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Why your probiotic didn't help you

Ever heard someone say, “I tried a probiotic and it did nothing!”

Or been told to take a broad spectrum probiotic in order to crowd out the bad bacteria but it didn’t make any difference?

There’s a very good for that.

Five years ago, this is as far as our understanding of probiotics was quite rudimentary. We used to think that probiotics worked by coming in and crowding out the bad bacteria — and that the more strains a probiotic contained, the better.

Research has moved on though and we now know that this isn’t how probiotics work at all. Instead, we know that each strain has a specific job it’s really good at.

So how can you tell one probiotic from another?

First, you need to understand the naming convention. All probiotics have three different qualifiers: genus, species and strain – in that order. If we take Lactobacillus plantarum 299v for example, Lactobacillus is the genus, plantarum is the species and 299v is the strain.

A different way to look at this is to think about the genus as the school, the species as the classroom and the strain as the student.

To get the benefits from your probiotic, you need to look at the specific strain (remember, that’s the number at the end). For example Lactobacillus plantarum 299v his your go-to for helping you to absorb more iron from your food, whereas Lactobacillus plantarum HEAL9 helps to reduce symptoms of the common cold. So you can see it’s important to not just grab any old Lactobacillus plantarum because it won’t do what you want it to.

The takeaway? The more specific you can get the better result you will see. This is why I never prescribe broad spectrum probiotics — I want you to get the most bang for your buck and that means only prescribing the most indicated probiotic for your situation.

[Photo credit: Mariana Rascao on Unsplash]

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