“Hey Professor Microbe” – the text from my next-door neighbor read – “What probiotics are better for me to buy, the ones on the shelf or the ones that are refrigerated?”
Professor Microbe (Anne @mostlymicrobes): “Why are you buying probiotics?”
Neighbor: “General gut health”
PM: “Don’t! Spend the money on PRE-biotics – fruits, veggies, and live fermented foods.”
Probiotics are quite the established health fad with over 36.6 billion USD in sales in 2015! WOAH! In general, we don’t need them. The average person who eats a healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables feeds their own personal “probiotics” in their digestive system, primarily the large intestine. Feed what you have. Think whole grains and “Eat a Rainbow” of different colors and kinds of plants. My favorite gut microbiome-food book talking about good eating and the gut microbiome is The Good Gut. For an idea of what my family and I eat, check out my Instagram feed or #feedthemicrobes.
“When should a healthy person take probiotics?”
Pretty much just after taking wide spectrum antibiotics. These antibiotics kill many different kinds of bacteria – invading pathogens and your native microbes (tetracyclines, cephalosporins, aminopenicillins (ampicillin, amoxicillin)).
For people with medical issues, I think the best guide out there is the Clinical Guide to Probiotic Products (PDF: US version, Canadian version). It gives an easy-to-use table of which probiotics have passed clinical trials for specific medical issues. It’s also available as an App through Google Play or iTunes. I keep it on my phone for whenever face-to-face conversations warrant it.
“Which ones are best to buy refrigerated or on-the-shelf probiotics.”
It’s a good question too. This depends on how they are packaged. Probiotics like Culturelle ** have each one of the capsules packaged individually, so they are shelf-stable. The bacteria are in a kind of resting state, safe from moisture and air in their little foil pouches. Many probiotics that come in a bottle are shelf-stable until opening. Upon opening the capsules are exposed to air, warmer temperatures, and moisture, so they should be kept in the refrigerator. Also, if you want to double check the claims on the bottle’s label, look at LabDoor’s probiotic rankings. Note that their “quality” system evaluates whether the number of live bacteria in the bottle and the bacteria GENERA (ex: Lactobacillus rhamnosus) present are what is claimed on the label, the purity of the product, and price per capsule (really how many bacteria per $). What they don’t do is to examine which STRAINS (ex: Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG) of bacteria are present and what their effects might be. With many of these probiotics, it is the strain level information (in this case GG) that may confer a benefit.
Hope those answers help clarify things a bit.
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