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Live Cultures: The Ultimate Supplement Guide

Written by Tom Von Deck
Reviewed by Kimberly Langdon
complete guide to live culture supplements

This Ultimate Live Cultures Supplement Guide is designed to answer all of your questions about live culture gut bacteria you may find in foods and supplements.

The guide contains more than 50 scientific citations from highly reputable medical websites. We dug through heaps of scientific literature so that you don’t have to.

If you still have questions or concerns after reading this guide, don’t be a stranger. Contact us or leave a comment below.

What Are Live Cultures?

Your body is home to tens of trillions of microorganisms like bacteria and yeasts. Most of them are bacteria in your gut. (1)

In fact, there are more of these single-celled organisms in your body than there are cells in your body. On the other hand, because they are smaller than your cells, they make up only a tiny fraction of your body’s weight. (2)

Some strains of bacteria in your body are good for you. Your health depends on having the right balance of good bacteria strains to bad ones. The good strains are called live cultures.

The most commonly known live cultures are bacteria, although some yeasts are also considered live cultures.

You can change the balance of good to bad bacteria with live culture-rich foods, beverages, and supplements.

How Do Live Cultures Work?

Healthy bacteria are involved in too many of your body’s processes to mention here. You will learn about some of the roles various strains play in the section about the benefits of live cultures. Even the topic of the effects of gut bacteria on the nervous system could fill a few volumes of content.

Maybe we can start with that topic, precisely the gut-brain axis. In a nutshell…

The Gut-Brain Axis (GBA)

The gut-brain axis is what links your intestines to your central nervous system (brain and spine). It also involves your endocrine (gland) system and your immune system. Your brain’s cognitive and emotional centers are especially active within the axis. (3)

Your gut bacteria play a major role in this axis. They affect your emotions, memory, and even anxiety levels. In fact, gut bacteria play an important role in the development of your brain. (3)(4)

This is why a healthy gut flora balance is essential for a healthy brain. Your gut affects your brain and vice versa. Scientists are increasingly researching the connections between live cultures and a large number of mental and emotional disorders.

Can You Get Your Live Cultures From Food?

yogurt is one of the best natural sources of live culturesThe best-known sources of live cultures are certain fermented foods and beverages like yogurt, kombucha, and sauerkraut. What most people don’t know is that some fruits and vegetables contain them, too, but in smaller numbers. A cup of yogurt may have a few billion or tens of billions of live culture organisms of a few bacteria strains. An apple may give you 100 million organisms and a much larger number of strains, assuming you eat the core. (5)

What are the Best Food Sources?

These are some of the most notable live culture food sources:

  • Kefir
  • Yogurt
  • Miso
  • Kimchi
  • Sauerkraut
  • Kombucha

These are all fermented foods. They contain live culture bacteria because the fermentation process feeds good bacteria with sugar and starch. This multiplies the good bacteria, destroys the bad bacteria, and creates lactic acid. Lactic acid is a powerful natural preservative. (6)

One serving of yogurt can have a few billion or tens of billions of live culture organisms. Kefir – the dairy-based live culture drink – has a larger number of strains and far more CFU’s than yogurt, but only if you make it yourself using starter culture or “grains.” Do-it-yourselfers report more dramatic benefits than those who purchase pre-made kefir in a store.

What are the Benefits of live culture Supplements & live culture-Rich Foods?

Below is a general list of benefits from common live cultures you will find in supplements and live culture-rich foods. It’s a very short list compared to the total number of known benefits.

Keep in mind that there are roughly 500 known live culture strains, and some are better at performing specific jobs than others.

Clinical studies are usually hyper-focused on specific groups of live culture strains like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. This means the benefits list below will also be biased toward these groups. For all-around benefits, choose foods and supplements with a diversity of strains, including those in the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium families.

Better yet, look for patented strains with even larger bodies of clinical research – and more predictable effects – like the ones we use in our live culture supplements. They exist within the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium groups and cultures enhance absorption of nutrients

Live Cultures Enhance Absorption of Nutrients & Improve Digestive Health

The research on this is abundant:

  • live culture bacteria produce short-chain fatty acids in the colon that help with the absorption of iron (7), calcium, and other nutrients. (8)(9)(10)
  • Some strains, like Bacillus Coagulans, are great for protein absorption. (11)
  • There is ongoing research on using live cultures for problems associated with malnourishment.
  • Nutrients are absorbed through your intestines, and this is where most of your live cultures settle and work their magic. (12)
  • Live cultures are believed to improve a lot of different digestive functions as well. Research is ongoing and endless. Not all of it is conclusive yet in terms of causes and effects.

Reduce Food Cravings

Bad bacteria may encourage bad eating habits. For example, Lyme Disease bacteria can cause sugar cravings in their human hosts because that’s their favorite food. Bad gut bacteria can induce cravings for sugar, chocolate, and other things that help them grow at the host’s expense. They can also cause cravings for foods that kill off their competitors in the gut. They do this by “hijacking” the gut-brain axis. Live cultures can suppress harmful bacteria and reduce those cravings. (13)(14)

Not only can live cultures reduce cravings by killing bacteria that cause them. They can also change nerve signaling in your favor so that you have fewer and/or healthier cravings.

lactobacillus bacteriaImage credits: Jesper Hilding Klausen – Lactobacillus bacteria

Generate B Vitamins

Certain common strains of live cultures in supplements, yogurt, and kefir can actually create B vitamins like B12 and B9 (folate). They can also create other water-soluble vitamins.

The Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium bacteria groups are particularly noted for their vitamin-generating qualities. (15)

However, they may be particularly noted only because these two groups of live cultures are studied far more than others by medical scientists.

Lower Inflammation in the Bowels

Live cultures generally suppress bad bacteria in the gut, and this lowers inflammation. They also produce chemicals that lower inflammation and suppress chemicals that increase it. Many common bowel disorders are inflammation-induced. (16)

Fight Numerous Forms of Inflammation

Chronic inflammation is responsible for countless diseases. Live cultures help reduce and regulate many causes of inflammation. Generally speaking, live cultures help balance the immune system. (17)live cultures help balance the immune system

Improve Immunity

Live cultures commonly help prevent topical and post-surgery infections and generate chemicals that fight harmful bacteria, fungi, and viruses within the body. They can also dissolve biofilms that harmful germs create to protect themselves from the immune system. (18)

At least some strains of live cultures stimulate T-cells, which form an important part of the immune system. (19)

Slow the Skin’s Aging Process

Live cultures are good at slowing aging in multiple systems of the body. This is especially evident in the skin. High live culture intake is associated with skin elasticity, wrinkle depth, and skin moisture levels when compared to placebos. (20)

Live cultures also balance skin pH, reduce oxidative stress from sunlight and other factors, enhance hair quality, and even prevent hair loss. (21)

Some skincare companies have even added live cultures to serums and creams.

Increase Tolerance of Insulin

A 2017 analysis of 12 scientific studies led researchers to conclude that supplementing with live cultures brings significant improvement in insulin resistance and the metabolism of fats. They also noted that gut bacteria play a major role in Type 2 Diabetes. (22)