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"Probiotic" is a word most of us are familiar with nowadays, with all the commercials about their importance and intimate relationship with regularity.  Well, the commercials are not wrong, but they do give the impression that no one's able to have a decent bathroom experience without eating certain brands of yogurt.  But, putting advertising aside, it is true that as a species we need beneficial or good bacteria in order to survive.

Live bacteria found in certain fermented foods like kefir, miso, sauerkraut, yogurt, aged cheese, tempeh, buttermilk, kim chi, and umeboshi – probiotics, meaning "for life", are essential for our health and well-being.

Science is still investigating good bacteria and all it does.

We actually have more good bacteria in our bodies than we have individual cells.  That's real impressive, and signifies just how vital they are to life.  Although we have billions in our digestive track, many schools of thought believe our body does not produce them, and we can only acquire them through our diet.  Looking into probiotics a little deeper, I discovered a newer theory that claims our appendix, that little, mysterious tail that hangs off the junction of the small and large intestines that so many people have removed, makes the majority of our good or friendly bacteria.

Early humans needed their appendix more than we do now with the world being so densely populated.  Contact with others and sharing our bacteria is actually very necessary for survival, so since there were far fewer people years ago, man was more dependent on this worm like appendage.  It's speculated that without an appendix, these early humans would not have been able to survive.  But, fortunately for us, we can now survive without it.  However, if you're one of the "appendix-less", you might want to make sure you're getting enough beneficial bacteria through your diet or supplementation in case this theory is correct.  Even if it's not, good bacteria is a plus.

You may be wondering why probiotics are so important.

Like I said, science still has  a lot to learn, but they do know they perform a number of useful functions.  Recognized for digestive health, these special bacteria go way beyond digesting food.  They support immune function, prevent and control the overgrowth of yeast and pathogens, synthesize vitamin K and other nutrients, prevent skin disorders, and correct constipation and diarrhea to name a few.  It's speculated they offer protection from cancer and other diseases, such as high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol, also.  Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), Crohn's Disease and ulcerative colitis are intestinal illnesses that many believe can be avoided or improved with adequate friendly bacteria consumption.  There's just no disputing their significance and importance whether you have health problems or not.

Probiotic Supplement

Since the good bacteria content in food is on the low side, taking a daily probiotic supplement has become a common practice with many people.  Under normal circumstances, eating a serving or two of yogurt, sauerkraut, tempeh, etc., a day should be sufficient for supplying the amount of good bacteria we need.  However, when there's a health problem that probiotics could help resolve, we need far more than what food supplies.  This is when supplementation is a smart option.

There are so many brands and types of probiotics, choosing an appropriate one can be a challenge.  The main strains of bacteria humans thrive on are Lactobacillus and Bifidobactiria.  There are 50 known species of lactobacillus and 30 strains of bifidobactiria.  Lactobacilli reside in the small intestines, and bifidobactiria hang out in the colon/large intestine.  They each play specific roles in our gut that keep us healthy.  So, when choosing a probiotic supplement, it's wise to make sure both of these strains are present.  There are other strains of bacteria that are beneficial, too, and as time goes on, science seems to discover more and more of them.  I say the more the merrier, so choose a high potency, multi-strain probiotic for overall health.

Choosing the right strains of bacteria is tricky enough, but knowing whether to select a live or freeze-dried variety is another challenge.  What's the difference?  Any probiotic that's refrigerated is live and active, which bacteria must be in order to be effective.  Room stable probiotics that don't need refrigeration are freeze-dried and dormant until ingested which reconstitutes them.  There's controversy as to which type is better, and it looks like the refrigerated probiotics are preferred, but don't let that keep you from taking a freeze-dried variety, since they are effective, also.

When I worked at the health food store, I was often asked where probiotics come from.  What are they derived from?  Most refrigerated strains are produced from fermented dairy, which is why they require refrigeration to stay alive.  There are also dairy-free brands that are normally derived from soy for those who can't tolerate dairy or who are vegans.  Read labels, which should disclose the source of the probiotics, particularly if you have allergies or sensitivities.

Another question I was frequently asked is which form of probiotic is best to take: capsule, powder, or liquid?

That's a personal preference, but here's a quick rundown on each.

  • Capsules are most popular because of their convenience in taking.  The capsule also protects the bacteria from moisture and air, which can quickly destroy probiotics.
  • Powders do expose probiotics to air and moisture, and as a result, are not as stable, or as good a delivery system as capsules.  Keep this version in a dark, dry place like a kitchen cabinet.  When using, put the lid back on as quickly as possible to minimize air exposure.  Since temperatures above body temperature destroy bacteria, never put probiotics in any hot foods or drinks.  Powder probiotics are a good choice for anyone unable to swallow capsules.
  • Liquids are also beneficial for anyone unable to swallow capsules.  Another benefit is how easily and quickly absorbed liquid probiotics are.  The downside is they don't usually come in high dosages per serving or with many strains in the same bottle.  They also need to be kept refrigerated, which can be inconvenient for some.  Liquid probiotics don't have a long shelf life once the bottle is opened, so consume them within a couple weeks.


