Prebiotics are substances that support the growth of certain microbiota, while probiotics are made up of the microorganisms themselves. Just one probiotic supplement contains billions of good bacteria. Introducing probiotics to resolve issues means you’re attempting to restore proper levels of intestinal microflora for proper digestion and absorption of nutrients.
In turn, prebiotics and probiotics help rein in harmful strains of bacteria that would otherwise overpopulate if growth were left unchecked, even preventing and inhibiting infections. Unlike probiotics, prebiotics are not microorganisms—they are nondigestible and typically nonabsorbable nutrients that help good bacteria grow and flourish. Most prebiotics are fibers or carbohydrates that can be taken as supplements or found occurring naturally in foods.
When it comes to balancing the gut, you can’t do it quickly. Remember, we’re talking about living organisms. It may be helpful to think of the gut as a garden of sorts—we want to cultivate more of the bacteria we need and weed out the kind we don’t want. Just like with a garden, first you have to create an ideal environment that supports healthy growth of whatever it is you’re planting. In this case, we’re talking about prebiotics as the “good soil” with lots of rich fertilizer, and probiotics as the “good seed.”
It’s important to understand how probiotics are absorbed in the body. First, not all types can survive the journey through your stomach and large intestine. And second, others tend to “leak” out into the bloodstream. For probiotic treatment to be useful, the microbiota must get where they’re intended to go. Many supplement types have no real effect (besides as a placebo), because the strains don’t ever make it past your stomach acid. This is why it’s critical to rely on good research and, ideally, to work with professionals. They will help you determine precisely which strains you might need and which brands of supplements will be most effective to address your unique concerns and medical history.
It’s also important to understand that not all probiotics are created equal. Some probiotics will give better results than others, so it is critical to validate that a particular probiotic is effective and will work for you. Here are some criteria for evaluating a probiotic supplement to make sure it best fits your needs:
- Select a probiotic that contains a prebiotic (fiber/food for the probiotic). This is an important component of any quality probiotic supplement as it will be essential
in ensuring that the probiotic survives the journey into the digestive system. Think of it as taking a long trip and packing some snacks for the ride.
- Use the correct potency. When looking at a probiotic supplement, you will see the potency listed most often in “billions CFU.” CFU stands for colony-forming units. Many manufacturers will suggest that the more billions, the better for you. But research clearly demonstrates that simply taking more is not necessarily better. The correct amount to take daily is between 10 and 20 billion CFU. Taking more will increase your cost while not providing any more benefits.
Determine that the probiotic has a scientifically validated delivery system so the probiotic bacteria can survive exposure to stomach acid and bile, as well as making sure they are hydrated correctly and fed properly. Find a system that uses an all-natural method of delivering beneficial probiotic bacteria without chemicals and processing aids used in other systems, such as enteric coating, delayed release capsules, and pearls. Once you find a probiotic that looks suitable to your needs, conduct online research to discover its viability, or speak with a qualified nutritionist to get a recommendation.
But getting the right bacteria into your gut is a multifaceted task, involving more than pre-, pro-, and psychobiotics. Not surprisingly, it’s the food and liquid we choose to put into our guts that will determine their long-term health. Our aim is to address gut imbalance and achieve the kind of balance that will lead to maximum health . . . including mental health.
Witten by Dr. Gregory Jantz, the founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE in Edmonds, Washington, voted a top ten facility for the treatment of depression in the United States. Dr. Jantz pioneered Whole Person Care in the 1980’s and is a world-renowned expert on eating disorders, depression, anxiety, technology addiction, and abuse. He is a leading voice and innovator in Mental Health utilizing a variety of therapies including nutrition, sleep therapy, spiritual counseling, and advanced DBT techniques. Dr. Jantz is a best-selling author of 37 books and has appeared on CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, and CNN.
 Franziska Spritzler, “How to Choose the Best Probiotic Supplement,” Healthline, January 21, 2017, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/best-probiotic-supplement.