In this article we take a look at what adults should look for when choosing a quality probiotic supplement. By the end of this piece you will have a clear understanding of the different types of probiotics. You will not only know what to look for, but also the things to watch out for and why. You will get to grips with the terminology and know how to read product labels.
Probiotics are what scientists refer to as “beneficial bacteria”. They are live microorganisms that colonize both the small and large intestines from where they get to work their magic. Once in the gut, this “friendly” bacteria help to eradicate any potentially pathogenic microorganisms. Pathogenic bacteria are those “unfriendly microbes” that can cause disease when allowed to flourish. Science has concluded that probiotics for adults can exert many different beneficial effects on their human host. It seems that there are more positive findings on probiotics day by day 
A lot of adults have gut problems these days. Lifestyle choices and poor diet are what cause a lot of these intestinal conditions and irritations. Probiotics help to re-establish a healthy gut microflora and aid better digestion. Many people don't know it, but the growth and activity of “harmful” organisms is often flourishing inside them. What's goes on inside an adult's gastrointestinal tract is complex. The solution for redressing any imbalance, however, can be as simple as consuming probiotics.
Though probiotics are great for curing a sick gut, you can also take them to help prevent issues from occurring in the first place. Here are just three of the ways they can benefit human health:
- Help to maintain a healthy balance of intestinal flora
- Support good overall digestive health
- Reduce the risk of antibiotic-associated diarrhoea
Making Sense of Probiotic Terminology
It's important to point out that not all probiotics supplements are the same. You will see numbers on product labels that refer to bacteria in the billions. You will also see the term “strains” used too. A lot of the terminology for probiotics can seem impossible to comprehend for anyone buying a product for the first time. Let's break some of that terminology down and simplify it so that it makes sense. The words we will study are as follows:
- Starter bacteria
Probiotics: The name “Probiotics” means “for life” It derives from Latin word “pro” which means “for” and the Greek word “biotic,” which means “life”. Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are good for human health .
Prebiotics: So we know that probiotics are live bacteria. Like all living things, they too need to eat to survive. Prebiotics are a source of food that probiotics feed on. They are what help the probiotic microorganisms grow, multiply and survive inside the human gut .
Synbiotics: Synbiotics are nutritional supplements which contain both a prebiotic and a probiotic. Synbiotics help improve the “friendly bacteria” that resides in the human intestine .
Bacterium: Any one of a group of tiny living microorganisms that often cause disease, though not all bacterium is hostile .
Inulin: A soluble dietary fiber and natural storage carbohydrate. Inulin is present in over 36,000 species of plants .
Genus: It is the largest group to which the bacteria belong. Genus is a scientific term that shows a species is closely related to each other .
Species: In science, they refer to individual bacteria as the species. It's a group of living organisms that consists of similar individuals all of which are capable of exchanging genes or interbreeding .
Strain: Scientists divide bacteria into several strains. Different strains of the same species can have markedly different characteristics. It's the last part of the name that denotes the strain of a bacterium and is usually in the form of letter, numbers, or a combination of the two. Here's an example:
Lactobacillus acidophilus DDS-1.
In this name the genus is Lactobacillus. The species is acidophilus. And the strain is DDS-1. Note that not all bacteria have a strain label .
Culture: A microbiological culture is a method of artificially multiplying microorganisms such as bacteria in a clinical laboratory. This main reason for cultures is for a scientific purposes and research 
Dysbiosis: Also called dysbacteriosis, this is a term for a microbial disproportion on or inside the body. Dysbiosis results when the natural flora of the gut is out of balance .
Starter bacteria (also starter culture): This is the bacteria in a culture used to begin the fermentation of a food like cheese, yogurt, sour cream, etc. “Starter bacteria” refers to the bacteria strains used and the number of bacteria present in the culture. Most starters originate from lactic acid bacteria. The origin of this is present as part of the contaminating microflora of milk .
Probiotic Supplements VS Probiotic Foods
In a perfect world, adults would get all the goodness they need from diet alone. Alas, this is far from a perfect world. Sadly, the typical western diet of today lacks nutrition in so many areas. Furthermore, for healthy meals to have any real benefit they need to be regular. The main downsides to probiotic food are that you can never be sure of the amounts or strains of “good” bacteria within the portions. With a quality supplement, you know exactly what you're getting. In short, supplements are a more reliable, controllable way of growing your probiotic content. Supplements are also a better way of treating digestive-related health issues, whereas food is great for maintaining an already healthy gut.