Some probiotics require being taken with food and other do not.  If the label states taking it with food, make sure you do.  Stomach acid kills probiotics off, so by taking a supplement with food, acid is diluted and doesn't have as much direct impact on the bacteria.  Normally, if it's safe to take a probiotic on an empty stomach it's because it is enteric coated.  An enteric coating, found on some capsules, prevents the capsule from dissolving in the stomach.  It bypasses the stomach and dissolves in the small intestine, where it finds protection from stomach acid.  So, the important point here is to follow the manufacturer's directions.


You may have seen the word "prebiotics" on some probiotic labels.  Prebiotics are carbohydrates that enhance probiotic life.  Basically, prebiotics are food for good bacteria, which supports their numbers and performance.  There's controversy as to whether prebiotics help produce a better quality probiotic or not.  It's a nice touch if it's in the product, but if not, no big deal.  Many excellent brands don't include prebiotics.

Probiotics are a necessary part of life.

Whether you get yours from food or supplements is your choice, but just be sure to get them.  Consuming some everyday is best, but if you're not able or comfortable with doing that, at least be sure to take probiotics after antibiotic use (since antibiotics kill off good bacteria and is why we often get diarrhea after taking them), or anytime you suspect you may be in need: skin problems – including jock itch, thrush, yeast infections, colds and respiratory illness, chemo therapy, etc.  Probiotics are our link to optimal health, and optimal health is our link to optimal living.  Now, go forth and eat some kim chi!

by Aaron Marino

Past Topics

New Topics Added Weekly!
Can V8 Replace Vitamins and Vegetables? | Healthy Eating -
July 30, 2012
Aaron of alpha m.analyzes whether V8 juice is an effective supplement for vitamins and vegetables.  Does V8 give as much vitamins of 3 servings of fruits and vegetables? No, and you are missing fiber. A V8 is also not a replacement for a multivitamin. Instead, eat substantial amount of vegetables along with a good multivitamin. Why should we use a multivitamin if the diet is rich with vegetables?Read More»
July 24, 2012
With over-the-counter drugs like Advil, Aleve, Motrin and aspirin filling the medicine cabinets of most households today, it's hard to find anyone who hasn't taken one of these drugs at one time or another. NSAID (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug) is a classification of drugs, whether prescription or not, that reduce inflammation, kill pain (analgesic), and reduce fever (anti-pyretic).  OrigiRead More»
Take a Chill Pill | Relax with GABA  -
July 5, 2012
What Does Gaba Do in the Brain? Do you ever find yourself anxious or stressed?  Aaron Marino of alpha m. gives the heads-up about  gamma-Aminobutyric acid.  Aaron explains that GABA is an amino acid that attaches to receptor sites in your brain and relaxes your body. He feels better in 10-minutes and chills-out. He doesn't feel melancholy and blue but just feels good. He takes it only occasioRead More»
Preventing Muscle Cramps and Spasms | Potassium, Magnesium, Sodium, Calcium -
May 25, 2012
Spasms can be painful and lead to soreness: therefore, prevent the frequency of cramps with specific nutrients. Aaron Marino of alpha m. addresses what a muscle spasm is and the soreness that results. Cramping happens after cardio and excessive sweating due to the depletion of potassium, magnesium, sodium, and calcium. A surefire way to prevent cramping is supplementation (potassium, magnesium, caRead More»

Vitamin B Smart -
May 2, 2012
Most of us know vitamins play an essential role in maintaining good health, but what they do exactly isn’t always understood.  If you’re like most people, you pop a vitamin or two everyday and trust you’re getting what you need.  But are you? Education is key to making informed and educated choices about what to consume, and vitamins are no exception.  I believe we would take better care Read More»
Facts About Fat -
April 6, 2012
By now, most of us know we should include healthy fats in our diet, but do we understand why, or know which fats are best? Not all fats are created equal, and some are definitely more essential to good health than others.  Identifying which fats we should include in our diet can be a challenge, despite all the information available on the subject.  Too much information can be confusing and overwRead More»
Choosing a Multivitamin -
April 2, 2012
There are different perspectives and opinions regarding the need to take a multivitamin.  Many believe if a person eats a balanced diet, it’s not necessary to take one – it’s overkill and most of it goes to waste. The flip-side is many think a multivitamin is a safety net that ensures a person gets the vitamins, minerals and micronutrients he needs; in case the diet doesn’t provide what iRead More»
Thoughts About Prohormones | Synthetic Testosterone -
March 30, 2012
Aaron Marino of alpha m. gives opinions, science, and truths behind prohormones. Prohormones boost testosterone levels.  However, the body has a natural balance of testosterone and estrogen. So when you take synthetic testosterone or prohoromones, the estrogen level rises in response, which cause side effects. You shouldn't be taking this stuff, period. You don't need extra testosterone if you arRead More»
Creatine and Glutamine | When to Take?  -
March 23, 2012
Aaron Marino of alpha m. discusses creatine and glutamine. The viewer is taking 5 grams of each pre and post workout. Is this proper time and place to take them? Aaron responds that the glutamine should be taken post workout and then before going to bed because you want your muscles already broken down. Creatine should  pre and post workout as it's rehydrating your muscles. When you are taking crRead More»

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