Unless you have a perfect gut and are already eating lots of fermented foods—which is rare, although you can work up to this point—it’s difficult to get all the probiotics you need from diet alone. Most of us don’t have perfect guts—everything from antibiotics to high-carbohydrate diets to being born via a C-section can compromise the balance of bacteria in our microbiome. Supplementing with a probiotic can help to restore imbalances, and it’s also just a great preventative health measure, helping to keep your microbiome in balance and your immune system healthy to ward off illnesses.
More and more evidence shows that the gut microbiota may play an important role in the development of obesity, obesity-associated inflammation and insulin resistance. Obesity and Type 2 diabetes are associated with changes in gut microbiota. Several studies describe differences between the microbiota of lean individuals and those who are obese. The potential for using probiotics in weight management and obesity and diabetes prevention is exciting.
We also found strains linked to five other health benefits like weight loss and lowering cholesterol. We feature options for those cases below, but they aren’t top picks because those use cases aren’t as heavily researched as immune health or IBS relief. Still, chances are any probiotic supplement is going to make some improvement to your digestive health, so don’t be afraid to experiment.
Many women eat yogurt or insert it into the vagina to treat recurring yeast infections, a "folk" remedy for which medical science offers limited support. Oral and vaginal administration of Lactobacilli may help in the treatment of bacterial vaginosis, although there isn't enough evidence yet to recommend it over conventional approaches. (Vaginosis must be treated because it creates a risk for pregnancy-related complications and pelvic inflammatory disease.) Probiotic treatment of urinary tract infections is under study.
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An imbalance in the gut microbiota is believed to contribute to a number of health problems, particularly gastrointestinal issues, as well as immune dysfunction and infections. The bacterial balance can be disrupted by medical conditions, emotional and physical stress, and, most notably, use of antibiotics, which destroy the good bacteria along with the bad.
Although some probiotics have shown promise in research studies, strong scientific evidence to support specific uses of probiotics for most health conditions is lacking. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any probiotics for preventing or treating any health problem. Some experts have cautioned that the rapid growth in marketing and use of probiotics may have outpaced scientific research for many of their proposed uses and benefits.
Inside your body bacterial and other microbial cells live in close contact with your own cells, and in healthy conditions the thing that separates them from you is a layer of mucus. Between that layer of mucus and the inside of you is a layer of skin-like cells one-cell thick. One thing you have to understand about your gastrointestinal (GI) tract is that although it resides within you, it is really connected to the outside world, from your lips to your anus, and the things that protect you from the outside world are the mucus; the skin-like layer of cells with immune, nervous, and endocrine cells below it; and the beneficial microbes. At least 70 percent of your immune system is in your GI tract! This is why taking probiotics benefits the immune system greatly.
AZO Complete Feminine BalanceTM is a daily probiotic supplement designed for the unique needs of women. Many everyday things can throw off your balance (stress, sex, pregnancy, aging, even medications! This product supports your feminine health and maintain a healthy pH so that you can own your day! It contains INTELLIFLORATM: a probiotic blend of four lactobacilli that are associated with vaginal health* (Lactobacillus crispatus LBV 88, Lactobacillus rhamnosus LBV 96, Lactobacillus jensenii LBV 116, and Lactobacillus gasseri LBV 150.) The INTELLIFLORATM blend has been shown in clinical studies to help restore and maintain the healthy balance of the vaginal microbiota.*
Taking relatively high doses of these probiotic strains before, during, and after antibiotic treatment can help your microbiome get back on its feet: B. Lactis, B. Infantis, L. Acidophilus, L. Casei, L. Bulgaricus, L. Paracasei, L. Rhamnosus GG, and S. Boulardii. Our antibiotic combatant MegaFood MegaFlora has six of these strains, as well as eight others. One serving contains 20 billion CFUs to replenish the good bacteria.
Probiotics have also been researched for how they support the immune system. Studies suggest that probiotics can improve how the immune system functions such as by decreasing upper respiratory tract infections in adults and reducing the need for antibiotics. Studies in children show that a regular diet including probiotics reduces colds and flu-like symptoms and improves attendance in preschool and day care settings.
Diversity of strains - research has demonstrated that bacteria prefer to colonize in different parts of your digestive tract, where there are various ecological niches. The more probiotic strains you ingest, the more coverage you’ll provide for each of these niches. Each strain of bacteria also has its own different purpose, so choosing a formula with many different strains gives you that many more benefits.
Probiotics contain 'good' bacteria, and that's exactly why we need them; because it's not just 'good' bacteria calling our gut home. Taking a probiotic supplement (along with a healthy diet) increases the number of good bacteria, reduces the number of bad bacteria and creates an environment that’s suitable for beneficial microorganisms, which improves our overall health.
Probiotics are officially defined by the Joint Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations/World Health Organization Working Group as “Live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.” Basically, probiotics at this point in time are live bacteria and yeasts that provide health benefits to you if you take them in adequate quantities.
