Choosing the Right Probiotic

Dr. Shawn Talbott (Ph.D., CNS, LDN, FACSM, FACN, FAIS) has gone from triathlon struggler to gut-brain guru! With a Ph.D. in Nutritional Biochemistry, he's on a mission to boost everyday human performance through the power of natural solutions and the gut-brain axis.

Probiotics are one of the hottest health trends – but choosing the right probiotic can be a confusing undertaking.

On Tuesday, September 26, I had the pleasure of joining the hosts of Fresh Living on KUTV Channel 2 (CBS) in Salt Lake City to help clear up some of the confusion. You can view the clip at:

Probiotics are healthy or beneficial bacteria that live in the gut and deliver a range of health benefits including improved immune system activity, better gastrointestinal function such as preventing diarrhea or constipation, reduced inflammation, and even better mood and mental wellness.

However, to get the right benefits, you need to follow a few simple tips:

  1. Eat Fermented Foods (yogurt, kombucha, kefir, etc). These foods are a rich storehouse of beneficial bacteria (“pro-biotics”) and healthy nutrients such as fibers and oligosaccharides (“pre-biotics”) that the bacteria can use as nourishment (you can think of prebiotics as the “fertilizer” that helps the healthy probiotics to grow and thrive).
  2. Health Benefits are Strain-Specific – so while one strain might help with constipation, another strain might help with depression. This is probably the MOST important consideration if you want to supplement with probiotics/prebiotics for specific health benefits. There are certain strains that help with gastrointestinal function – others that help with immune health or reduce inflammation – and still others that can help you feel better (mood, energy, focus, stress, etc).
  3. Consider CFUs – or “colony forming units” – which is a measure of the “strength” or potency of the probiotic (typical ranges are 3-10 billion CFUs) – and ensure that the CFUs are guaranteed at the end of the product shelf life (because probiotic bacteria are living things, they can “die” off over the course of the product shelf-life).
  4. Follow the Research – reputable companies will highlight the research supporting the health benefits of the specific probiotics in their products – so avoid products without documented evidence for effectiveness or without disclosing the specific strains of probiotics used in their products. For example, the probiotic bacteria known as “Lactobacillus helveticus R0052” is associated with improved mood (less depression/anxiety) – where lactobacillus is the genus, helveticus is the species, and R0052 is the strain. A different strain of bacteria, “Lactobacillus acidophilus La-14” is more of a “general wellness” probiotic that converts (ferments) carbohydrates in the gut into lactic acid, which competes with “bad” bacteria for adhesion spaces on the intestinal mucosa. La-14 also increases the absorption and bioavailability of minerals (including copper, magnesium, calcium, and manganese) and is very resistant to damage by stomach acid, bile salts, and antibiotics. So both are healthy “probiotics” – but associated with very different sets of benefits.

In the near future, it’s very likely that we will see specific probiotic formulas that help with everything from weight loss to sports performance to treatments for everything from Autism to Alzheimer’s – it’s an exciting time!

About the Author

Exercise physiologist (MS, UMass Amherst) and Nutritional Biochemist (PhD, Rutgers) who studies how lifestyle influences our biochemistry, psychology and behavior - which kind of makes me a "Psycho-Nutritionist"?!?!

  • […] These are all great tips that can work to boost happiness in different situations – but another very effective and cutting-edge science-based approach to improving “happiness” (mood, depression, anxiety, stress, energy, focus, etc) is microbiome modulation and optimization of the gut-brain-axis. […]

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