the gut microbiome, they are discovering that certain strains of bacterial species can perform certain functions for our bodies. So, the answer to “what probiotic should I take?” can get a little complicated.
Unfortunately, many of the companies that have a commercially available probiotic on the market have not done research on which strains of bacteria are good to include in their products. I have seen many just throw something together and make a pretty box and it sells because it is cheaper.
The good (and usually more expensive) products actually do their research and report which strain they are using in their products. Even the good probiotic yogurts include the species of bacteria they use to ferment their product.
I’m hoping to provide a guide for which probiotic strains perform which functions, based on Super Gut by William Davis, MD (who also wrote Wheat Belly). I have enjoyed reading both of these books and they have provided an eye-opening shift in how I view the foods, probiotics, and supplements that I choose to put in my body.
I will caution you, as Dr. Davis does, that just taking a probiotic cannot fix your gut health if you have an over proliferation of the wrong kinds of bacteria or the right kinds of bacteria in the wrong places. There needs to be some work done first to fix this overgrowth (also known as SIBO and SIFO) before adding these beneficial strains. You can read more about SIBO and SIFO in my post: Sugar Monsters.
You also must eat the right kinds of foods to feed this thriving microbiome. You cannot continue to eat large amounts of sugar, processed foods and fast foods, and expect these colonies to survive. Changing your diet to include more fresh fruits and vegetables is key to a thriving microbiome.
So, once you have laid the groundwork for a healthier gut, what strains do you need to look for? Some of these microbes are still being studied to determine which strains exhibit certain effects, so not every bacterium in this post is going to list a strain.
As an explanation for those who may not know, italics indicate the name of the bacterium and the (parentheses) indicate the specific strains of that bacterium. It’s like canine (Poodle, Chihuahua, Boston Terrier). There will be lots of numbers and letters, and I hope you don’t get lost or lose interest, because this is the future of probiotics (I hope). Some bacterial species work with others to enhance certain effects (in a symbiotic relationship). Let’s dive in.
Lactobacillus reuteri (DSM 17938, ATCC PTA 6475, or NCIMP 30242) is a pivotal species that is sometimes missing in the modern-day microbiome. L. reuteri is known for its effects on skin health (smoother skin, decreased wrinkle depth, wound healing), muscle and bone health, deeper sleep, increased libido, weight loss (due to appetite suppression), and changes in brain function (like deeper empathy and reduced social anxiety).
L. reuteri with Lactobacillus casei is good for deeper and longer sleep, reduced stress, and increased immune function.
L. casei is good for increased mental clarity and focus.
L. reuteri with Lactobacillus gasseri (BNR17 or CP2305) is good for weight loss and reduced waist size.
Bacillus coagulans (GBI-30,6086 or MTCC 5856) helps to reduce inflammation and arthritis pain.
L. reuteri with B. coagulans is good for increased strength and faster recovery in athletes.
Lactobacillus helveticus with Bifidobacterium longum (BB536) help to reduce anxiety, improve mood, and reduce depression.
Bifidobacterium infantis (ATCC 15697, M-63, ECV001) can be used in women who are pregnant or plan to become pregnant to pass on to their babies at birth and during breast feeding to reduce colic, improve sleep, and long-term health issues.
L. reuteri, L. gasseri, with B. coagulans help to eliminate SIBO.
Some other key species that have been identified include Lactobacillus rhamnosus (GG or HN001), Lactobacillus plantarum (299v or P-F),Faecalibacterium prausnitzil (A2-165 or L2-6), and Akkermansia muciniphia (ATCC BAA-835).
Start paying attention to yogurt, kefir, and other fermented products in your grocery store, as well. They may also have the strains listed on their ingredients. Arming yourself with this information can help you become a better consumer of probiotics and increase demand for listing specific strains on their packaging.
Are you ready to PIVOT to functional (gut) health and wellness?