What Are Probiotics, Really?
So you want to try taking a daily probiotic supplement. Sounds easy enough. But when you search online or show up to the store, you’re overwhelmed with terminology you’ve never heard of and more options than you anticipated. As the Pro in Probiotics, Align is here to help, answering everything from “What are probiotics” to “How do I choose the best probiotic for me?”
What’s Living in my Gut?
What’s in my Gut Microbiome?
Your gut microbiome (a word for the community of bacteria that make up your gut) breaks down and helps digest the food you eat. Adding the right good bacteria to your gut can help by leading to fewer occasional digestive issues and helping you feel healthier.
However, the balance of good bacteria in your gut can be delicate. This balance can be thrown off by things like:
- New diet
- Routine change
- Increased stress
Probiotic Pro Tip: Taking a probiotic supplement daily can help increase the good bacteria in your gut to maintain a healthy balance even if you struggle with some of the factors listed above.
What Are Probiotics?
Your gut microbiome has trillions of bacteria in it. Some good, some not so good. Probiotics are the good, live bacteria you add to your gut that provide a health benefit via a supplement, like Align Probiotic, or some foods with live cultures.
Good bacteria help your body digest food and produce nutrients. By adding more good bacteria, your overall digestive health can improve.
Probiotic Pro Tip: Not all bacteria are harmful—the good bacteria are part of what keeps your gut health in check.
Before you invite a daily probiotic to take up residence in your microbiome, you should feel confident that the product you choose will provide live bacteria that can maintain that healthy balance.
The Probiotic Strain Determines the Benefit
Every living organism has a classification, and probiotics, which are live bacteria, are no different. Probiotics are identified by the genus, species/subspecies, and strain. For example, here is how to identify Bifidobacterium 35624, the flagship strain of Align:
- Genus: Bifidobacterium
- Subspecies: longum
- Strain: 35624TM
The concept of a probiotic strain is similar to the breed of a dog. Dogs are the same genus and species, but there are different breeds. Similarly, different strains of probiotics have different health benefits.
Probiotic Pro Tip: Not all probiotics are the same.
Some probiotic strains have been shown in studies to have immune benefits (for example, Bifidobacterium lactis BB12®, found in Align Daily Immune Support. Others have data to support helping with occasional digestive symptoms like gas and bloating (for example, Bifidobacterium 35624, the strain found in Align 24/7 Digestive Support.*§
Studies have shown that Bifidobacterium 35624 naturally helps in three main ways.*
- Naturally helps with occasional abdominal discomfort, gas and bloating*
- Fortifying your digestive system*
- Maintaining digestive balance*
Probiotic Pro Tip: Not all strains have science behind them.
In fact, lots of products claim probiotic benefits but have no research to back up those claims. You need research to know if a probiotic will do what it claims.
Can I Get Probiotics From Food?
Yes, you can get probiotics from certain foods that contain live cultures. But you would first need to determine if the live culture in the food has a proven health benefit. Then, you would probably need to change your regular diet to get enough probiotics to receive the promised health benefit.
Food with live cultures include:
- Dark Chocolate
- Cheese (Cheddar, Feta, Gouda)
Probiotic Pro Tip: Most foods with live cultures do not actually contain strains that have been studied to deliver any specific health benefits, therefore they are not probiotics. These foods aren’t required to have live cultures in them. Even if they do have live cultures, they may not be strains that can claim health benefits. Doing research can help ensure they'll deliver the health benefit you’re seeking.
Also, it’s key to remember that in order to receive a health benefit from a probiotic, it must reach your gut alive. The production and storage specifications of some foods that have live cultures may actually kill the probiotics before they reach your gut.
Read more about foods with probiotic benefits.
How Are Probiotic Supplements Different from Probiotic Yogurts?
While some yogurts contain bacteria said to have probiotic benefits, yogurt in the United States is not required to contain any live cultures. This means the bacteria may not help once they arrive in your gut, or they may not be alive when they get there. Tests of yogurt show a wide range in the levels of live culture, so it’s tough to know what you’re really going to get.
Some have seals or guarantees, like the National Yogurt Association’s Live & Active Culture seal. But this doesn’t mean it contains probiotics, because there may not be proven health benefits for those live cultures.
Another key factor is storage. Due to the fermented milk, yogurt has a shorter shelf life and needs cold storage. Align Probiotic supplements have carefully designed packaging that keeps the bacteria alive and asleep until it gets to your gut.
How to Choose a Probiotic Supplement
What should I look for in a probiotic supplement?
According to the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP), there are five criteria to consider when choosing a probiotic supplement.
