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I take probiotics daily.
When I wake up you might find me taking 1 capsule of this high strength probiotic my research team and I spent 3 months researching & developing.
Then at lunch time I might be tucking into an organic jar of ‘live’ sauerkraut.
And by dinner I might be complementing all that delicious probiotic goodness by eating some prebiotic-rich Jerusalem artichoke (weird but wonderful veg).
This makes me sound like a beanie-wearing hipster, I know. But I don’t care.
You see, the good bacteria from probiotics have proven to be one of the most important supplements/foods I take to keep my gut in good health.
Which makes sense, especially when we realize our ancestors have been seeking out and consuming lacto-fermented foods to help with digestion for well over a million years .
(Before we created fire!)
P.S. probiotics are fantastic, but if you want to discover all of my best ideas for leaky gut, then check out my popular leaky gut recovery guide (PDF).
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The 7 ways probiotics actually help with leaky gut, in Plain English
If you’ve ever tried to Google how probiotics support leaky gut, you’ll no doubt have come across articles so dense in science that it can be impossible to decipher.
Well, I’ve tried to summarize the complicated findings into easy to follow points. As you’ll see, probiotics are phenomenal, especially in terms of theri ability to help support our gut health from so many different angles.
1) Probiotics can support your gut lining’s ‘gatekeepers’ (a.k.a. Tight junctions)
This is very important, because your tight junctions are the guys that decide if something should pass through the lining (and into your bloodstream) or not.
When working right, tight junctions will allow molecules which are good (hello nutrients) to get through, whilst it will ensure those that are bad (hello undigested large food particles, toxins etc) stay out.
By selectively allowing entry like this you get better nutrient absorption. Which is fantastic.
And by preventing toxins slipping through and into the bloodstream, you help to lower unnecessary immunity responses / inflammation. Even better!
2) Probiotics can prevent bad bacteria and yeast from hanging around
Obviously, this means less leaky gut. But it can also help with related conditions like SIBO and candida, respectively.
So it’s no wonder that I sometimes think of probiotics like mini Gandalfs (from Lord of the Rings) shuttling around your intestines yelling at bad bacteria “Thou shall not pass!”.
Unsurprisingly probiotics are being used these days to target bad bacteria in other parts of the body too, including your teeth (eg tooth decay and periodontal disease).
3) Probiotics can help us break down foods and turn them into nutrients
This is a more indirect digestion aid than say digestive enzymes themselves, but very helpful nonetheless.
Because as we know, breaking down our food better will reduce the number of large particles bombarding our poor ol intestinal lining.
4) Probiotics have been shown to reduce leaky gut markers!
Best of all, probiotics don’t just sound good on paper.
Perhaps the coolest thing about them is that recent studies have shown that markers of intestinal permeability decrease dramatically when probiotics are taken!
For example, in this randomized, double-blind and placebo-controlled study (Int Soc Sports Nutr 2012), zonulin levels in subjects’ feces were “significantly reduced” after 14 weeks of probiotic use compared to those who didn’t take probiotics.
And since less zonulin means less intestinal permeability, the results indicate probiotics can lead to a healthier intestinal wall.
How can anyone not love these little guys!
And 3 more ways probiotics work to support your leaky gut
- Probiotics can assist in the secretion of inflammatory mediators. Which is kinda like organizing your emergency services so they’re all on the same page and not all going around blaring their sirens simultaneously and causing havoc.
- Probiotics can support secretion of additional intestinal mucus (the protective layer for your gut lining/wall).
- And probiotics can even help break down fiber into beneficial short chain fatty acids like butyrate, which your gut absolutely loves.
Eating versus supplementing with probiotics – what’s better?
The answer is ‘it depends’!
You see, whilst others out there will just pick a side and argue it into the ground, I’m a big fan of both probiotic foods and supplements. I see them as extremely complementary.
To help you work out what mix of probiotic foods versus supplements, makes sense, I’ll run through the pros and cons of each, including showing where each one makes the most sense.
Why I love probiotic foods
- Packed with billions of CFUs – most probiotic foods, eg live sauerkraut, can deliver billions of probiotics with every spoonful. In other words, they can be incredibly potent!
- Some probiotic foods taste amazing – from a delicious (and lightly) Apple-flavored kombucha on a hot sunny day to a side of kimchi with your roast salmon, probiotic foods can taste insanely good and add fascinating flavors to an otherwise forgettable dish.
