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Pro­bi­otics are a type of good bac­te­ria that can pro­vide you with a range of health ben­e­fits, when taken in the right amounts. These live micro­organ­isms are said to re­store the healthy bal­ance of gut bac­te­ria in your di­ges­tive sys­tem, reg­u­lat­ing your stools and im­prov­ing your over­all im­mune sys­tem. In some cases, the ad­di­tion of pro­bi­otics is said to help man­age stress lev­els, as well as con­trol anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion.

For those with di­ges­tive prob­lems, pro­bi­otics are a pop­u­lar rem­edy as they can help to re­store the gut flora to a bal­anced state. If you’re healthy, pro­bi­otics are used more like an ev­ery­day vi­ta­min. To­day, it’s eas­ier than ever to get a pro­bi­otic boost. Con­sum­ing Yakult, eat­ing miso or kim­chi, or snack­ing on yo­gurt with berries will all in­crease your pro­bi­otic in­take.

Ev­ery coun­try has a dif­fer­ence stance on pro­bi­otic us­age, so it’s rec­om­mended to seek med­i­cal ad­vice if you want to be ab­so­lutely sure that what you’re do­ing is right.

Find your per­fect match

Pro­bi­otics come in many vari­a­tions, and are clas­si­fied into two main groups. Lac­to­bacil­lus is the most com­mon pro­bi­otic, found in dark choco­late and fer­mented food. This form of pro­bi­otic can help with di­ar­rhoea, and has a pos­i­tive im­pact on peo­ple who can­not di­gest lac­tose. Good al­ter­na­tives to sug­ary yo­gurts are Op­tiBac Pro­bi­otics For Daily Well­be­ing 30’S ($32 for 30 cap­sules, Guardian) and Op­tiBac Pro­bi­otics For Women 30’S ($55.30 for 30 cap­sules, Guardian) cap­sules. Proven to reach the fe­male’s in­ti­mate area, the lat­ter is safe to con­sume dur­ing menopause, preg­nancy and breast­feed­ing.

An­other com­mon pro­bi­otic, Bi­fi­dobac­terium, can be found in some dairy prod­ucts like cheese, and works par­tic­u­larly well for those who suf­fer from Ir­ri­ta­ble Bowel Syn­drome. Choos­ing the right type of pro­bi­otic helps you ad­dress your spe­cific con­cerns, and op­ti­mises your over­all health.

Pick the best sup­ple­ment

You may have heard that the best pro­bi­otic sup­ple­ment is the one with the high­est bac­terium count (mea­sured as ColonyForm­ing Units, or CFUs, and which can run into the bil­lions). But re­searchers say that a more ef­fec­tive mea­sure­ment is ac­tu­ally look­ing at the com­bi­na­tion of dif­fer­ent strains of bac­te­ria each sup­ple­ment in­cludes.

For in­stance, when you’re look­ing for a new sup­ple­ment, you should look for one with both L. aci­dophilus (which colonises the walls of the small in­testines and sup­ports nu­tri­ent ab­sorp­tion) and B. longum (the most com­mon bac­te­ria found in the di­ges­tive tracts of adults and which helps flush out tox­ins).

The dif­fer­ent strains of pro­bi­otic bac­te­ria be­come nat­u­rally con­cen­trated in dif­fer­ent ar­eas of the di­ges­tive tract. But they all work to­gether to pro­duce a syn­er­gis­tic ef­fect that ben­e­fits our health.

Keep your gut healthy

Pro­bi­otics are liv­ing or­gan­isms, and they need a good en­vi­ron­ment so they can flour­ish. Op­ti­mise your gut mi­cro­biome by eat­ing real foods and avoid­ing pro­cessed foods. Also stay away from pro­cessed sugar, be­cause sugar ac­cel­er­ates the growth of path­o­genic mi­crobes. Keep­ing your gut healthy in turn helps your pro­bi­otic sup­ple­ment to work bet­ter.

Ex­pect to bloat

This is a rel­a­tively un­com­mon is­sue, but some peo­ple have re­ported side ef­fects such as a tem­po­rary in­crease in gas and bloat­ing. This shouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily be a sur­prise as your body needs time to ad­just to new in­ter­nal con­di­tions. Those tak­ing yeast-based pro­bi­otics may ex­pe­ri­ence con­sti­pa­tion and in­creased thirst. Fret not, for these ef­fects usu­ally go away within a few days of con­tin­ued in­take. How­ever, if you ex­pe­ri­ence cog­ni­tive im­pair­ment and bloat that last longer than a few days, con­sult your doc­tor.

To re­duce the like­li­hood of side ef­fects, start slow. Be­gin with a low dose of pro­bi­otics and slowly up your in­take to a full dosage within a few weeks of con­tin­ued use.

