Probiotics are a cornerstone of good gut health and, to some degree, most people have at least heard of them and their importance.
But … What are probiotics?
The simplest way I can put it is this: Probiotics are the good bacteria your gut needs to reduce inflammation, promote good digestion, and absorb nutrients and minerals from your diet.
That’s the brass tacks answer and, for most people, all you really need to know. But let’s dig a little deeper and answer some of the most common questions surrounding probiotics.
How Do I Know if I Need Probiotics?
Spoiler alert: You do.
Oh, no, I don’t need probiotics! I eat yogurt!”
Eeesh. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard that. And don’t get me wrong: Yogurt, keifer, sourkraut, and kombucha are all great additions to any diet!
But … Look, here’s the uncomfortable truth: Even if you rock all four of those on a daily basis, you still need a probiotic supplement. And if you don’t rock all four? Then you really need a probiotic supplement.
Here’s the thing: Unless you eat a perfectly-clean, sugar-free diet, and haven’t taken any form of antibiotics or prescription drug in the last year, you’ve probably got a little not-so-good something called bacterial dysbiosis (which we’ve written about extensively here).
And let’s be real: Most of us don’t eat perfectly-healthy. We’re “gut health gurus” and we still enjoy a slice of pizza and a bottle of wine! And, dammit, I don’t intend to stop enjoying the occasional pizza or glass wine.
Get me? Cool.
Long story short: I’ve yet to meet anyone who wouldn’t benefit from probiotics. Bacterial dysbiosis is real and it can have serious long-term health consequences, folks. Your best weapon against it are probiotics.
A Closer Look at the Health Benefits of Probiotics
The super-simple answer is this: Probiotics fight dysbiosis. I’m not going to go too detailed into what dysbiosis is now since we’ve already written about it in detail here, but let’s cover the basics.
And what’s causing that inflammation?
The bad, harmful, malicious bacteria that occupies your gut. When you have more bad bacteria in your gut than good, you’re in bacterial dysbiosis and your body’s likely inflamed.
Now, the million dollar question: How do you heal that inflammation? By restoring the balance of your gut; by introducing more of the good, beneficial bacteria.
Or, in other words, by introducing probiotics.
The more beneficial bacteria in your gut, the less likely you are to suffer from gut- and inflammation-related health conditions.
Make sense? Now, let’s talk about how to incorporate more probiotics into your life.
The Best Sources of Probiotics
Broadly speaking, you can incorporate more probitiocs into your life in two ways: Through diet and through supplementation.
Here’s the catch: Notice how I didn’t say “diet or supplementation.” Diet alone isn’t enough and, to get the results you want and deserve, you’re going to want to supplement your meals with, well, supplements.
That said, let’s take a closer look at each.
Eating Like a Pro(biotic): The Best Probiotic Foods
Here’s three of the most powerful sources of probiotics you can start eating today (and, at the risk of sounding click-baity, the second may surprise you).
#1: Organic Goat’s Milk Yogurt
Note that I didn’t just say “yogurt” here. Although yogurt is one of the most popular probiotic food sources, not all yogurts are created equal. Many major brands pack their yogurts full of sugar, which totally defeats the purpose of probiotics. Look for raw, sugar-free, organic goat milk (bonus points if it has added probiotics)! Not sure where to start? Check out Redwood Hill Farms’ Traditional Plain—you can find it at most Whole Foods Markets.
#2: 70%+ Dark Chocolate
Believe it or not, your favorite guilty pleasure can be a great source of both probiotics and prebiotics (more on these soon!). But there’s a catch: You want dark chocolate with a cacao content of 70% or above. Even better: Find a brand that‘s sweetened with coconut or maple sugar and only contains coconut or cocoa solids (no milk solids). Also, this isn’t an excuse to binge: Three-quarters of an ounce (or one square of a bar) is plenty.
#3: Cultured Vegetables
Sauerkraut and kimchi, both made from fermented vegetables, are great sources of probiotics. As an added bonus, they’re also packed full of digestive enzymes and organic acids, further promoting digestion and the growth of good bacteria. Only one addition here: Try and ensure your vegetables are organic and pesticide free.
