The Top 5 Most Powerful Probiotics
Probiotics – live beneficial bacteria that aid the digestive system and help to keep your gut healthy. In 2017, it seems that not a day goes by where we don’t hear about this friendly bacteria and its impact for wellbeing.
But whether you’re keen to take probiotics to counteract the damaging effects of antibiotics, or to achieve any of the common benefits cited, you’ll want to use one that works: a probiotic powerful enough to survive the harsh acidic conditions of the stomach and reach the large intestine; and one which contains a sufficient number of live microorganisms to colonise after arrival and exert the desirable effects.
But before we look at the most powerful probiotic supplements, let’s talk about what probiotics could do for you.
The Evidence for Probiotics
Scientific work suggests probiotics not only benefit the digestive system but play a key role in immunological and respiratory functions. The literature is expanding all the time, but so far studies have shown that certain strains of beneficial bacteria can ease symptoms of hay fever and other allergies, enhance mood, improve sleep, prevent diarrhoea caused by pathogenic bacteria, reduce symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and lessen the impact of stress. And that’s very much a condensed list.
Research into probiotics has increased substantially in the last decade, though it should be said that interest had already been growing at a steady rate for 20 or so years before that, leading to the proper characterisation of specific probiotic cultures and wider awareness of their advantages for human health.
Among these well-researched strains were Lactobacillus, which crops up in yogurt and fermented foods, and Bifidobacterium, which appears in several dairy products. Strains from each of these families are the kind typically found in the human gastrointestinal tract, and importantly, they have proven sufficiently resistant to stomach acid to make an appreciable difference to the microbiome.
But what do they do? Well, in addition to fermenting carbohydrates in the gut, lactobacillus probiotics produce lactase, the enzyme responsible for breaking down lactose (the sugar from milk). The former process results in the production of lactic acid, which helps with stomach acidity and promotes improved absorption of vital minerals like calcium, iron and magnesium.
Bifidobacterium, meanwhile, helps to fend off harmful bacteria in the large intestine. Indeed, the walls of the large intestine are home to billions upon billions of bifidobacteria. Like Lactobacillus, it too produces lactic acid, although our levels decline naturally with age.
While probiotics should not replace a healthy lifestyle and balanced diet, there is a growing sense that they can help people retain health by modulating immunity – hence food crazes like kombucha, kimchi and sauerkraut, all of which contain natural probiotics. Tom MacDonald, professor of immunology at the London School of Medicine, is one notable champion of probiotics, calling them “the only immune-booster with real scientific grounding.”
Without further ado then, let’s look at the strongest probiotics currently on the market. Hopefully the list will help you make a clearer decision about which probiotic is right for you.
Ranking the 5 Most Powerful Probiotics
Progurt is by far the strongest probiotic currently available – at least in terms of bacterial content. Available in sachets rather than capsules, each serving provides 1 trillion Colony-Forming Units (CFU), double that of the second probiotic (Elixa) to feature in this article.
Some people may question why such a high number of bacteria is required to produce the desired effects. But when you consider that the number of bacteria in your intestines outstrips the number of cells in the body, you begin to realise that addressing the ‘balance’ of good and bad bacteria is no easy task; indeed, it requires a staggering number. Not the 100 million cultures necessary for the ‘Live and Actives Cultures’ sticker on yogurts, but billions. Hundreds of billions.
The International Probiotic Institute, the team behind Progurt, clearly appreciates this fact. While only a few manufacturers have succeeded in creating a product containing 100 billion or more, Progurt is the first to hit the trillion mark.
The 1 trillion beneficial bacteria from Progurt is human-derived, in direct contrast to many probiotics which are isolated from plants or animals (usually cows). Thus, you are getting a species-specific bacteria which is indigenous and intuitive to the human GIT. Strains include species of Lactic Acid Bacteria and Bifidobacteria, specifically Lactobacillus Acidophilus, Lactobacillus Bifidus and Streptococcus Thermophilus. You can either add a sachet to water and drink or use with the Progurt Incubator to make a 1-trillion probiotic yogurt. One sachet gives five days’ worth of yogurt if consuming 200ml per day.