Un­der­stand why yo­gurt isn’t best

While it is hard to deny that the yo­gurt in your fridge is in­deed a good source of ben­e­fi­cial pro­bi­otics, it is cer­tainly not the best. To­day’s com­mer­cially mass-pro­duced yo­gurt runs in con­trast with the tra­di­tional method of mak­ing yo­gurt with cul­tured raw milk. It is highly likely that com­mer­cial yo­gurt is made from fac­tory-farmed, pas­teurised and ho­mogenised milk that might even con­tain ge­net­i­cally en­gi­neered hor­mones and ar­ti­fi­cial sweet­en­ers, all of which af­fect the or­gan­isms that are ben­e­fi­cial to our bod­ies. In fact, some clin­i­cal tri­als have shown that these com­mer­cial prod­ucts con­tain too lit­tle good bac­te­ria to of­fer the health ben­e­fits you seek. Store-bought yo­gurt may be a source of nu­tri­ents like cal­cium, mag­ne­sium and zinc, but is prob­a­bly not your best choice if you’re look­ing to im­prove your gut health.

To be con­sid­ered a pro­bi­otic food, yo­gurt should con­tain at least one bil­lion ac­tive pro­bi­otic cul­tures of a recog­nised pro­bi­otic species per serv­ing, ac­cord­ing to Health Canada, and many com­mer­cial yo­gurts fall short of this.

Pur­chase from rep­utable brands

For pro­bi­otics, brands mat­ter. For in­stance, Op­tiBac Pro­bi­otics in­vests in re­search and tech­nol­ogy, spe­cialises in live cul­ture and is com­pletely trans­par­ent on the make-up of

their prod­ucts, right down to the spe­cific strain. So, you can rest as­sured that you’re get­ting your money’s worth of qual­ity goods.

Check the ex­piry date

As men­tioned ear­lier, pro­bi­otics are liv­ing micro­organ­isms and thus will lose their po­tency af­ter a cer­tain pe­riod of time. They have a lim­ited shelf life, so make sure you buy some­thing that isn’t about to ex­pire.

Dig into fer­mented foods

Live pro­bi­otic cul­tures are of­ten found in fer­mented dairy prod­ucts such as yo­gurt (choose a yo­gurt la­belled “live and ac­tive cul­tures”) and ke­fir, a fer­mented milk drink that has a grainy con­sis­tency. Other fer­mented foods that are abun­dant in pro­bi­otics in­clude kom­bucha, pick­les, sauer­kraut, kim­chi, tempeh and miso.

Re­mem­ber pre­bi­otics

Pre­bi­otics are made up of non-di­gestible food el­e­ments that en­able pro­bi­otics to flour­ish in your gut. Some ex­am­ples of pre­bi­otics in­clude ba­nanas, as­para­gus, gar­lic and onions. These fi­bres act as food and fuel for the pro­bi­otics to thrive on, re­sult­ing in more ef­fi­cient pro­bi­otics that will help main­tain a healthy en­vi­ron­ment in your body. Es­sen­tially, that ex­tra push max­imises the func­tion of pro­bi­otics.

Con­sume them at the right time

Pro­bi­otics are best taken 15 to 30 min­utes be­fore break­fast. This has been shown to be a time when bac­te­ria has the high­est chance of sur­vival due to the acidic na­ture of the gut. Avoid tak­ing pro­bi­otics to­gether with acidic foods such as soda or juices, or very hot foods and al­co­hol, be­cause they can kill mi­crobes and greatly de­feat their func­tional pur­poses.

Store cor­rectly

You’re prob­a­bly mak­ing a mis­take if you store your pro­bi­otic sup­ple­ments in the bath­room medicine cab­i­net or the kitchen cup­board. These places have fluc­tu­at­ing tem­per­a­tures which re­sult in a stark change in mois­ture lev­els, thereby com­pro­mis­ing on the ef­fec­tive­ness of your prod­ucts. Check the la­bels to see if they need to be stored in the fridge. If not, tuck away your dry sup­ple­ments in a cool, dry and dark place.

Min­i­mum dosage is key

Al­though CFU count may not be the best way to se­lect a pro­bi­otic, it’s still a reg­u­lar mea­sure­ment of how much bac­te­ria in pro­bi­otics are ca­pa­ble of di­vid­ing and form­ing colonies. Hence, the CFU count should be as high as pos­si­ble to let the bac­te­ria flour­ish. For a daily pro­bi­otic, a good range would be from five to 10 bil­lion CFUs. For pro­bi­otics tack­ling a spe­cific ail­ment, 15 to 45 bil­lion CFUs is rec­om­mended.

Use it to com­ple­ment your course of an­tibi­otics

If you’re on an­tibi­otics, you’ll want to bring your gut flora back to a healthy bal­ance. While many might think that you have to wait till the end of the an­tibi­otics course to start con­sum­ing pro­bi­otics, you can ac­tu­ally jump-start the whole sce­nario. Take your pro­bi­otic sup­ple­ment at least two hours be­fore or af­ter tak­ing the an­tibi­otics, and con­tinue even af­ter your an­tibi­otic course has fin­ished.

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