1. Probiotic Strain
Different strains of probiotics can provide different benefits. Research the strain used in your probiotic so you know how it can help your digestive system, or whatever benefit you are looking to receive from your probiotic supplement.
2. Effective Dosing
Probiotic supplement dosing is measured by colony-forming units, or CFUs. The probiotic strain determines how many CFUs are necessary to deliver the intended health benefit.
3. Proof of Benefit
Look for the specific strain on the packing of the probiotic you’re considering. From there, check that studies on the benefits of that strain were published in credible, peer-reviewed journals.
Probiotic Pro Tip: Not all probiotics have scientific evidence to support their claims. Make sure the probiotic you choose does.
The probiotic bacteria need to be alive when they reach your gut. Otherwise you will not receive any benefits. That’s why packaging is key to choosing the best probiotic for you.
Among scientists and medical professionals, some probiotics have a better reputation than others. Align is the #1 doctor and gastroenterologist recommended probiotic brand.‡
Click here to learn more about how to choose a probiotic.
Are Multiple Strains Better When Choosing a Probiotic?
Probiotic Pro Tip: No. The number of strains does not determine if one probiotic is better than another.
Some probiotic brands offer products with multiple strains of bacteria, claiming that this may replicate the normal environment of the gut. However, research has shown that the "more is better" concept is not necessarily true. A supplement with multiple probiotic strains doesn’t necessarily make it better than a single-strain probiotic supplement. The specific strain in the probiotic and the research supporting the health benefits of the strain(s) is important to consider when choosing which probiotic is best for you.
Why Align is the #1 Doctor Recommended Probiotic Brand
Align 24/7 Digestive Support,*§ featuring the strain Bifidobacterium 35624, has more than 20 years of research on it. Since 2008, when gastroenterologists in the United States were asked what brand of probiotic they recommend, Align has remained their top choice.‡ With Align’s blister pack technology, it guarantees enough cultures will stay alive to deliver an effective amount through the product’s shelf life.
Just one different letter creates a world of difference. Prebiotics and probiotics cannot be used interchangeably, so we’re here to help you understand the differences so you can make informed choices about your daily supplements.
What are prebiotics?
Prebiotics are the food for the good bacteria in your gut. To keep your good bacteria healthy and strong, feed them with prebiotics so they can grow and thrive. Examples of prebiotic foods include:
It’s safe to take probiotics and prebiotics at the same time. In fact, it’s healthy! By introducing probiotics into your system, you add good bacteria your body's gut microbiome. Adding prebiotics gives the good bacteria the nutrients they need to thrive.
It’s a mutually beneficial relationship. Each brings its own unique benefits to your gut microbiome. Adding them together may help you achieve the gut health that helps you live an overall healthier life.
Align has you covered. Align’s Prebiotic + Probiotic Gummies contain prebiotics and probiotics all in one gummy. The gummies contain the probiotic strain Bacillus coagulans LactoSpore® to help support your digestive health* as well as the prebiotic inulin to nourish your good bacteria.
Read more about how prebiotics and probiotics work in the gut.
How to Take Probiotic Supplements
Do I Need a Probiotic?
If you’re considering what is the best probiotic for you, you should discuss it with your doctor or gastroenterologist. He or she can help guide you on which probiotic might be best for your health and direct you to a specific product.
How Long Should I Take Probiotics?
We recommend people take probiotics every day to ensure a continued presence in your digestive tract and maintain the health benefits they offer. Once you stop taking your probiotic, you may notice that the health benefits taper off over the course of 1-4 weeks. This is likely due to your body’s microbiome returning to its normal state after you stopped supplementing it with a probiotic.
Generally, there is no set amount of time you must take probiotics. It depends on the desired benefit you are seeking. Most probiotics on the market today recommend dosing one or more times a day.
Do I Have to Take Probiotics with Food?
As a general rule, you can take probiotics at any time of the day, with or without food. Some probiotics may recommend taking them with or without food but this is product and strain specific as food in the digestive tract may influence how well some probiotics survive. Some types of probiotics may have special storage instructions, so those should be followed to maximize their effectiveness. Align Probiotics can be taken with or without food.
When’s the Best Time to Take Probiotics?
Align can be taken at any time of the day, but other probiotics may not. We recommend following the directions on the packaging or talking to your doctor if you aren’t sure.
Regardless, it’s very important to be consistent. We recommend taking it every morning after you wake up to help you establish that habit. But whatever time you pick, try to make it a part of your daily routine.
Sources (Accessed March 2020)
§Fortifies your digestive system 24/7 with continued daily use.*
‡Among Gastroenterologists who recommended a brand of probiotic in a ProVoice 2008-2019 survey.
‡Among Doctors who recommended a brand of probiotic in ProVoice 2013-2019 surveys.