What is a probiotic?
Probiotics are live microbes that can be formulated into many different types of products including foods, drugs, and dietary supplements. Species of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are most commonly used as probiotics; however, the yeast Saccharomyces and some E. coli and Bacillus species are also used.
Lactic acid bacteria (LAB), including species of Lactobacillus, which have been used for preservation of food by fermentation for thousands of years, can serve a dual function by acting as agents of food fermentation and potentially imparting health benefits. Fermentation of food provides characteristic taste profiles and lowers the pH in your gut, which prevents contamination by potential pathogens. Fermentation is globally applied in the preservation of a range of raw agricultural materials (cereals, roots, tubers, fruit and vegetables, milk, meat, and/or fish for example). Strictly speaking, however, the term “probiotic” should be reserved for live microbes that have been shown in controlled human studies to impart a health benefit.
What do probiotics do?
Increasing evidence shows that the activity of probiotic bacteria in the human GI tract plays a role in the dietary management of certain diseases. The intestine is naturally colonized by more than 400 different bacterial species. 40 of these are predominant. In the colon, bacteria reach a concentration of 1010 – 1012 per ml of fecal contents. It has now been scientifically proven that the intestinal microflora, and in particular Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli, play a significant role in your health by:
- affecting the PH of the intestine leading to healing
- providing bacteria that produce nutrients that heal the colon
- competing with bad bacteria already present for nutrients and positioning on the colon wall
The intestinal microflora play a significant role in metabolic function both from a nutritional point of view as well as for the maintenance of an efficient intestinal mucosal barrier.
How do I choose a probiotic?
Know Your Bacteria:
Studies have shown that taking specific multistrain probiotics can help infer health benefits above what a change in diet alone could accomplish. Each probiotic formulation must show that its mixture of bacterial strains can help patients in the dietary management of their specific diseases. VSL#3 provides specifically modified nutritional support for the dietary management of certain medically diagnosed conditions by delivering a high concentration of several strains of live bacteria in a formulation that survives gastric acids, bile salts, and pancreatic secretions thereby colonizing the gastrointestinal tract. This high-potency probiotic medical food contains 8 different strains of live lactic acid bacteria that were specially selected to produce an optimal synergistic composition of bacteria. The 8 strains are:
- Bifidobacterium breve
- Bifidobacterium longum
- Bifidobacterium infantis
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Lactobacillus plantarum
- Lactobacillus paracasei
- Lactobacillus bulgaricus
- Streptococcus thermophiles
Know Your Dosage:
Most commercially available probiotics contain between 1 to 10 billion CFU (colony forming units) per capsule. Even yogurt, a common source of probiotics for many Americans, does not contain more than 2 billion CFU per serving. However, VSL#3 capsules have 112.5 billion CFU per capsule. VSL#3 is also sold in packets that have 225 billion and 450 billion CFU count. VSL#3 also is made in a prescription form, called VSL#3 DS, and this contains 900 billion CFU per packet. It is by far the most potent probiotic on the market!
Yeast based probiotics are great for antibiotic associated diarrhea, and specific multi-strain probiotics are good for Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Ulcerative Colitis.
For Irritable Bowel Syndrome, one capsule of 112.5 billion per day is great to start.
For Ulcerative Colitis, one packet of 450 billion per day is great and go up to 3600 billion per day if flaring.
Check the Quality:
Remember, supplements are not regulated by the FDA. Since VSL#3 is a medical food and not a dietary supplement like most other probiotics, it truly has the CFU count it claims on the label, and that fact is verified by the FDA. You can find it in most pharmacies, but you have to ask for it. VSL#3 is refrigerated, a feature that ensures it is being purchased as live bacteria, so consumers will need to walk back to the pharmacist and ask for VSL#3 from the fridge behind the counter (even though most of the forms do not require a prescription). VSL#3 is gluten free, non-dairy, Kosher and Halal certified.
Probiotics are safe, effective, cheap ways to get your GI tract healthy again!
**Update: A high quality probiotic is now available in the PCOS Diva store!
Jenna Pedone, RPh, Sigma-Tau Pharmaceuticals
Jenna Pedone, RPh is a registered pharmacist. She graduated form the University of Rhode Island and currently works at Sigma Tau Pharmaceuticals. Jenna has a passion for non pharmaceutical options to help heal patients. Visit their website at http://www.vsl3.com.