Many Canadians supplement their diet with probiotics — tiny microbes similar to those inside us that perform many health-promoting tasks.

“Not only can probiotics improve your digestive health but their activities and by-products can impact other sites, such as the liver, to lower your cholesterol,” says Dr. Gregor Reid, a professor at Western University and scientist at Lawson Institute in London, ON who has studied probiotics for over 35 years.

Unfortunately, many Canadians are still misinformed about probiotics and often make choices based on hearsay. For example, a woman looking to get relief from irritable bowel syndrome might end up taking a product with 12 “probiotic” strains never tested for this purpose. “Some people select a product as it seems to have more strains,” Dr. Reid cautions. “More is not necessarily better. It’s the clinical proof that counts.”

The Alliance for Education on Probiotics has addressed this problem: Clinical Guide to Probiotic Products is a reliable resource providing consumers and health care professionals with a list of probiotics (foods, dried forms) that have been tested in humans. It lists the scientific evidence to allow an informed decision to be made about which probiotic may be best for a specific purpose.

The guide is prepared and reviewed by a panel of experts on probiotics and human trials. “We strongly encourage health care professionals and consumers to consult the Guide before deciding which probiotics to use in a particular case,” says the Guide’s principal author, and Hamilton Family Health Team Clinical Pharmacist, Dragana Skokovic-Sunjic. “The Guide is updated annually, and hopefully, products not on the Guide will undergo appropriate human testing to show their attributes.”

A recent study co-authored by Dr. Reid showed that consumption of certain probiotics before and during cold and flu season could prevent or curtail these infections and potentially save Canada $100-million a year.

Reference the guide online