Cynthia is the assistant editor and frequent contributor. She’s originally from California, but has lived in many countries including South Korea, China and Germany. She currently lives with her husband in Minnesota. Cynthia is passionate about helping families find the best advice for family life and safety. Cynthia also has experience in early childhood education and holds a TEFL-C certificate from Teachers College, Columbia University. She has been writing about family-focused topics, advice and trends since 2014.
Probiotics are bacteria that help keep the natural balance of organisms (microflora) in the intestines. The normal human digestive tract contains about 400 types of probiotic bacteria that reduce the growth of harmful bacteria and promote a healthy digestive system. The largest group of probiotic bacteria in the intestine is lactic acid bacteria, of which Lactobacillus acidophilus, found in yogurt with live cultures, is the best known. Yeast is also a probiotic substance. Probiotics are also available as natural health products.
Better Health Review ranks Ultimate Flora as the most effective probiotic supplement. It contains 30 billion active bifidobacteria for colon health, and 20 billion lactobacilli and lactococcus cultures for the small intestine. According to Better Health Review, it contains all natural ingredients. It earns a perfect 5 score from Better Health Review, and the magazine “Vitamin Retailer” voted it best two years in a row.
The second type of probiotics are soil-based organisms (SBO), which tend to be more resistant to acid in the gut. Here’s the thinking behind soil-based probiotics: Many people (particularly in the paleo community) believe that widespread gut and health issues today are the result of life in a too-clean society. In the past, when more people worked in the dirt, played in the dirt, there was less obsessing over cleanliness and antibacterial products, we got more natural exposure to probiotics. The benefit of soil-based probiotics is that they come from the earth, and the bacteria (which are still living) have their own natural, protective capsule surrounding them. I recommend soil-based probiotics to patients with autoimmunity, in addition to the classic form. They are particularly helpful for people with SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth)—with SIBO, you also have an overgrowth of good bacteria; and in this case, the classic form of probiotic is not what you need to fight the infection.
Yet that’s how probiotics are often offered. They can be distributed in the United States as food, supplements or drugs. The regulations for each are very different. Most people looking for probiotics don’t see the distinctions. Ideally, the ways in which we use and consume probiotics would conform to the data and evidence that back them up. That rarely happens.
Today, most of the Japanese population begins the day with a warm bowl of miso soup, believed to stimulate the digestive system and energize the body. Made from fermented soybeans, rice or barley, adding a tablespoon of miso to some hot water makes an excellent, quick, probiotic-rich soup. The fermentation process can take anywhere from a few days to a couple of years to complete, and the end result is a red, white or dark brown paste with a buttery texture.
Nearly 75% of all women will have at least one yeast infection during their lifetime, and over 50% of women are likely to experience the inexplicable pain of a urinary tract infection as well. With the recurrence of urinary tract infections and yeast infections on the rise, women all around the world began searching for a more effective and natural solution to antibiotics.
It seems like one minute you have diarrhea (D) and the next minute you are constipated (C). Abdominal pain, cramping, and bloating come and go. You are tired of running to the bathroom frequently, or spending a long time in the bathroom waiting for something to happen. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a diagnosis of exclusion. Infections and other causes of your IBS-C dominant or IBS-D dominant symptoms have to be ruled out, but in many cases the diagnosis of IBS doesn’t really provide answers. You may be on a low FODMAP (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols) diet, which helps, but is restrictive.
Antibiotics are also a major contributor to gut imbalances. Many of us have been overprescribed antibiotics by well-meaning, conventional doctors from childhood onward. Antibiotic use as a solution for every infection is ingrained in our culture. Every time you take an antibiotic throughout your life, you disrupt your gut flora for up to 12 months.
"I usually recommend Garden of Life, BioK or Megafoods brand," says Shapiro. "I also recommend starting with about 30 billion CFU and making sure your supplement has at least 12 different strains. And if you don't eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains that provide fiber for the probiotics to live off of, make sure you're the one you are taking contains prebiotics as well.
Rachel Allen is a writer at Hyperbiotics who's absolutely obsessed with learning about how our bodies work. She's fascinated by the latest research on bacteria and the role they play in health, and loves to help others learn about how probiotics can help the body get back in balance. For more ideas on how you can benefit from the power of probiotics and live healthier days, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter. To learn more about how a healthy microbiome can enrich your life, subscribe to our newsletter.
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.
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Since the bulk of your natural flora exists in your gut, it makes sense that this is the part of your body that feels it most when bacteria become imbalanced. Women, in particular, can experience all kinds of digestive problems, particularly during hormone fluctuations. These are just some of the digestive symptoms a high-quality probiotic can help reduce and even treat:
Flora offers a high potency blend of eight super strain probiotics for general gut health and immune system support including multiple varieties of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, among others. Containing up to 42 billion CFUs per capsule, this powerful health-boosting blend uses only strains found naturally in the human body, which increases its effectiveness.
Consuming probiotics regularly will reduce the risk of this. "The concept is that if we have an unhealthy, unbalanced gut environment, toxins can be released into the bloodstream and cause inflammation throughout the body," Engelman adds. "This shift in gut flora and the subsequent inflammation can cause a flare-up in the skin of those who are predisposed to acne, eczema, or rosacea."