There's also no harm in taking supplements and eating foods containing probiotics. Here is a list of Fermented foods loaded with the goodness that your body will thank you for:
- Kefir (a fermented dairy product)
- Sauerkraut (a German meal comprising of chopped pickled cabbage)
- Kimchi (Korean meal comprising spicy pickled cabbage)
- Coconut kefir
- Natto (traditional Japanese food made from soybeans)
- Beet and carrot kvass (tonics that contain probiotics and enzymes)
- Miso (traditional Japanese soup)
- Kombucha (fermented, sweetened black or green tea)
- Sauerrüben (lacto-fermented turnips)
Beware of Pasteurized Probiotic Foods
Some people like to prepare their own probiotic foods whereas others prefer to buy it from health food stores and supermarkets. If you do plan to buy commercially produced fermented foods, heed this warning: steer well clear of pasteurized products. The problem with the pasteurization process is that it doesn't differentiate between good and bad bacteria. In other words, it kills it all. You still get a product that may taste just fine, but it'll be one that has no probiotic properties at all. If you want to eat probiotic foods for their probiotic content, then it must contain live and active bacterial cultures .
Choosing the Right Probiotic Supplement
Choosing a probiotic supplement is fine once you know what you're doing, but it can be a nightmare if you don't. The reason it can be so overwhelming is because there is just too much stuff out there, but it's not all equal. Some of the information on some of the products may even be misleading too. Here are a few guidelines that should help make the shopping experience a whole lot easier.
Quality is everything when it comes to choosing probiotic supplements for adults. Here are the things that every quality probiotic supplement should have:
Look on the labels for the following bacteria megastars:
- Lactobacillus acidophilus (or L.acidophilus)
- Bifidobacterium longum (or B.longum)
- Bifidobacterium bifidum (or B.bifidum)
OK, without getting too technical, let's take a look at each of these in turn, starting with Lactobacillus acidophilus.
Health experts consider this to be the most important strain of the Lactobacillus species. It resides naturally in the mouth, intestine and vagina. These bacteria also produce vitamin K and lactase, but that's not all. They also promote nutrient absorption and help with the digestion of dairy products. Your probiotic product should contain this bacterium .
This is the second of the bacteria megastars that you want to see on the product's label. Bifidobacterium longum lives happily in the digestive tract of all healthy adults. They produce anti-inflammatory substances that help to protect the gut’s lining. These probiotics are great at keeping toxins and pathogens out of your gut .
This is one of the most common probiotic bacteria in the human body. It lives in both the small and the large intestines (the gastrointestinal tract). It helps to reduce the chances of acute diarrhea and can even help fight E. coli infections. These bacteria are essential for maintaining optimal digestion .
The above three strains are important but if you find a product that includes a few more, then that's even better. Some of the other names you may come across might include:
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus
- Lactobacillus bulgaricus
- Lactobacillus plantarum
- Lactobacillus casei
- Bifidobacterium breve
Take Note of the Expiry Date
Dates on probiotic products are important. If they're going to improve your health, they have to be alive and well when you ingest them. Make sure the product you're buying clearly states a date of expiry. If you can't see one, then you have no way of knowing whether any or all of the healthy bacteria are still living.
Manufacturers of probiotic supplements determine this date by formulation and stability tests. What you can take from the expiry date is a guarantee that the bacteria in the supplement will remain alive and potent until that specified date.
Time of Manufacture Vs Time of Consumption
You may see on some probiotic supplements something that reads “X CFUs at the time of manufacture”. CFU (colony-forming units) is a unit used to estimate the number of viable bacteria in a sample. What this means on a product label is that it contained X amount of live cultures at the time it was produced. The important thing to note here is that this is not the same thing as “at the time of consumption” or “before end date“.
Let's say you look at a product which reads 50bn CFUs at the time of manufacture. Next to it is another product that reads 50bn CFUs at the time of consumption, before expiration. It is the second product that will provide you with the most probiotics.
