If you’re interested in taking a probiotic supplement such as a powder, capsule or a drink, you probably already know that supplements are filled with microbes that help to ensure there’s a proper balance between good and bad bacteria in the digestive system. Here’s a probiotics guide that provides information on some of the more specific strains that you will typically find in these products.
What are Probiotic Bacteria?
The digestive system, more specifically the gastrointestinal tract, or “gut,” contains trillions of bacteria. Some of these bacteria are harmful, leading to the development of several serious diseases. But a lot of them are actually good for us because they keep the bad ones from thriving to the point that they make us sick on a continual basis.
There are a lot of factors that go into determining how many beneficial bacteria we have in our system. One of the most common is the use of antibiotics. These powerful medications eradicate bad bacteria, but they kill good ones as well. Probiotics are designed to help boost the number of beneficial bacteria so that balance can be restored to the gut.
Manufacturers put a lot of different types, or “strains,” of bacteria in the probiotics they sell. This probiotics guide will spell out some of the strains that are commonly found in supplements. Look for these strains on the labels of products you are thinking of buying.
This family of bacteria contains several different strains, and is typically included in most probiotics products. Lactobacillus is the predominant type of bacteria found in the gut, and is largely responsible for producing an enzyme known as lactase, which helps the body break down the lactose found in milk and other dairy products. Lactobacillus also plays a role in producing lactic acid, a substance that helps inhibit the formation of many kinds of harmful bacteria. Here are just a few of the different Lactobacillus strains.
- Lactobacillus acidophilus – Many experts consider L. acidophilus to be the most important – and most beneficial – Lactobacillus strain. It typically colonizes, or proliferates, within the small intestine, helping to strengthen the intestinal wall, as well as aiding in the absorption of nutrients.1 Studies have shown that L. acidophilus can help reduce the symptoms of some forms of diarrhea and also help strengthen the immune system.2,3
- Lactobacillus fermentum – L. fermentum is found naturally in foods such as kimchi as well as sourdough, but is another staple of probiotic supplements. It also helps neutralize harmful bacteria in the gut by producing antioxidants.4
- Lactobacillus plantarum – L. plantarum helps produce hydrogen peroxide, which is another substance the body uses to defend itself against bad bacteria and other pathogenic microbes. Studies show that it can also help boost the immune system.5
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus – This strain is known for its toughness – specifically, its ability to survive the difficult trek through the gastrointestinal tract. Acids in this area of the body can kill many types of bacteria, but typically not L. rhamnosus. This is another probiotic that can help protect the body from developing certain types of diarrhea.6
- Lactobacillus gasseri – L. gasseri is most closely associated with vaginal health. In one study, researchers found that women who experienced vaginal discomfort on a regular basis had lower levels of L. gasseri, while those who did not experience discomfort had normal levels.7
This is another family of bacteria that mostly resides in the intestines, but unlike Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium is typically found in the large intestine, rather than the small intestine. It also produces lactic acid and helps strengthen the intestinal wall. In addition, it also helps the body absorb nutrients such as copper, iron, zinc, and many others. These are a few Bifidobacterium strains commonly found in probiotic products.
- Bifidobacterium bifidum – B. bifidum is one of the first bacterial strains we start to develop as babies, and eventually, it becomes one of the most populous strains found in the gut. It helps inhibit the growth of harmful pathogens and aids the digestive process by breaking down fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. It is specifically helpful in preventing traveller’s diarrhea, according to studies.8
- Bifidobacterium longum – The B. longum bacterial strain also helps break down carbs and neutralize toxins in the gut. It performs the added function of helping to strengthen the immune system. One study involving elderly subjects showed that B. longum continued to aid in the improvement of immune system functioning for several weeks after stopping the use of probiotic supplements.9
- Bifidobacterium infantis – B. infantis is more prevalent in the infancy stage and starts to gradually decline as we get older. Supplementation with B. infantis has been shown to help relieve constipation as well as bloating.10
The Bacillus bacteria in the gut also produce lactic acid, and are also resistant to stomach acid and heat. As a result, Bacillus can thrive in the digestive system. The B. coagulans strain is associated with the digestion of lactose as well as helping the body properly utilize minerals, such as calcium and phosphorus.
Most people may associate the Streptococcus family of bacteria with the S. pyogenes strain that causes “strep throat,” but there are beneficial strains as well. For example, S. salivarius K 12, which is primarily found in the oral cavity, helps reduce the frequency of sore throats.11 It has also been associated with a reduction in bad breath, as well as the accumulation of dental plaque. 12,13
Hopefully, this probiotics guide will help you become a better-educated consumer when you’re shopping around for probiotic products. Look closely at the labeling of any products you are thinking of purchasing to make sure they contain these beneficial bacteria. Also, make sure you speak with your doctor before using any sort of probiotic supplement. While they are thought to be safe for people in overall good health, they could cause problems for people suffering from severe illnesses, or those with a compromised immune system.