Jo A. Panyko is a Master Nutrition Therapist and author of two books about probiotics. She is a professional member of the National Association of Nutrition Professionals (NANP) and works as a functional medicine nutrition therapist (nutritionist) at her company, Chrysalis Nutrition and Health. She writes about how to be healthy with probiotics on her website, powerofprobiotics.com.
We have to give a nod to the most famous probiotic food: yogurt. Whether you love Greek or regular, low-fat or full-fat, look for the phrase "live active cultures" on the label. And although choosing a plain yogurt has less added sugar than the flavored kinds, Tallmadge gives you the okay to choose a fruit-infused flavor if that's the only way you'll eat it. Just be sure to aim for fewer than 15 grams of the sweet stuff per serving; sugar can feed the bad bugs in your gut.
But sometimes you need a little help from outside sources in order to secure those benefits, which is why a lot of experts recommend getting an extra hit of probiotics through food. Fermented options — think keffir, sauerkraut, and kimchi — are a great place to start, says the International Scientific Association of Probiotics and Prebiotics, as are these other surprising foods with probiotics.
Many women are prone to yeast infections during or after antibiotic use. If you are one of these unlucky few, try taking a probiotic like the vH Probiotics with Prebiotics and Cranberry immediately before taking your antibiotics. (You may want to check with your doctor first though). These cultures may help with stomach upset and can also prevent a dreaded yeast infection!
Probiotics are clearly incredibly supportive, but they can't do their work alone. To make sure that you're getting the most out of your microbes, it's important that you give them the support they need to work. You've got lots of options for supporting your gut health, from dietary changes to probiotic supplementation, but make sure you're at least covering the following bases.
“Highly recommend –There are quite a few probiotics manufactured specifically for women. Some are decent while others are not so good. For me, I require one on a daily basis to maintain my feminine health. When I try a new probiotic that is made specifically for women, it makes me a bit nervous because I will end up with yeast or bladder infection if it is not effective. With AZO, I am happy to report it is a great probiotic and highly recommend it to all women! It works great.” – Vicki
Further, there’s still a lot we don’t know. A recent study published in Cell compared how the microbiome of the gut reconstituted itself after antibiotic treatment with and without probiotic administration. The researchers found that probiotics (which might have improved diarrhea symptoms) led to a significant delay in microbiome reconstitution, if it occurred at all. And — again — this study was with purified strains of bacteria, which is not what you’re getting in probiotic-containing food.
In addition to its powerful probiotic strands, the Vitamin Bounty Women’s Pro-Daily Probiotic also features a proprietary women’s health formula. This blend includes many of the minerals and plant extracts that have been found to be the most beneficial to women’s health, making it ideal for any women that have experienced feminine health problems. Specifically, this Vitamin Bounty formula includes Ashwagandha Root Powder, Cranberry Fruit Powder and Black Cohosh Root Powder.
Back to the question of what are probiotics: There are five main types, each in its own classification called a genus. Within each genus there are multiple species, and within those species there are multiple strains. For example, Lactobacillus is a very common genus of probiotics. Within that genus are numerous species, such as rhamnosus. The genus and species of a microbe are always italicized, making it easy to know that a microbe is involved. In a species such as Lactobacillus rhamnosus (often abbreviated L. rhamnosus), there are many strains. An example of the name of a strain is L. rhamnosus GR-1.
There are both probiotics and prebiotics in fermented foods. I differ from a lot of doctors in that I recommend that patients with infections like Candida and SIBO don’t eat prebiotics until they’ve cleared up the infection—because the prebiotics can feed those infections, too. I find that it’s better to get rid of those infections first, and then add in prebiotics to your diet after. [See here for more from Dr. Myers on treating yeast infections.]
Quality matters for any supplement, and that goes triple for probiotics. Many commercial brands lack the technology to identify specific strains and how much of that strain each dose contains. That could mean you get an ineffective or potentially harmful dose. It's a great sign if the company is using strains that have been used specifically in clinical trials at a dose similar to or the same as that used in the study. This is one of the only ways to guarantee a probiotic's clinical effectiveness.
While raw probiotics tend to be the freshest (and most effective!) cultures on the market, it is important to ensure that you will store these properly in between each use. Cultures can die unrefrigerated in as little as a few hours, rendering them completely ineffective and, if you’re especially unlucky, even harmful to your body’s natural flora. Think about it, when has stale or moldy bread made your tummy feel better? The same thing goes for stale probiotic cultures!
Following a healthy and active lifestyle and eating a balanced diet are the best ways to foster a bountiful gut flora. Taking care of your gut flora can help with things like irritable bowel syndrome and chronic constipation, among other things. Even if you’re not sold on pursuing probiotics for your allergies, they’re good to consider if you’re experiencing any gastrointestinal issues.