When a person goes to the store looking for a probiotic, they find themselves, staring at the Wall of Confusion. A typical customer has no idea which product to choose. Do you choose based on the brand? Price? Strains? Do you choose the refrigerated or unrefrigerated? Do you compare CFUs? (Hint: it’s a Colony Forming Unit used to measure the amount of a particular bacteria). How does a customer make a decision? What we’ve learned is that most people either give up or, even worse, choosing a probiotic at random.
This creates a real problem. When an individual selects a probiotic at random there is a strong chance it will not have the impact they were looking for. Lack of efficacy sours them on probiotics in general and leaves them with a perception that that the whole industry is just so much “snake oil.” This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Probiotics are good for you, that is a well-known fact. A recent study published by Harvard Medical School concluded,
“Research has been promising for these friendly critters [probiotics]. Potential benefits of probiotics have been seen in the treatment or prevention of:
- irritable bowel syndrome
- ulcerative colitis
- Crohn's disease
- H. pylori (the cause of ulcers)
- vaginal infections
- urinary tract infections
- recurrence of bladder cancer
- infection of the digestive tract caused by Clostridium difficile
- pouchitis (a possible side effect of surgery that removes the colon)
- eczema in children.”
If probiotics are good and that fact is well established, then why don’t they work for everyone?
The problem is while some probiotics can positively impact gut health, everyones’ gut is unique. A strain that is good for one person is most likely not the right fit for someone else. The Harvard study cited above lays it out in simpler terms, “Not all probiotics are the same. Different strains of the bacteria have different effects.” Our human DNA is 99.9% similar, yet the .1% variance is basis for the physical difference between humans i.e. hair color, eye color, and even skin tone. However, an individual’s gut microbiome is only 10% similar with others. This means there is a 90% difference in your gut composition across the general population and therefore highly improbable for even the “best” off the shelf probiotic to work as intended.
So, what do I do?
Unfortunately for most people, finding the right probiotic is a matter of trial and error. People pick and choose based on a variety of factors including, cost, looks, price, and recommendation. The only real way to determine which probiotic is right for you is to test your microbiome and first determine what, if any, store-bought probiotic will work to enhance your gut health. Without first benchmarking your gut bacteria , there is no way to determine which strains of bacteria will help your maximize your gut health. Additionally, unless you retest after your use of a probiotic, there is no way to prove if the probiotic is working.
It is our point of view that to effectively manage gut health you must understand the makeup of your own unique gut bacteria, take a probiotic that specifically addresses the needs that you have, and then retest to ensure it’s working. Otherwise, you most likely won’t get the results you are looking for.