- Can be pretty convenient – having a few jars of fermented vegetables sitting in the fridge, which I can pick and eat from whenever I like, can be extremely helpful. i.e. they last a long time in your fridge, even after opening, and are perfect for when you’ve run out of normal veg.
My favorite types of probiotic foods
If you really want to enjoy probiotic foods, I recommend you hit up my go tos.
- Kefir – either coconut based, or if you want dairy, then goats milk based kefir. The taste can take some getting used to, but I’d argue it is worth the struggle.
- Kombucha – a very refreshing and enjoyable way to get your probiotics each day. The key with kombucha is either making it yourself or finding a store bought one that contains a decent amount of good bacteria, very little net sugar (after fermentation) and not too much sweeteners.
- Lightly washed fibrous vegetables – these can be a great source of probiotics, as well as fiber and digestive enzymes. Most of all, with these you enjoy soil-based microorganisms (SBO probiotics), which offer great diversity for your microbiome and are able to survive quite well. Plus the soluble fiber in certain vegetables, eg onions, Jerusalem artichokes etc, helps feed the gut flora (i.e. as prebiotic) – which I explain further below. Just ensure the health of the soil your vegetables come from is good, eg organic farmers, home grown veggie patches (with soil testing) etc.
- Fermented vegetables – I tend to focus most of my probiotic eating on the hero of vegetable fermentation…cabbage. Whether done German-style (sauerkraut) or Korean style (kimchi), fermented cabbage tastes great with fish, meats and even alongside other vegetables. I also eat pickles (fermented cucumbers) and of course some other varieties of kimchi, eg daikon kimchi. Of course, you can ferment just about any vegetable and end up with a jar of goodness, but the three mentioned above work best in my experience.
The most important thing with probiotic foods is to either make them yourself OR buy organic, refrigerated, ‘live’ versions of them.
e.g. Do NOT buy mass produced, shelf-stable sauerkraut for example. It has likely been pasteurized such that all the beneficial bacteria has been destroyed.
Plus these processed versions are usually loaded with other bad stuff from excessive sugar to nasty additives.
With all that said, no amount of probiotic foods in the world will help you if the rest of your diet is bad. So make sure you follow my diet recommendations in this free leaky gut guide.
Why probiotic foods are not always ideal
- Low-ish survival rates – many of the strains in probiotic foods are not acid resistant (ie they die off in big numbers when hitting the acidic stomach) and unlike supplements, are not protected by an acid resistant outer shell / capsule
- Limited strain diversity – a lot of the foods packing billions of CFUs unfortunately only deliver 1 or 2 different strains.
- Easy to get sick off – although me and fermented vegetables are good friends, we definitely can get sick of each other! That’s because they come with a very unique and pretty full on flavor profile. After a few nights in a row I often end up needing to take a few days off as the taste memory is so strong. There is only so much fermented cabbage one man can eat!
- Often troublesome foods – many of the sources of probiotic-rich foods are dairy and grains, which as we know don’t agree with everyone, especially those of us on a leaky gut diet. You can mitigate this somewhat by going for raw cultured dairy like yogurt and cheese.
- Added sugar and sweeteners – I see a lot of products like kombucha, yogurts etc, that come loaded with flavorings to make them taste good and to take off the natural sour flavor profile that tends to come with fermented products. Although some of this sugar gets eaten up during fermentation, you can still be left with a lot more than any leaky gutter ought to be eating.
- Hard to make – a lot of people complain to me that they struggle to follow fermenting recipes and get crazy confused with all the different steps needed.
- Hard to buy – foods with real, live probiotics in them are usually only found in your local health food or Wholefood store. Although, this is changing as more shelf stable strains are used in more mainstream products.
- Expensive to buy – I’m sure if you’ve bought a few bottles of kombucha or kefir, or even jars of real live sauerkraut (hint: it is always refrigerated), then you’ll know it can be frightfully expensive, eg $15 for a 4-6 serving jar of sauerkraut, $4 for a small bottle of kombucha etc. If you’re not careful your probiotic bill could end up costing triple digits in a quite week!
Why I love probiotic supplements
As you can see from above there are quite a few drawbacks with probiotic foods. No wonder most people, including myself often, don’t eat probiotic foods every single day.
