woman-reaching-toward-skyIf you’ve been following my blogs “Debunking the Myths about Probiotics” and “The Good, The Bad, and The Undecided” you’ve probably realized that maintaining a healthy microbial balance in your gut is essential to great health.  But how do you choose a high quality probiotic supplement with the right strains of beneficial microbes?  To help you decide, let me share some of the ABCs of probiotics, introduce you to the families of microbes, and introduce you to some of the best strains for health.

There are many different types of microbes, including bacteria and yeasts, that colonize the body.  The two main families of bacteria include:  Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria.  These groups of bacteria, each of which has many species and sub-species perform vital functions involving vitamin synthesis, detoxification of toxic substances, stimulation of the immune response, protection against harmful bacteria, and maintaining the structural integrity of the intestinal lining.

After sorting through hundreds of studies over the past 25 years of research, I found that some of the species showing the most promise include:  Lactobacillus strains such as acidophilus, bulgaricus,casei, and plantarum along with Bifidobacteriumbifidum, longum, and subtilis (the latter is sometimes called Bacillus subtilis). There is another strain of beneficial bacteria that doesn’t belong to either of these families, yet is also beneficial to health—Streptococcus thermophilus.  Their names may sound like a foreign language but the gut health benefits they offer make them a beneficial addition to your diet.

Since the names of these probiotics are complex enough they are often shortened to L. or B. if they are members of the Lactobacilli or Bifidobacteria families, respectively.  There are also beneficial yeasts such as Saccharomyces cerevisiae which is usually shortened to S. cerevisiae so look for these names on the package of the probiotic you select.

Members of the Lactobacilli family reside primarily in the small intestines and have even been found in research to stimulate the body’s own anti-inflammatory response.  But the Lactobacilli family cannot take all of the credit for creating a healthy gut.  The Bifidobacteria family also plays a significant role.  Bifidobacteria reside primarily in the large intestines and play a role in vitamin production, destroying some harmful microbes, and balancing the immune system.  New research in the Journal of Medicinal Food found that the probiotic yeast S. cerevisiae may have anti-inflammatory properties.

While it’s definitely not necessary to remember all of the strains mentioned above…or even to pronounce them correctly to benefit from them, it is valuable to choose a probiotic supplement that contains these proven beneficial strains as there are many strains on the market that are unproven and these strains may antagonize proven strains, thereby reducing their numbers.

When it comes to the ABCs of probiotics, look for the best Ls, Bs, and Ss.

Michelle Schoffro CookMichelle Schoffro Cook, PhD, DNM, ROHP is an international best-selling and 17-time book author and doctor of natural medicine, whose books include: 60 Seconds to Slim, Weekend Wonder Detox, The Ultimate pH Solution, and Healing Recipes. She is the publisher of the free e-magazine World’s Healthiest News. Subscribe to receive health news, tips, recipes and more. Follow her on Twitter @mschoffrocook and Facebook. Learn more about her work on her website DrMichelleCook.com.