As a naturopath, I see countless patients taking probiotics; generally self-prescribed or sometimes recommended by a friend or health food store employee. Many times the patient will report probiotics didn't help, not realizing there is an art to probiotic selection.

Popularity of Probiotics

Probiotics are "live organisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host" [1]. However, in order to confer a health benefit, one must know which specific probiotic to take.

Probiotic use has become increasingly popular across the world [2]. This has led to somewhat misleading industry marketing; people may not realize probiotics must be taken with purpose and intention. If you're goal is to "maintain" digestive health it's a much different course of action than treating a particular digestive complaint.

Not all Probiotics are Equally Effective

It starts in how they are made. They have different mechanisms-of-action, different manufacturing process, quality control of the product and efficacy by different strains [1].

How probiotics work in our system determines a lot of how they will affect a particular disease. Some work to kill other bacteria while others simply inhibit growth of others [1]. The aim of some is to reinforce the integrity of host cells or restore a normal microflora environment [1]. Since many probiotics elicit an immune response, we must know the current state of the immune system before taking a probiotic.

Strain Specificity and Disease Specificity

Probiotic Nomenclature

When describing a probiotic, it must state three pieces of information. As you'll see in the image below, we include Genus, species and are specific term called strain. For a probiotic manufacturer to state any health benefit it must be known what strain is being used.


probiotic strains

The image above is a specific stain used by Atrium's Pure Encapsulations (brand).

Research shows evidence exists for strain specificity and disease specificity [1]. This means a particular strain will be associated with a specific disease. Some people take probiotics for disease prevention while others take it for disease treatment; and in both cases, we know that strain specificity matters [1].

By consulting an expert (such as a naturopath), you can confirm you're taking the proper probiotic strain for your unique needs.

Don't Take Probiotics Interchangeably

There are many factors that go into selecting a probiotic for a patient. I've seen many cases in the past where a patient reports taking probiotics with no effect, only to find they were taking the wrong one. I've also had a few patients who report taking a probiotic and their condition worsened, again this was because they took the wrong one. Be sure you're taking the correct probiotic by asking your naturopath to prescribe it based on your diagnosis or treatment goals.


About the Author - Dr. Johann de Chickera

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Dr. Johann is a fully licensed Naturopathic Doctor. His approach emphasizes the importance of living a healthy lifestyle and improving one’s health naturally. Dr. Johann obtained a Doctor of Naturopathy at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM). Education at CCNM is a vigorous four years, with a curriculum involving biomedical sciences, physical diagnosis, clinical nutrition, traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture, botanical (herbal) medicine, physical medicine, homeopathy and lifestyle management.

While Dr. Johann has a general practice, he focuses on fertility, hormonal imbalances, gut health, and autoimmune disease.

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