Ever try to read a yogurt label out loud? With about a million cultures ending in “ophilus” and “erium,” it can sound like a Greek army ready to attack. But rest assured, there’s no need to take cover. These microorganisms are a completely friendly bunch, with a variety of potential health benefits to the immune system and digestive tract. The only challenge: separating the real deal probiotics from the duds.
The Strain Game: What It Is
While not all research has been conclusive, one study showed that employees given probiotics missed fewer days from work due to respiratory or gastrointestinal illness than those who didn’t
Probiotic Primer: What It Means To You
Before popping any old probiotics, it’s important to read the fine print. Check the product label for “live and active cultures,” particularly lactobacillus, the most effective bacteria for breaking down food, absorbing nutrients, and fending off “unfriendly” organisms. Bifobacterium probiotics are also touted for similar effects.
Also, look out for products that list the full names of their probiotics, since companies are eager to spotlight the strains with research to back up their benefits. Stonyfield Farm’s yogurt, for example, lists “Lactobacillus rhamnosus HN001” on its label, signifying the genus: Lactobacillus, species: Rhamnosus, and strain: HN001. For more targeted benefits (i.e. fighting digestive problems vs. a common cold) a doctor can help recommend a specific strand that’s most effective. Just note: children, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems should consult with a healthcare professional before taking probiotics, as some mild digestive side effects have been reported.
One final tip: keep ‘em cool. Research shows that the number of living bacteria in probiotic yogurt decreases in room temperature. Supplements should also be stashed in the fridge for optimal benefits.
Photo by Jordan Shakeshaft