Fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi are trending—and it’s not because of the way they taste.
It’s the same reason national chains like Costco are now selling big bottles of kombucha and water kefir. Word is spreading about the health benefits of probiotics.
There’s undeniable proof that these strains of beneficial bacteria improve overall health. Some probiotics can even be used to treat specific concerns like digestive or immunological issues.
But the problem with relying solely on fermented foods to keep your body’s healthy bacteria in check is that there’s no real way to know which of the 500 different strains of beneficial probiotics are growing in your cultured products. Depending on the type of food, how long it was fermented, the initial bacterial culture used, and even where the product was made, your ’booch or sauerkraut could be teeming with good-for-you probiotics—or totally lacking them. There’s no way to tell.
The solution? Continue enjoying fermented foods, but add a regular probiotic supplement to your daily routine to ensure you’re getting enough—and the right kinds—of healthy bacteria. High-quality formulations list the strains designations (a letter and number code after the genus and species name, like B. Longum BB536) of the probiotic organisms, as well as the CFUs (colony forming units) found in each serving on the package, and a good supplement should contain at least two different types of bacteria in order to promote balanced gut flora. Most probiotic enthusiasts recommend choosing a blend that has at least four strains and a minimum of 5 billion CFUs per part.
Well-trusted brands like Jarrow always include the strain designations on their packaging—if your probiotic supplement doesn’t, it could be hiding generic or unidentified strains that cause more harm than good.
Popular probiotics like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are best known for easing digestion and increasing the absorption of nutrients, but every strain designation has its own benefits. Here are some of the surprising health issues that probiotics have been scientifically proven to help with—and the specific strains to look for in your supplement of choice.
Strengthen the immune system
Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium bifidum, and Bifidobaterium longum
It’s not just school kids and teachers that fall prey to nasty bugs—during cold and flu season, germs are everywhere. One in five Americans will come down with the flu every year, and office workers lose an average of five sick days annually when they’re stuck in bed.
Although staying home sick sometimes has its perks (Netflix marathon, anyone?), for elite athletes, a week spent curled up on the couch instead of working out can cause catastrophic career setbacks. Turns out that because an intensive training schedule weakens the immune system, pro athletes are more likely to get sidelined by illness. That’s why researchers in New Zealand examined the effects of certain probiotic strains on elite professional rugby players. They found that those who took supplements daily for four weeks had 40 percent fewer colds and gastrointestinal infections than those who took a placebo.
Save your sick days and take a supplement that has strains like Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium bifidum, and Bifidobaterium longum, which all help strengthen the immune system. Our pick? Ultra Jarro-Dophilus—it has 50 billion CFUs per serving and more than 10 different strains (including the three above!) to support immune health and overall well-being.
Improve digestion and nutrient absorption
Lactobacillus species like L. acidophilus, L. plantarum, Bifidobacterium strains
What if you learned that all that kale salad you’ve been choking down wasn’t actually helping you get any healthier? Well, it might not be. If your stomach has the right balance of probiotics, it’s easy to break down food to absorb the nutrients. But if your stomach and intestines are performing at a sub-par level, food is probably passing through your body only partially digested.
Balanced gut flora (the ecosystem of healthy bacteria in the stomach and small intestine) is essential for optimal digestion. Illness, antibiotics, and a diet high in sugar and processed food all inhibit healthy bacterial growth in the gut. It’s important to replenish Lactobacillus strains in particular; L. acidophilus and L. plantarum thrive in the small intestine and help break down lactose (a milk sugar) and other carbohydrates as well as support overall digestion.
Try a supplement that contains both, like Yum Yum Dophilus. The chewable tablets also contain strains of Bifidobacterium, which have been proven to increase the absorption of minerals like calcium, copper, magnesium, iron, and zinc.
Reduce anxiety and depression
L. acidophilus, Bifidobacterium, and Lactococcus
The link between food and mood is undeniable. But researchers haven’t really taken a closer look at how they could be related until recently. Some mental health disorders like depression have been linked to low-grade brain inflammation, which has in turn been linked to imbalances in gut bacteria. Other issues like chronic fatigue, anxiety, and mood fluctuations can also be traced back funky gut flora. Probiotic bacteria may play a direct role in improving cognition, behavior, and gut-to-brain communication.
While it’s still unclear why a healthy gut can give mental health a boost, researchers hypothesize that bacteria give off feel-good chemicals that travel to the brain. Strains like L. acidophilus, Bifidobacterium, and Lactococcus have been studied the most for their antidepressant qualities. Jarro-Dophilus EPS contains all three, plus a few others like B. longum that encourage full-body detoxification.
At the very least, taking a regular probiotic supports a healthy immune system and digestive regularity. But depending on your health concerns, it might be the magic pill you’ve been waiting for. Just make sure the supplement you’re using has clinically documented strains, actual strain identifications listed on the label, is specifically designed to suit your needs, and is a reputable brand like Jarrow Formulas.
Photo credit: Alicia Cho