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Probiotics have been a hot topic for longer than I can remember – from major yogurt brands touting all the gastrointestinal benefits you could ever want to the rise in fermented foods and the kombucha fad that’s been taking over grocery stores near you (to be clear, all this stuff is great if you enjoy consuming it but it’s not going to cure your troubles or make you superhuman).

5 reasons consumable probiotics are  

  • The strains of Bifidobacterium or Lactobacillus found in many yogurts and pills may not be the same kind that can survive in your stomach (as it’s highly acidic) and therefore not make it to colonize the gut
  • Even if some survive, there would be too few to alter your existing ecosystem
  • Studies done on healthy individuals show little to no impact (and ones that show some statistically significant improvements were done on really small sample sizes <50 people)
  • There’s very little regulation on probiotics on the market currently (so you could be getting dead bacteria, the wrong bacteria or just rice powder)
  • A variety of bacteria are present and needed in your gut – not just one or two as most probiotic pills contain

That being said, probiotics can be helpful if you are on or have recently taken antibiotics because the small population(s) of harmful bacteria that are still in your system have an opportunity to proliferate while your healthy bacteria colonies have been reduced. In these cases yogurt or probiotics containing Lactobacillus could help with preventing these opportunistic infections while on antibiotics.

If you still are curious about trying probiotics anyway to see it’s impact on your body and health issues here are 5 resources to help with your decision. As always, it’s important to understand that complications and illnesses can arise with consuming probiotics so I would recommend researching and consulting with experts who understand your body and health conditions before moving forward.

3 resources for finding probiotics that might help: 

  • Labdoor – https://labdoor.com/rankings/probiotics Labdoor helps you understand the contents of your supplements – whether they actually contain the ingredients they claim to, whether those ingredients are active and whether they’re pure. Note that it won’t help you understand whether it will do anything for you. A sample report looks like: 
  • A more helpful resource for me has been http://www.probioticchart.ca/ – the team has put together a list of available probiotics along with their level of clinical evidence for various conditions (from IBS, traveller’s diarrhea, oral health to more serious issues such as C. difficile induced diarrhea). They’ve also grouped the research into tiers (I for properly designed randomized trials, II for studies without randomization or lack of controls and III for ‘expert’ opinions. If you’re looking for something to help you with a specific condition you can start here. If you’re healthy but are thinking about weight loss or other superhero traits…read on in the next section.
  • Want to know what your gut microbiome is – get a kit at uBiome and see the results: https://ubiome.com/ Based on your results and/or your doctor’s evaluation you could give one of their treatment guides a try (example: https://ubiome.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/SmartGut-Treatment-Guide-Lifestyle-Diet.pdf)

My Probiotics Experiment

A couple of years ago, I went on a low-carb (<20g net / day) diet supplementing with Jamieson Digestive Care.

For the first time, I’d felt really really good – no bloating, digestive issues or feeling bad in the belly. Of course this was no properly executed experiment – there are a lot of reasons I could have felt amazing. I haven’t taken that probiotic since because I ended up purchasing a different brand after getting bacterial pneumonia and needing antibiotics for it. Since then I’ve been struggling with stomach issues (even while resuming a low carb diet). Before going back to Jameson Digestive care I wanted to try and see if other probiotics helped me at all (even though I agree it’s highly unlikely any of them are providing me long term help).

I started by going to Labdoor and taking a look at their top listed probiotics and decided I’d try Culturelle, Garden of Life Primal Defense, and Align Probiotics (I was going to try Florastor but it is really intended for diarrhea and not what I’m looking for). I cross checked these on probioticchart.ca – Align is intended for IBS (sounds like it might help me), Garden of Life was unlisted (but it’s bacterial breakdown matched strains I looked up in scientific papers), and Culturelle was listed for diarrhea (not relevant) and h. pylori (potentially relevant).

How I did this – kept my diet somewhat similar (macro %) and took a probiotic once a day at night after consuming some fibre gummies for a month. At the end of the day this wasn’t intended to be scientific (no before and afters of my gut flora composition) but intended to see what would help me feel better. There are enough papers out there on the actual effect / lack of effect on gut flora for these and other probiotics.

Results:

  1. Garden of Life – Primal Defense : This was awful for me – I got harsh cramps, bloating, and gas from taking it…and a bit of weight gain. I tried it for a month hoping it was just taking time for me to adjust to these strains but it was a painful and unpleasant month. It didn’t work for me and I’ve found several reviews online questioning the brand.
  2. Align Probiotics: No side effects, I felt pretty neutral on these – occasional gas/bloating that I normally experience, no change in weight/measurements. I’ve come to the conclusion I don’t need to continue on this.
  3. Jamieson Digestive Care: I went back on this to see if it helped me or if it was a one-off. So far I’m bloat and gas free (3 weeks in) and feeling good. I think the lack of bloating helps with the weight/measurements so I’m going to keep taking this for now.

I ended up leaving out Culturelle for now since I’m more looking for IBS relevant probiotics and it’s not meant for that. Jamieson could be working out for me because L. plantarum helps with IBS and this probiotic doesn’t contain other strains that upset my stomach. In any case, your mileage will vary but it might be worth looking on probioticchart.ca and trying something that will help you with your condition.

It didn’t turn me into a superhero or speed up weight loss but the additional support for IBS (whether short term or placebo or real) makes me happy for now.

The superhero treatment:

If you’re looking to lose weight, get superpowers (only slightly joking) or get better IBS treatment then  transplantation therapy is likely the way to go. Research shows that obese/IBS patients (and rats) treated with  transplantation from a healthy individual lose weight and have a reduction in IBS symptoms (gut flora before and afters as well as weight/body fat % measurements). Don’t do this on your own. You risk acquiring diseases and making yourself worse off if the samples are not tested and properly administered. You might be able to find a doctor who has signed on to provide these treatments (although currently it is only allowed for patients with C. difficile for whom standard treatments have failed).

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