The Best Probiotic Supplements
Alright, let’s address this right from the start: For some people, supplementation’s a controversial topic. And, honestly, for good reason.
Anyone who’s ever taken a supplement only to pee it out in a radioactive-orange stream 45 minutes later knows what I’m talking about: A lot of the supplements out there are essentially just expensive urine.
But I need you to hear something, and this is really important: Regaining and retaining your gut health means you need to take control over both diet and supplementation.
However, there’s no one “right” probiotic supplement for everyone, as it largely depends on your specific needs. That said, I can give offer a little guidance on what to look for as you shop.
There are a number of probiotic “strains” on the market. Here’s a few to keep an eye out for:
- Bifidobacterium longum – Recovering from an overly-acidic diet? This strain alkalizes your body. It’s also a great way to start rebuilding your gut after a round of antibiotics.
- Lactobacillus acidophilus – This strain is great for anyone with lactose intolerance (it allowed me to eat ice cream again!). Plus, it promotes healthy digestion and boosts your immune system.
- Lactobacillus plantarum – A go-to for anyone suffering chronic bowel disorders or unbalanced hormones. This strain produces L. lysine, an amino acid that boosts calcium absorption and hormone production.
Still feeling overwhelmed? I get it, and I’ve been there. We work 1:1 with our clients to help them find the perfect supplement for their needs. In fact, your first month of supplements (whatever they are) are on us!
To explore whether or not working together might be right for you, check out our exclusive training, then schedule a free Confidence & Clarity Call!
Common Questions & Answers About Probiotics
Before we wrap this up: Because probiotics are arguably the cornerstone of gut health supplementation, I want to tackle a couple common questions and misconceptions about them. Let’s get to it.
Should probiotics be refrigerated?
No. That’s right: No. In fact, I’m just gonna come right out and say it: If your probiotics need to be refrigerated, throw them out and find some that don’t.
Think about it: If your probiotics need a cold environment to survive, how in the world are they gonna make it through the warm, acidic rollercoaster ride to your gut? Spoiler alert: They won’t.
Okay, sure: Some might make the journey and successfully colonize in your gut; but not enough. At that point, you’re really just throwing away money. Look for stable probiotics that don’t need a cold environment.
What are CFUs, and how many do I need?
If you’ve ever compared probiotics before, you’ve probably noticed a bunch of brands touting increasingly-high CFU counts. What’s that about?
CFUs, or Colony Forming Units, essentially measure the number of live organisms—or bacteria—in your probiotic. And while this number can be an indicator of the strength of the probiotic, it shouldn’t be the deciding factor.
In a perfectly healthy gut, sure: The CFU count is super-important. But if your gut is overrun with yeast and fungus, it doesn’t matter how many live organisms you throw at it; they’ll get (literally) eaten alive.
Instead, look for probiotics with antifungals and digestive enzymes (more on these shortly) that will help break down the thick shells of candida and other unwanted gut invaders, giving your probiotics the chance they need to colonize.
All of that to say: Yes, CFUs are important; but not all-important. For the vast majority of people, a CFU count of around 20 billion is just fine. You can certainly find probiotics out there that offer more, but the price jump just doesn’t justify the relatively small improvement.
How do I know my probiotics are working?
One of the first things you’re likely to experience when starting a high-quality probiotic is candida die-off. That includes headaches, fatigue, stomach aches, diarrhea, and bloating.
I know, I know: That’s exactly what you’re trying to fight against! I get it. But this is just part of the journey, it’s temporary, and it is a very, very good sign.
Die-off symptoms mean your probiotics are successfully colonizing in your gut and killing off the bad bacteria. Once your gut’s been cleared of infestation, it can begin to populate with good strains and you’ll start to feel much better; I promise.
When should I take probiotics?
Super-common question with a super-easy answer: Take probiotics right before you go to bed, and on a (relatively) empty stomach.
This ensures your probiotics can work their magic without having to compete with your last meal. Plus, since there’s nothing for your gut to digest, it can focus all of its energy on promoting the growth of those bacteria.