The human stomach is a hostile place and it can kill just about anything that enters its domain. Stomach acids kill many of the beneficial bacteria that enter the digestive tract. This dangerous journey doesn't end here either. Of the bacteria that do make it through, a further 80 percent will perish before they reach the intestine. Let's put that into some perspective. Of the billions of active organisms per probiotic capsule, only around 15-25 percent of them make it through to the gut. With a quality probiotic supplement, the delivery method has some special protections to help prevent such huge losses.
Look for a product that has microencapsulated on the label. Microencapsulation is a clever method that encloses each fragile live bacterium in a lipid medium. What this does is protect the bacteria against all those things that can hurt them. This includes protection from oxygen, light, stomach acids and stomach bile. Research has shown this to be a very effective method of delivery. All the bacteria should survive the hostile stomach environment and reach the target destination. The concept is quite simple, at least from a scientific perspective. What happens is that the lipid matrix that surrounds the bacteria only begins to dissolve in areas of the intestine.
Enteric-Coating – Not All Coatings Are Equal
You may come across something called enteric-coating on probiotic product labels. What you mustn't do is let this draw you into the “coating” message because not all coatings are equal. In this case, enteric-coating means that a protective substance coats the organisms. This substance is resilient to gastric acid, which is a good thing. It suggests the supplement will not open and release the good bacteria until it reaches the alkaline areas of the intestines. This claim is correct, and it's exactly what will happen, but there's a problem. The enteric coating process involves a lot of heat, and that causes some concern. This heating destroys plenty of the good bacteria before it even reaches the shelf. Enteric coating also adds ingredients to the product that you don't need, but the company factors them into the cost all the same.
Check the Packaging
Probiotics are real live organisms and they're fragile too. This means their environment can destroy them if it is anything less than ideal. Heat is one problem and so is moisture as it can activate them within the pills. If that happens they are sure to die off because they lack nutrients and a proper environment to survive. Cheaper probiotics are usually cheap for a reason. In most cases the manufacturers of cheap products will cut corners to keep the costs down. Low quality packaging is likely to be one such area where they skimp. Be mindful of the packaging when shopping for the first time. Look for thick, opaque, heavy duty plastic bottles, preferably with a desiccant pouch. The pouch helps to further protect the product from the harmful effects of humidity and moisture.
To know the number of viable bacteria present in a supplement you look for the CFUs or colony-forming units. It might seem logical to opt for the probiotic that displays the highest CFUs. This is perhaps more of a sales pitch than anything. To get the most out of a product, it's better to look for the strains of beneficial bacteria rather than the CFUs. Different strains of bacteria get to work on different areas of health. Strains are also concentrated in different locations within the gastrointestinal tract where each has specific roles to perform. Strains also work together to better serve our health needs.
You will get more value from a probiotic product that contains various strains. You obviously want to check the CFUs, but try not to let the numbers influence your decision. As a general rule, look for at least two billion organisms from each strain in the product. If you do this, you can be sure to reap the health benefits of each individual strain. As a rough guide, make sure your product contains a minimum of 10bn CFUs per serving. How many CFUs you need each day as an adult depends on whether you need a therapeutic dose or a maintenance dose. For adults, it's suggested 15bn CFUs per day for a maintenance dose and 20bn for therapeutic.
Point to note: If this is your first time taking probiotics, be sure to proceed slowly. Pay extra special attention to any die-off symptoms. If you don't notice any symptoms, continue to increase the dose – slowly – until you reach the target dosage.
There are other questions to consider based on the individual needs of the adult. You might also have questions about the particular products you've bought. You, or perhaps your doctor if they're involved, can only answer certain questions based on your situation. They might include things like:
- How often should I take my probiotic supplements?
- Do I need to take prebiotics with my probiotics?
- Should I keep my products in the refrigerator?
- How and at what time of day do I take my supplements?
- Can I take probiotics with antibiotics?
There may be other questions too, but these are the most common that people raise. Probiotics can provide huge benefits for your health, and especially that of your digestive system, but they are not miracle drugs. They can prevent, treat and even cure common ills, but they're not a cure-for-all wonder product. Some health issues will need more than just probiotic support to fix. Likewise, anyone looking for optimal health must always consider lifestyle and diet into the mix. Supplements – any kind of supplements – are there to complement and not replace elements of a healthy lifestyle.