Elixa is a potent multi-strain probiotic boasting half a trillion – or 500 billion – beneficial bacteria per serving. But while one daily dose of Progurt involves nothing more than drinking a glass of probiotic-infused water, you must consume 10 capsules a day to achieve the 500bn count.
There are 11 strains of scientifically-studied bacteria in each Elixa capsule: Lactobacillus Plantarum, Lactobacillus Reuteri, Lactobacillus Salivarius, Lactobacillus Helveticus, Lactobacillus Acidophilus, Lactobacillus Casei, Lactobacillus Rhamnosus, Bifidobacterium Bifidum, Bifidobacterium Lactis, Bifidobacterium Longum and Bifidobacterium Breve.
The program Elixa advise is a six-day one: simply take ten capsules a day for six days, on an empty stomach. For those who want better results, a double pack is recommended: meaning you take the probiotics over 12 consecutive days. You can repeat the protocol whenever you feel that your healthy bacteria is in need of a top-up.
Elixa probiotics make use of Fortress-5 encapsulation technology, a 5-stage process which is said to increase stability and help the good bacteria arrive intact in the large intestine.
VSL#3 is a popular probiotic supplement which styles itself as a ‘combination poly-biotic’. It is the third-highest strength probiotic in terms of CFU, offering 450 billion beneficial bacteria per serving from eight strains. Like Progurt, it exists in sachet rather than capsule form.
The strains, incidentally, include Lactobacillus Acidophilus, Lactobacillus Paracasei, Lactobacillus Plantarum, Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. Bulgaricus, Bifidobacterium Infantis, Bifidobacterium Breve, Bifidobacterium Longum and Streptococcus Thermophilus.
Due to the large volume of probiotics, as well as the number of strains, VSL#3 should succeed in making a positive impact on your microbiome. Sachets can be mixed into yogurt or added to a cold (non-carbonated) drink. It is recommended you take it for one month to see the benefit. VSL#3 is one of the few probiotic supplements prescribed in the UK.
4. Life Shot 200
Now for something a little different: a high-potency coconut kefir from a London company called Rhythm Health. Life Shot 200 has a strong fermented taste and professes to contain 200 billion live beneficial bacteria until the end of its shelf life. The kefir cultures are lactose-free and raised in coconut.
As for the protocol, the company suggest using the kefir as part of a 5-day intensive plan, consuming one shot daily in the morning 20 mins before eating or as a 10-day inner boost plan, consuming one shot every other day. As a bonus, Life Shot 200 contains its own prebiotic coconut dietary fibre.
5. Ultimate Flora Extra Care Probiotic
The next mega-dose, multi-strain probiotic to make the shortlist is Ultimate Flora from Renew Life, a company specialising in digestive health. The broad-spectrum formula packs a powerful punch, containing 40 Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus strains intended to re-establish digestive balance. The probiotic count is 150 billion, and if you’re interested in knowing the exact breakdown, we’re talking around 88.5 billion CFU from Bifido cultures and 61.2 billion from Lacto species.
Unique from the aforementioned supplements, these live cultures come in delayed-release capsules. The high bacteria count is also guaranteed through expiration and the suggested serving is one capsule per day, with or without food.
There you have it, then: five powerful probiotics which promise to get your gut microbes back in good order. A word of caution is necessary, however: we should resist focusing solely on how many Colony-Forming Units are contained in each product; it is the quality, above all, that matters. While bacteria content is clearly an important consideration, more might not always be better.
The same caveat applies to the number of strains: some probiotics containing just a few have achieved better results than others boasting 10 or 20. If you’re in any doubt as to what’s best for you, you can review the research on each of the popular strains to see if they are suitable for whatever problem you’re experiencing. You can also rely on customer feedback and independent reviews.
When you’ve made your mind up, use your probiotic as directed and know that effects may only start to be felt after a few weeks. Only then will you truly know whether you’ve made the right choice.