As with other types of supplements, scientists are still discovering the full potential of probiotics. However, when taken regularly, it is believed that they help support digestive health by helping maintain the balance of beneficial and non-beneficial bacteria in your digestive tract. Having a natural balance of good bacteria in the digestive tract can help defend against occasional digestive issues. In addition, probiotics play an important role in supporting immune health, since 70% of the body's immune system is found in the digestive tract.∗
Additionally, it's a good idea to take note of the number of colony-forming units (CFUs) that are in the supplement you're considering, Angelone says. CFU count tells you the number of viable, active bacteria present in a tablet, she explains, and one billion (yes, seriously) is a typical dose. However, if you're struggling with a specific health condition, you may need more than that, Warren says. Your doctor can help you decide whether that's the case and may be able to steer you toward a good supplement to get you started. Here are a few to consider if you decide that probiotics are right for you.
The side effects of antibiotic use are often not trivial. Many people experience discomfort and a change in bowel habits, but some experience more severe infections, such as opportunistic colonization of the gut with bacteria such as Clostridium difficile (C.diff), which affected half a million Americans in 2015 and was directly responsible for at least 15,000 deaths.
The bad news about constipation is that there can be many causes, from simple causes like dehydration and lack of fiber to complicated structural causes or disease. While constipation may seem to be only a nuisance that causes uncomfortable symptoms such as abdominal bloating or pain, the truth is that constipation increases the risks of several diseases.
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.
Notably, after someone was tagged a “persister” or “resister” clear patterns emerged on how probiotics would impact his or her indigenous microbiome and gut bacteria profile. "Although all of our probiotic-consuming volunteers showed probiotics in their stool, only some of them showed them in their gut, which is where they need to be," Eran Segal said in a statement. "If some people resist and only some people permit them, the benefits of the standard probiotics we all take can't be as universal as we once thought. These results highlight the role of the gut microbiome in driving very specific clinical differences between people."
Yes, they may help. Lebwohl says there are reputable studies that show a link between the use of probiotics and the reduction in IBS symptoms, citing this meta-analysis. It's estimated that 11 percent of the world population complains of symptoms like abdominal cramps, diarrhea, constipation, excessive gas and/or mucus in their stools. While for some the condition can be attributed to certain dietary triggers, others appear to be stress-related, which brings us to the heart of where many claims about the effectiveness of probiotics lie—in the gut-brain axis.
The other way that probiotics help is the impact that they have on our immune system. Some believe that this role is the most important. Our immune system is our protection against germs. When it doesn't function properly, we can suffer from allergic reactions, autoimmune disorders (for example, ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, and rheumatoid arthritis), and infections (for example, infectious diarrhea, H. pylori, skin infections, and vaginal infections). By maintaining the correct balance from birth, the hope would be to prevent these ailments. Our immune system can benefit anytime that balanced is restored, so it's never too late.
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.*
Make sure dosages are listed in CFU, colony forming units. (Most brands list CFU in billions now: so 30 billion CFU, 100 billion CFU, and so on.) For one, this means that the bacteria strains are living, which is essential. When you’re looking at the cost of products, be sure to look at the cost per unit. I spoke to a woman the other day who had bought probiotics that had 2 billion CFU per capsule. In comparison, to get the 30 billion CFU I recommend, she’d have to take essentially half of her bottle to get the same dosage as one of our capsules.
In the past five years, for example, several combined analyses of dozens of studies have concluded that probiotics may help prevent some common side effects of treatment with antibiotics. Whenever physicians prescribe these medications, they know they stand a good chance of annihilating entire communities of beneficial bacteria in the intestine, along with whatever problem-causing microbes they are trying to dispel. Normally the body just needs to grab a few bacteria from the environment to reestablish a healthy microbiome. But sometimes the emptied niches get filled up with harmful bacteria that secrete toxins, causing inflammation in the intestine and triggering diarrhea. Adding yogurt or other probiotics—especially the kinds that contain Lactobacillus—during and after a course of antibiotics seems to decrease the chances of subsequently developing these opportunistic infections.
Self-dosing with bacteria isn't as outlandish as it might seem. An estimated 100 trillion microorganisms representing more than 500 different species inhabit every normal, healthy bowel. These microorganisms (or microflora) generally don't make us sick; most are helpful. Gut-dwelling bacteria keep pathogens (harmful microorganisms) in check, aid digestion and nutrient absorption, and contribute to immune function.
The above line of probiotics is also a favorite of Engelman. "I like Nerium International's new Prolistic Pre & Probiotic Plus Vitamins ($45) because it combines prebiotics, probiotics, and vitamins," Engelman explains. "It supports overall health while targeting digestive function. It contains two types of prebiotics and two strains of probiotics to help enhance levels of beneficial microflora and balance levels of healthy bacteria in the digestive system. Additionally, it contains B vitamins, vitamin C, and vitamin D, which work to enhance the body's immune system and support natural energy production."
Because there's a huge variety of probiotic products available on the market, many people struggle to find the right one for them. "There are many different strains of bacteria in different combinations within different probiotic supplements," explains Brooke Scheller, a clinical and functional nutritionist. "For example, a probiotic may contain a single strain of bacteria or many. It may also contain other vitamins, minerals, or other ingredients that may tout health benefits," she says. There are many different dosages, delivery systems (powder, tablets, capsules), and formulations (refrigerated vs. shelf-stable), and some probiotics also contain prebiotics, which basically act as fertilizer for the probiotics. (Related: Why Your Probiotic Needs a Prebiotic Partner)
Here’s a startling fact: For every one human cell we have, there are ten bacteria cells in our body to match it. That means that the majority of DNA in our body isn’t even human; it’s from the 500 bacteria species that call us home.1 Thinking about that much bacteria might have your skin crawling, but the relationship between human and bacteria is really a perfect synergy: we give bacteria room and board, and in return, they work hard to protect our intestinal health, which ultimately protects the health of our immune system and overall well-being. But if we have that much bacteria already living in our gut, you might be thinking to yourself, what are probiotics’ benefits?
To avoid those and other problems, I strongly recommend buying a professional brand from a reputable health care professional or other vendor who stands by their products and undergoes third-party testing. Some of these professional brands have created advanced technology that preserves a probiotic supplement’s survival on the shelf and in your gut.
That said, you don’t have to live in pain any longer and there are products that can help ease your symptoms without an added hassle! Whether you are struggling with yeast infections, recurrent urinary tract infections, digestive symptoms, or menopause, probiotics can dramatically increase your quality of life and ease your symptoms. After all, when you’re pain-free, nothing can stand in your way! You can also view probiotics for men here.