Probiotics 101

You may recall the Activia commercials where Jamie Lee Curtis talks about her yogurt containing healthy probiotics that helped her with some digestive distress she had.  Since then there’s been a lot of amount of attention given to probiotics.  But what are they? Who benefits from them? What should you look for?  Let’s dive in!

First off, probiotics are defined by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the World Health Organization as “live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.”

They help maintain the integrity of the intestinal tract, assist with digestive processes and nutrient absorption. Basically, we all need some good probiotics in our diets.

The need for probiotics becomes important when our gut flora gets out of balance. This imbalance is due to: stress, the accumulations of toxins from our foods including grains and GMO (genetically modified organisms) foods, the environment, disease, antibiotics and medications.  These conditions wreak havoc on our digestive system and compromise the intestinal lining.  Gastric upset paves the way for chronic inflammation, constipation, diarrhea, skin conditions, autoimmune diseases and yeast infections. About 80% of our immune system stems from the health of our digestive system.  It is estimated that 60-70 million Americans suffer with digestive disorders according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders. Digestive disorders come with a $100 billion price tag! Ouch!

Like any health supplement, you want to make sure you are getting a quality product. Here are some important tips on what to look for in the probiotics aisle of your local health food store.

  • Type: Lactobacillus, bacillus and bifidobacterium are the most common types of probiotics and can be abbreviated with “L.” or “B.” Their individual strains provide additional benefit.
  • Number of strains: Select one that has at least ten different strains and a minimum of 15 billion CFUs (colony forming units). The ten most common strains include:
  • Lactobacillus acidophilus
  • Bacillus subtilis
  • Lactobacillus helvecticus
  • Lactobacillus rhamnosus
  • Lactobacillus plantarum
  • Lactococcus lactis
  • Bifidobacterium bifidum
  • Bifidobacterium longus
  • Bifidobacterium brevis
  • Saccharomyces Boulardii
  • Storage information: Some forms need to be refrigerated since they contain live cultures. Other types may have undergone a drying process that preserves the cultures in a dormant state until consumed. They require a dark, cool storage space. Moisture and heat will destroy the live cultures.
  • Shelf Life: “Viable through end of shelf life” indicates the cultures are still alive and well. If the label reads “viable at time of manufacture” leave that probiotic on the store shelf as there is no guarantee that the cultures are viable.
  • Encapsulated pills help the bacteria survive their journey through the acidic stomach and will then be released once they reach the intestines.
  • Certification: According to the FDA “is not authorized to review dietary supplement products for safety and effectiveness before they are marketed”. So the amount of bacteria listed may not be accurate. Look for testing by an independent third party.

You can also eat your probiotics! Our ancestors intuitively knew that fermented foods were beneficial for them and now fermented foods are all the rage due to their probiotic benefits.  Eating foods daily that are high in probiotics actually provides greater digestive support than supplements can. Here’s a list of some of the best fermented foods:

  • Sauerkraut and its spicy cousin Kimchi
  • Kefir or coconut kefir for those sensitive to dairy
  • Kombucha fermented tea
  • Miso
  • Yogurt from grass fed animals (Be aware of added sugars and opt for unsweetened yogurt.)
  • Pickles, pickled fruits and vegetables in unpasteurized brine (not vinegar)

A good probiotic and fermented foods should be consumed as part of a healthy gut maintenance program. When it comes to probiotics and supplements, you get what you pay for.  Supplements that are available at large retailers such as Walmart, Sam’s Club or Costco can contain fillers and synthetic ingredients.  Be careful not to waste your money on low quality supplements.  At Northern Lights Chiropractic we use Metagenics probiotics and supplements. You can check out our online store at or consult with your local health store or medical professional to see what they recommend.


Dr. Ramona Pleva is a chiropractor and owner of Northern Lights Chiropractic in Traverse City, MI. She can be reached at



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