Scientists are investigating probiotics, and their combined effects, by trying to classify the probiotic benefits of ingesting specific probiotic strains and understanding their role in the digestive tract. At present, the methodological and ethical limitations of human studies still make it difficult to fully understand the mechanisms of action of probiotics, but some explanations are available. Nevertheless, benefits linked to the consumption of probiotic strains have already been suggested (e.g. helping to support the immune system, help support digestive health), and others are still being investigated.
Align uses the patented probiotic strain Bifidobacterium, which helps to maintain a healthy digestive system and digestive balance. It contains 1 billion CFUs when manufactured, and 10 million CFUs when used by the best by date. (Very often, the number of CFUs in a product decreases over time.) If you have trouble digesting certain foods such as caffeine or dairy, this will be a good option for you.
If these issues and many others are connected to gut health, then what elements are essential for digestive health? Consider this: According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, upward of 60 million to 70 million Americans are affected by digestive diseases. In addition, digestive disease and disorders cost the United States over $100 billion per year.
While this feature contributes to the efficiency of the product, it is unclear whether this product is vegetarian like some of the other probiotics we reviewed. Therefore, if you have any dietary restrictions or needs, this may not be the best probiotic for you and may, in fact, cause additional stomach upset or irritation. It is however gluten-free.
Previous studies have been contradictory, with some yielding more positive results about the benefits of probiotics, but most of them looked at probiotics in stool samples, not directly in the gut itself. In the new research, the scientists used more invasive methods to take samples of gut bacteria directly from different areas of the digestive system.
Step No. 1 is consume more sour foods — it’s the top way probiotics benefits can be accessed. Embrace what I call “the power of sour” with sour foods like apple cider vinegar and fermented vegetables. They contain some probiotics, but also they contain certain types of acids like gluconic acid and acetic acid, healthy acids that support the function of probiotics (even functioning like prebiotics in some cases).
Most of the prebiotics identified are oligosaccharides. They are resistant to the human digestive enzymes that work on all other carbohydrates. This means that they pass through the upper GI system without being digested. They then get fermented in the lower colon and produce short-chain fatty acids that will then nourish the beneficial microbiota that live there. Oligosaccharides can be synthesized or obtained from natural sources. These sources include asparagus, artichoke, bamboo shoots, banana, barley, chicory, leeks, garlic, honey, lentils, milk, mustards, onion, rye, soybean, sugar beet, sugarcane juice, tomato, wheat, and yacón. The health benefits from these oligosaccharides is a topic of ongoing research.
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!
Certain brands, like Attune (attunefoods.com; available at Whole Foods), have pumped up the dessert by adding probiotics. (Attune boasts 6.1 billion CFUs, or "colony forming units," a measure of live, active microorganisms per serving. As a comparison, some probiotic supplements may contain 1 to 50+ billion CFUs.) Sounds crazy, but it's backed by science. One study in the International Journal of Food Microbiology found that probiotics added to chocolate were able to reach the GI tract where they could get to work colonizing the gut with healthy bacteria.
Dr. Vincent M. Pedre, medical director of Pedre Integrative Health and president of Dr. Pedre Wellness, is a board-certified internist in private practice in New York City since 2004. His philosophy and practices are a blend of both Western and Eastern medical traditions. He is a clinical instructor in medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and is certified in yoga and medical acupuncture. His unique methodology is best described as integrative or defined by a functional, systems-based approach to health. With his holistic understanding of both sides of the equation, he can help each patient choose the best course of action for their ailments to provide both immediate and long-term relief. His holistic approach incorporates positive, preventive health and wellness lifestyle choices. Dr. Pedre Wellness is a growing wellness platform offering health-enhancing programs along with informative social media and lifestyle products, such as dietary supplements, books, and weight-loss programs.
The U.S. Clinical Guide to Probiotic Products1, Canadian Guide to Probiotic Supplements2 and the WGO Global Guidelines for Probiotics and Prebiotics3 provide suggested effective amounts of specific strains for treating certain health conditions, such as constipation or IBS. All 37 products listed the species of bacteria they contained, but only 14 listed amounts of individual strains. We found that 9 of those 14 products provided beneficial bacteria at effective levels. The Center for Responsible Nutrition recommends4 the industry move toward specifying strains as a best-practice because whether a product works and for what purpose depends on its strains.
But what if investigators could design probiotics to treat specific individuals? Many researchers think personalized probiotics are the most promising path forward for patients with compromised gut microbiomes. Last year Jens Walter of the University of Alberta and his colleagues published a study that gives a glimpse of this potential future. The researchers decided to see what it would take to get the bacteria in a probiotic to successfully colonize the intestines of 23 volunteers. They chose a particular strain of Bifidobacterium longum that earlier studies had indicated could survive in the human intestine. In the study, the volunteers consumed either a drink containing 10 billion live B. longum bacteria or a placebo in the form of a glucose-based food additive (maltodextrin) each day for two weeks. Periodic fecal samples revealed higher than typical levels of B. longum in participants who did not consume the placebo.
Probi is continuously thriving to develop and investigate new possible indications where probiotics may have positive and efficient effects to improve health. We are science-driven, and investigate new possibilities to find the Next Generation Probiotics. This concept involves new bacterial strains that has never before been cultivated and used for health-purposes.