With so many probiotic strains – it can be hard to know which ones really work. This can all depend on what your specific health goals are – as each individual probiotic strain can play a completely different function in your body. Here we look at what the evidence says – so you know which are the best probiotic strains for your health.
- Probiotics, beneficial bacteria, have a wide range of health benefits including reducing the risk of cognitive decline, improving mental well-being, reducing the risk of obesity, and enhancing immune response.
- The most common probiotic strains are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.
- Probiotic powders are often more effective as they can be reactivated by adding water. Probiotics also work better when combined with prebiotics, which act as food for the beneficial bacteria.
What Are The Benefits Of Probiotics?
Probiotics have a wide range of benefits. Below are some of the key ones.
They Can Reduce Your Risk Of Cognitive Decline
It’s easy to think of probiotics as only benefiting the gut, but the beneficial effects are actually much more wide-ranging. We now know that the brain and gut are connected via the vagus nerve, otherwise known as the gut-brain axis.
This means that when the gut is healthy, the brain is more likely to be too. Specifically, a healthy microbiome can reduce inflammation throughout the body and brain, which can result in a reduced risk of conditions such as cognitive decline. (Source)
They May Improve Your Mental Well-being
Many people with IBS and other gut issues also experience poor mental health. And whilst stress can increase gut issues the reverse is also true.
When you lack enough beneficial bacteria in the gut you can also suffer from low serotonin and GABA – two key neurotransmitters required for mental wellbeing.
So, taking probiotics is an easy way to increase your range of helpful microbes, and therefore support your mental health too. (Source)
They Can Reduce Your Risk Of Obesity
Managing your weight can be challenging and it’s not always as simple as eating less and moving more.
Studies have shown that you can also have an ‘obesogenic microbiome’, where the selection of bugs in your gut can make you more likely to gain weight. This is probably because they promote fat absorption and trigger inflammation which can drive obesity. (Source)
So, if you are keen to lose weight then taking probiotics is an important addition to your weight loss regime.
What Are The Probiotic Strains?
It would be pretty hard to list each and every individual probiotic strain as there have already been over 8,000 identified by researchers – and the count continues to grow.
Commonly used probiotic genera include Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Saccharomyces, Streptococcus, Enterococcus, Escherichia, and Bacillus, so these are likely the ones you’ll see listed on good-quality probiotic products.
Within each species, there are specific substrains. So for the lactobacillus family for example, you can then find lactobacillus acidophilus, lactobacillus iners, and many more.
Even within a genus, the different species can have their own unique benefits – which is why many evidence-based probiotics choose to combine a wide variety of strains for greater efficacy.
It can be quite confusing to understand the classification of probiotic strains but they are usually broken down as follows:
- Genus = lactobacillus
- Species = rhamnosus
- Subspecies = none
- Strain designation = GG
- Strain nickname = LGG
What Types Of Probiotics Are Best?
When it comes to which kind of probiotics are best – it’s less about the strains involved and more about the quality of the product.
For example, many probiotic strains choose to focus on the lactobacillus and bifidobacteria species because these are the ones with the biggest evidence base.
But even when a probiotic does contain these proven strains – it’s important to think about the form of delivery and the overall quality of the product.
Whilst a high CFU (Colony Forming Units) count can be a good sign, there are other indications of a high-quality product that are just as important.
Unfortunately, many probiotic products contain unstable bacteria species which are often inactive by the time they reach your gut.
This can be due to exposure to extreme temperatures, moisture, or improper storage.
Luckily, many probiotic powders are flash dried and frozen which helps to protect the beneficial bacteria until they are safely where they need to be.
These can then be reactivated again simply by adding the probiotic powder to some water – meaning they don’t need to be refrigerated and can be taken with you wherever you go.
Some probiotic products even offer additional prebiotics. This means they act as synbiotics – providing you with the fuel needed for your probiotic species to thrive.
So look out for the inclusion of prebiotic ingredients when you are choosing your probiotic blend.
Most Important Probiotic Strains For Overall Health
Studies are still ongoing in this area, and more beneficial strains will likely keep being discovered as time goes on.