To help us get a steady dose of probiotics each day, a good quality probiotic supplement can be a game changer. That’s because…
- High survival rates – thanks to smart strain selection (eg acid resistant strains) and protective encapsulation technology (eg DR caps), probiotic supplements can do a great job at bypassing the stomach and getting to where they’re needed.
- Strain diversity – broad spectrum probiotic formulas usually offer 10-12 different strains of good bacteria in every capsule. And since each strain offers a host of different benefits, this can help our guts from various angles.
- Flavorless, odorless – probiotic supplements, especially those in capsule form, usually have very little flavor or odor, making them easy to take every day. i.e. unlike sour sauerkraut for example, you won’t get ‘sick’ of taking a supplement form of probiotics.
- Easy to get – you can pickup quality supplements from a host of trusted producers.
- Relatively inexpensive – although a bottle of high quality probiotics with 50 billion CFUs will often run $25-$40, it usually works out to around $1 a day. Compared to a $4 bottle of kombucha packing less good bacteria and less strain diversity, it is a bargain!
- So easy to take – taking 10 seconds out of our day to swallow 1 capsule of probiotics can sure beat trying to shovel forkfuls of kimchi down every time we sit down to lunch.
- Easy to store and travel with – unlike probiotic foods, probiotic supplements can be formulated to be shelf stable. ie no need to keep them constantly refrigerated. This means we can keep them on our desk at work or even travel with them on holidays. Extreme convenience.
So as you can see I love high quality, premium probiotic supplements.
And if you want the same one I take – the one my research team and I spent months formulating – you can get our high strength probiotic supplement here.
Probiotic foods versus supplements – how to work out when each makes sense
As you can see from the graphic immediately below, probiotic foods are great if you have the time to make them or the money to buy the live versions of them.
And of course, they work best when you consume a wide variety of them so that you get a diversity of good bacteria strains.
The other key is actually enjoying the unique flavor of probiotic foods and being able to consume them frequently, eg several times a week.
For a lot of people these requirements are hard to take or there are otherwise periods in our lives when we just don’t have the discipline to eat our probiotic foods like a fermenting-crazed Popeye!
And in situations like that, probiotic supplements are the ultimate way to go.
After all, if you choose a smartly formulated supplement, you’ll get a high dose of good bacteria, with survival supporting features such as DR caps, nice diversity of strains, no flavor, no smell, able to store them anywhere and quite affordable on a daily basis.
Maybe even more importantly, they’re so easy – nothing to make, nothing to sit down to eat. Just take 1 capsule from a bottle and drink it down.
How much probiotics should I take – 10, 25, 50 or 100 billion CFUs?
Unlike a lot of other supplements that can cause problems when over doing them, it’s somewhat hard to take too much probiotics.
That said, you can definitely experience some upset stomach issues (gas, rumblings, cramping) when you first start taking probiotics or megadose them (ie 100 billion or higher).
The good news is that in most cases this is actually a sign the probiotics are working…
…You see, during the first week or two of use, the good bacteria will be swan diving into your system and hopefully kicking the bad bacteria’s ass. In doing so, a lot of the bad bacteria will die. And this is known as ‘die off’.
And whilst your body is detoxing itself from all the dead bad bacteria (and yeast) in your system you’ll likely feel it!
Choosing the right amount of probiotics to take
As with most things leaky gut related, the probiotic dosage recommendations out there vary widely – and be quite confusing.
But here’s the thing: it is impossible to give a blanket statement until we cover a few points of distinction.
Unsurprisingly, most people never mention these points as they require deeper level thinking, but they are very important.
And as with everything, speak to your healthcare professional to work out what makes sense for you personally.
It depends on why you’re taking them and the quality of the supplement you choose
1) Depends on the reason you’re taking probiotics
Initial dose v long term dose
During the first 2-4 weeks of use (ie just starting a leaky gut recovery protocol) I would work up to a high dose. That’s because at this point my gut’s bacteria balance is likely out of whack and in proper need of the good guys.
Anywhere between 75-100 billion a day, with half in morning and half before going to bed, would sit in the sweet spot during this time.
Of course, I would test out a smaller dose in the first few days, just to check my body agrees with the particular probiotic.
