Every person's microbiome is different, which means what worked for others might not work for you. "What you eat, whether you were born by C-section or vaginally, what antibiotics you have been exposed to, and whether or not you have ever developed food-borne illness are just some of the many factors that impact your gut microbiome," explains Scarlata. And while research can help you determine which strains to take at which dosages, there may still be several different formulations to choose from.
In October 2013, the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) organized a meeting of clinical and scientific experts on probiotics (with specialties in gastroenterology, pediatrics, family medicine, gut microbiota, microbiology of probiotic bacteria, microbial genetics, immunology, and food science) to reexamine the concept of probiotics. They define probiotics as "live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host." They also differentiated between products containing probiotics and those containing live or active cultures and established the following criteria:
There’s preliminary evidence that some probiotics are helpful in preventing diarrhea caused by infections and antibiotics and in improving symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, but more needs to be learned. We still don’t know which probiotics are helpful and which are not. We also don’t know how much of the probiotic people would have to take or who would most likely benefit from taking probiotics. Even for the conditions that have been studied the most, researchers are still working toward finding the answers to these questions.
“You have all sorts of microbiomes in your body, in the lungs, the oral cavity, the vagina and of course the gut. Everybody was looking at the microbiome as just being about just good bacteria,”Afif Ghannoum said. The elder Ghannoum, who is associated with Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH, showed the importance of the fungal components of those microbiomes, he said.
Every day, we’re exposed to toxins and inflammation-causing molecules from food and the environment that negatively impact digestion through pathways, such as leaky gut, known in the medical field as intestinal hyperpermeability. In leaky gut, the tight junctions that are supposed to keep disease-contributing compounds from leaving the digestive system are disrupted, allowing a lot of things through into the bloodstream that don’t belong there.
Research indicates that the gut and brain are in constant communication, and the health of your gut can have a big, supportive impact on your mental health and well-being.17 One reason is the role the gut microbiome plays in maintaining your hormones––in addition to oxytocin, your beneficial bacteria also support your levels of serotonin (the "happy hormone), and cortisol (which is associated with high stress levels).18 They also help encourage GABA, an important neurotransmitter that determines how your body responds to stress. When you support your microbiome with probiotics, it can help to keep everything balanced, but if it becomes unbalanced and unwanted bacteria take over, you can end up with a low mood and anxious thoughts.19
Reviews looking at the treatment or prevention of vulvovaginal candidiasis in women, pneumonia in patients hooked up to respirators, and colds in otherwise healthy people show some positive results. But the authors note that the studies are almost all of low quality, small in size, and often funded by companies with significant conflicts of interest.
Unless you know that your body is lacking in a particular type of probiotic, you should just look for broad-spectrum probiotics that contain a mix of different strains of bacteria, Warren says: "We have billions of bacteria in our gut, so by taking a supplement with a range of different strains, you will ensure you are not overdoing or missing one type." Keatley also stresses the importance of finding a supplement with a diversity of bacteria strains to keep overgrowth of any one strain in check. "Providing too much of an advantage to one strain of probiotic may push out another strain we didn't know was important until it's too late," she points out.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
Kimchi: This fermented vegetable is made from Chinese cabbage (beachu), radish, green onion, red pepper powder, garlic, ginger, and fermented seafood (jeotgal). Many bacteria have been found to be present and can include any of the following: Leuconostoc mesenteroides and Lactobacillus plantarum, L. mesenteroides, L. citreum, L. gasicomitatum, L. brevis, L. curvatus, L. plantarum, L. sakei, L. lactis, Pediococcus pentosaceus, Weissella confusa, and W. koreensis. A recent review linked the health benefits of kimchi to anticancer, antiobesity, anticonstipation, colon health promotion, cholesterol reduction, antioxidative and antiaging properties, brain health promotion, immune promotion, and skin health promotion.