But for now – there is strong evidence to suggest that the following probiotic strains can make a real difference in your overall health and well-being.
These species are some of the most commonly used in commercial probiotic products, and they are also found abundantly in a range of fermented foods including dairy.
Below are some of the main reasons that lactobacillus is so essential for human health:
Prevention Of Cardiovascular Disease
Evidence shows that lactobacillus, specifically lactobacillus acidophilus can help to prevent the development of cardiovascular disease.
Originally this association was discovered because African tribes who regularly consumed fermented dairy products that are naturally rich in the probiotic species appeared to experience a lower level of cardiovascular disease.
When researchers started to look into this they concluded that this form of lactobacillus can positively modulate the ratio of cholesterol we have.
Studies have since shown that it can improve your blood lipids and lower levels of harmful cholesterol when consumed regularly.
Improvement Of Gut Health Conditions
We know that many different probiotic strains including lactobacillus species can help to reduce general bloating and gas symptoms, whether they are caused by IBS or general indigestion.
But lactobacillus has also shown promise when it comes to reducing the impact of inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis. This probiotic strain may be able to help stabilize the gut microbiome which can reduce the severity of UC symptoms.
This is thought to be because lactobacillus plays an anti-inflammatory role in the gut, and in some cases may even reverse the visible damage caused by a UC flare-up.
Lactobacillus species have also shown merit in the treatment of SIBO, a common type of gut dysbiosis that can cause discomfort and bloating.
Enhanced Immune Response
With much of your immune response based in your gut – it’s no surprise that an unhealthy gut microbiome can impair the efficacy of your immune system when faced with a threat.
Studies have shown that lactobacillus species have the ability to positively regulate your immune system when exposed to candida – a common type of fungal infection that often appears when you are immunocompromised.
Studies have also demonstrated that lactobacillus probiotics can also play a key role in improving your immune system’s reaction to conditions such as eczema, allergies, and asthma. (Source)
Bifidobacterium is another well-studied, popular choice for probiotic manufacturers.
Here are some of its main health benefits:
IBS Symptom Reduction
Bifidobacterium may be a good choice, if, like 1 in 10 people, you also suffer from IBS.
This is because a well-conducted study comparing those who were supplemented with the beneficial bacteria vs. those who took a placebo found promising results. (Source)
In fact, nearly 50% of people taking the bacteria experienced a noticeable reduction in key IBS symptoms. Note that these positive outcomes occurred with the daily intake of this probiotic strain, so as with most things health-related – consistency is key.
Reduction In Childhood Eczema
Eczema can be an unpleasant condition, especially in children. Recently there has been an inquiry into whether poor gut health and forms of dysbiosis can potentially lead to an increased risk of eczema in children.
While the jury may still be out on this point – there is good evidence to suggest that supplementing with bifidobacteria may be an effective way to reduce eczema symptoms in this age group. (Source)
This could be because bifidobacteria improves immune function, and improved immunity may reduce eczema risk. Bifidobacteria also improves gut health which can optimize skin health too.
Interestingly, benefits were also found when pregnant women consumed this form of probiotic – as babies were at a reduced risk of getting eczema at all – making probiotics a good preventative health care addition during pregnancy.
Better Immune Function
We know that carefully curated green powders can offer benefits for immune function, but it turns out, so can specific strains of probiotics.
Bifidobacteria species, as well as lactobacillus species, can optimize immunity through changes to blood cells.
One study, in particular, has shown that this probiotic strain can encourage more white blood cells to activate to fight infection. There also seems to be an anti-inflammatory effect of bifidobacteria strains – helping to prevent an overactive immune response. (Source)
This could explain the evidence suggesting that probiotic supplements can also help to ward off autoimmunity.
Remember that the immune system is a finely tuned machine – we need it to respond to infections and viruses as required but we don’t want it to overreact and attack our own tissues either.
Certain probiotic strains show promise in the promotion of a healthy immune response, whilst preventing overreaction.
Julia is a health content editor and nutritionist from Norwich, UK. She has worked as a health coach in private practice and for the national health service. She undertook an MSc in nutritional medicine to deepen her knowledge.
She enjoys producing evidence-based content which inspires people to become healthier and happier.