Then long term I would be happy with 50 billion CFUs a day, which I’ll explain below
I also go with a higher and more frequent dose of probiotics during times when my good bacteria is being wiped out.
eg if I am using antibiotics, NSAIDs, steroids (eg for asthma), acid blockers, enjoying some good ol’ food poisoning / diarrhea etc.
As an example – when taking antibiotics I’ll typically take 100 billion CFUs of probiotics a day. And obviously I’d check with my doctor whether probiotics are fine with this specific course of treatment.
Once again, this sort of escalation of dose is only temporary.
Extra support dose
I might also up the dose from my normal long term dose of 50 billion CFUs, during times when my good bacteria is being constantly but less severely attacked.
eg when traveling, drinking highly chlorinated water or even when drinking a wee bit too much alcohol (hello New Years Eve my old friend).
These all hurt your gut flora, so upping your normal support dose during these times could be worthwhile. Around the 75 billion CFUs mark can really offer a lot of extra help during these times.
2) Depends on the quality of the probiotic supplement you choose
Quality & quantity of probiotic strains used
Probiotic strains (eg L Plantarum) vary greatly in terms of how they help and how much is needed of each of them to do their thing.
Unfortunately, most popular brands tend to offer only a few strains (eg 1-4) and usually the cheaper ones.
Instead, you should be looking for a supplement with closer to 10-12 strains, as this will offer you a nice wide range of benefits. Importantly, look for your favorite strains towards the beginning of the formula, as those strains appear in the highest amounts in the formula.
i.e. to sum all of this up – there is a huge difference between a 50 billion CFUs probiotic with just L Acidophilus versus a 50 billion CFUs probiotic with 10 different premium strains.
Presence of prebiotic
Having good quality prebiotics such as inulin or Jerusalem artichoke in your probiotic can help feed your probiotics. Kinda like the way fuel tanks work with a spaceship.
i.e. armed with a prebiotic, you could potentially require less probiotics than otherwise for it to be helpful.
With that said, you should not rely on the prebiotic in your probiotic alone for this. Instead, make sure your diet is high in prebiotic foods as well, as I talk about further below.
Delayed release capsules, aka enteric coated or DR caps
These can be a total game changer for working out how much probiotics to take.
That’s because DR caps offer your probiotics some protection from dying when passing through the fiery passageway of your stomach. And thus, DR caps can help more of the probiotics to get to where they’re needed (your intestines).
Without this DR tech you can lose billions of probiotics to your stomach, and thus would need to take a much higher dose than otherwise.
My favorite amount of probiotics to take long term
When weighing up everything above, it becomes pretty clear that for those of us with a history of poor gut health (eg leaky gut), that 50 billion CFUs is the sweet spot for long term use.
i.e. enough to have an impact on our gut flora and support an optimal balance of good to bad bacteria, but not so much that we are drowning ourselves in a surplus of unnecessary CFUs.
Importantly though, these CFUs need to come from a high quality probiotic – which means one with 10-12 different premium probiotic strains (eg L Rhamnosus, L Plantarum, B Bifidum etc), a prebiotic component and delayed release capsule technology.
That way, not only are we getting the right amount of probiotics CFUs, but we’re also getting it in the right form and also delivered to where we need it most (our beautiful intestines).
When should I take probiotic supplements – before, during or after a meal?
Simple. Take them in the morning when you wake up and just before you eat breakfast.
…in a 2011 study (Benef Microbes. 2011 Dec 1;2(4):295-303) a team of Canadian researchers actually built an end-to-end fake digestive tract, complete with a fake stomach and intestines.
But of course, they used real acid, enzymes, bile etc to mimic the human experience.
They then fed the mock digestive system a multi-strain probiotic containing 4 very popular strains – Lactobacillus helveticus (R0052), Lactobacillus rhamnosus (R0011), Bifidobacterium longum (R0175) and Saccharomyces cerevisiae.
This was done before, during and after meals.
The team found survival rates were highest when the probiotic was taken between 30 minutes and just when starting a meal.
Conversely, they found probiotics did not survive in high numbers when the supplement was taken 30 minutes AFTER a meal.
(Note on graphic: this is a rough approximation after averaging results from the tests done on all 4 strains and across different liquid/food intakes).
One last interesting finding was that survival rates were highest when the meal eaten contained some fat. Not a crazy amount, but some fat helped. eg in their experiment 1% fat milk was used and contrasted against fruit juice and plain water.
