When people come to Optimum Health Vitamins and they are just looking for a basic protocol to help them maintain wellness, there are five areas that I feel are highly important to address. Health is a very individual process and cannot be guaranteed by simply eating certain foods or taking certain vitamins. However, despite biochemical individuality and the changes we experience in it over time, there are a few common denominators that can apply to most individuals seeking good health. This month, I am going to talk about the importance of Probiotics.

These little bacteria helpers have been receiving a lot of attention in the media lately, and rightfully so. Without a gutful of these critters, we would quickly perish. Probiotics help us digest our food and obtain nutrients from it; they modulate our immune system; they control inflammation in the body; they regulate waste disposal; and they keep bad bacteria and yeast at bay. The list could literally go on and on for pages about what these resilient bacteria do for us daily.

But why do we need to supplement with them? Simply put, our diets are far too deficient in fermented foods and the proper bacteria ratios to keep up with the amount of probiotic loss we endure due to antibiotic overconsumption, stress, poor diet and the proliferation of yeast in the gut. Supplementation of probiotics also ensures a focused delivery of the most imperative bacterial strains in a form that is readily available.

However, not all probiotics are created equal, and not all good probiotics will work in every body. When choosing a probiotic, it is very important to read the ingredients. There are many products out there that have confusing labels. The two strains that have rightfully received the most attention are Lactobacilli Acidophilus and Bifidobacterium Bifidum. Acidophilus is the most prominent bacteria in your upper or small intestine, or at least, it should be. Bifidum is most commonly found in the large intestine and is essential for colon health and proper elimination. If you look closely at the labels on products in a health food store, you will find that often, probiotics that are marketed as Acidophilus and Bifidum supplements, can actually contain significant amounts of less vital bacteria and minimal amounts of these two essentials. It is very important when choosing a general probiotic to make sure that these two strains are present in the highest doses.

Other strains of note include Lactobacilli rhamnosus, Lactobacilli plantarum, Bifidobacterium longum, Bifidobacterium Lactis (particularly effective as an anti-inflammatory) and FOS (frutoolgiosaccharides), but not all of these are required to maintain good gut health. What is more important is the delivery system by which the probiotics bypass your stomach acid and make it to your intestines. There has been a lot made of enteric coating, aqueous coatings and acid-resistant strains of bacteria. For the most part, if your probiotic does not have one of those three delivery mechanisms, chances are that most of the bacteria is not making it to your gut alive.

I have many clients ask me if eating commercial yogurt products supplies them with enough bacteria. By my estimates, the answer to that is no. Firstly, most commercial yogurts contain too many added sugars that help proliferate yeast in the body. This can be counter-productive. If there are no added sugars, this often means that harmful chemical sweeteners such as aspartame and sucralose have been added instead – substances that many studies have shown not only negatively affect human cells, but also contribute to intestinal probiotic loss. Check your labels! Also, these yogurts tend to contain the cheapest strains of bacteria available that are often not the most essential and/or are sourced from animals. If that wasn’t enough, most commercial yogurts are not organic, meaning that a whole slough of hormones and antibiotics can be present in your breakfast – hardly, an appetizing thought! Taking a simple capsule daily is the most efficient and convenient option available. If you are going to stick with yogurt, make sure it is plain flavoured and organic.

Two popular probiotic supplements at Optimum Health Vitamins are DDS+ by Innovite and Ultimate Flora by Renew Life. The former is an acid-resistant formula that contains the 2 most important strains – acidophilus and bifidum. It also contains the prebiotic FOS, which some argue helps stimulate colonization of your intestinal bacteria. At Optimum, we’ve found that DDS+ is a highly anti-inflammatory supplement when taken on an empty stomach and it works well against the ever-stubborn Candida yeast. It can be used daily as a regular probiotic supplement at a dosage of two capsules, once or twice daily.

Ultimate Flora is a relatively new product that has made great strides in the realm of “critical care”. It boasts a whopping 50 billion bacteria at the time of expiry -- 25 billion of which is Bifidum and 10 billion of which is Acidophilus. It also contains 8 other strains and the ubiquitous FOS. Though specifically designed for individuals with chronic digestive issues such as IBS, Crohn’s, colitis and so forth, I have personally found Ultimate Flora to be of benefit to my immune system and digestion as a supplement for people without chronic gut issues. As a stressed-out full time University student and health consultant, I have found it necessary, in the past, to take 4 capsules daily to avoid illness and maintain wellness, especially through midterms and finals! This and many studies backing this concept, point to the serious individuality of probiotic needs in different people. What is too much for one, can be not enough for another. This is why, if a probiotic doesn’t seem to do much for you, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it isn’t good for someone else. Try a few products, using the above principles of strain-type and delivery mechanisms, before you settle on which is best for your body.

Bear in mind that even in a perfect world, Probiotics are indispensable to achieve optimum health. This means that even if you eat a perfect, proportionate diet from 100% organic sources, odds are that you could be functioning below par. The word “optimum” here is important because so much of allopathic, Western medicine is focused on treating illness, rather than living the best life you possibly can. Keep posted for my article next month in which we discuss another nutrient essential for living optimally: Essential Fats.

Nakita Valerio, B.A, CSN, BMSA Technician. has been working for Optimum Health Vitamins since 2007 and has been assistant manager of the Southside location since June 2009. Her passion for education and learning led her to her certification as a Sports Nutritional Consultant in January 2010 and her current training as a Biomeridian Technician. Working closely under the supervision of John Biggs, BSc, NCP has deepened her understanding of nutritional healing and preventative therapies. Her current position also includes operations as the Campaign Manager and Communications Advisor for Optimum Health's non-profit Freedom of Access to Dietary Supplements Association, which is heavily involved in the current national Health Freedom campaign to have the Natural Health Product Regulations suspended.

For more information on the Health Freedom campaign, please visit www.suspendandreview.com.