If you’re interested, you can read the 10-page report on probiotic timing with meals here.
So based on this actual study of probiotic survival rates I like to take my probiotic at 6am, which is just when I wake up and usually eat my breakfast.
i.e. I take my probiotic when I wake up and then a few minutes later I crawl into the kitchen and rummage around my fridge for a light meal with some fats (hello avocado my good friend!).
Meanwhile, if you are taking a higher than normal dose of probiotics, eg 100 billion CFUs a day, then consider splitting it up, so you take half before breakfast and the other half just before you go to bed.
Of course, timing is less important if you are taking a probiotic with delayed release capsules (DR caps).
That’s because they use an enteric coating on the capsules to protect the probiotics and help increase their chances of getting to where they’re needed. (Kinda like a spaceship for astronauts, which I’ll explain below).
Probiotics with delayed release capsules are obviously more convenient, since you can take them whenever you feel like. And that’s exactly why my company formulates our probiotic with expensive DR caps.
What about prebiotic foods and supplements?
Importantly, make sure you consume prebiotics and probiotics in food form during the day too. These will play an important role in making sure probiotics get down to where they’re needed and get utilized properly.
I talked about the probiotic-rich foods I eat above. As for prebiotic rich foods, I try to eat garlic, leek, onion and where possible chicory root. But more often I go to asparagus and green bananas.
Green bananas in particular carry the added benefit of being a good resistant starch (RS), which works really well to make sure the bacteria in the colon are in good health as well.
In fact, there is growing research on the interplay of resistant starch with probiotics, and your gut flora in general.
Probably the simplest way to get RS prebiotics is through a potato starch flour like Bob’s Milled Potato Flour. You definitely want to ease into this. Don’t megadose! Do the opposite. As it can be fairly tough on your system when you first take it.
Lastly, I just want to reiterate that probiotic and prebiotic foods/supplements are best taken after you’ve been working on healing your gut for 3-4 weeks; ie clean diet, L-Glutamine, digestive enzymes etc. All the things I advise in my free leaky gut recovery guide.
How long should I take probiotics for?
Unlike a lot of other supplements that you might only use for a short period, eg anti-fungals for candida, or you might cycle on and off, eg vitamin D in summer, I take probiotics every day.
The reason I do is to help ensure leaky gut doesn’t come back.
You see, by providing my guts with a constant supply of good bacteria, the balance of good v bad can stay around 80-90% good to 10-20% bad. And that sort of ratio supports a healthy, balanced and stable gut flora.
The good news is that you shouldn’t need to megadose probiotic supplements to help maintain this healthy balance. Instead, simply taking the recommended dose of probiotics (on the label), paired with probiotic-rich foods, will help do the job.
Best type of probiotic for leaky gut
As you’ll see from the dose comments above, I recommend you take a high potency probiotic with a prebiotic component included (eg FOS, inulin etc). Obviously make sure it is not a generic brand or cheap product.
In addition, you should be looking for a multi-strain probiotic. Importantly, more is not always better.
You see, too many different beneficial bacteria in one probiotic supplement could end up in a bacteria battle royale! This happens when there is too many types and the bacteria end up competing with each other before they can each find their own home in your system.
That’s why I recommend you look for a product with around 10-12 strains.
The 2 most important groups of bacteria are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. So making sure you choose a product with strains from these 2 groups is crucial, eg L Acidophilus.
Importantly, look for a probiotic containing my 7 favorite strains: L Plantarum, L Rhamnosus, L Acidophilus, B Bifidum, B Longum, B Lactis and B Coagulans.
After receiving hundreds of requests from Goodbye Leaky Gut readers, my research team at Essential Stacks and I decided to develop a next generation probiotic-prebiotic complex that ticks all the boxes above.
And the good news is that after months of research and development it is our probiotic is finally available here.
It is the exact probiotic formulation I’ve always been looking for, because it is strong enough to meet our requirements (50 billion CFUs), has 12 different high quality strains, contains 2 premium prebiotics (Inulin and Jerusalem Artichoke), and uses delayed release capsule technology to help the probiotics survive the journey.
This combination means you get your probiotics delivered to the place where they’re actually required (ie your gut). And this optimal delivery process makes all the difference.
You can purchase Smart Probiotic here on Amazon.
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