If you've tried a probiotic after following these steps and it doesn't seem to be working for you (or you just want some extra guidance in choosing one), head to your doctor (or a dietitian) to get a recommendation. "Have a thorough discussion with your doctor to make sure you are taking the appropriate bacterial strain for the appropriate reason," advises Dr. Ivanina. "Then, follow up after taking the probiotic to make sure it is having the intended effect."
A number of probiotic products are on the market, including yogurts containing probiotics, as well as supplements and skin creams, and an estimated 3.9 million Americans use such products. Some studies suggest that probiotics may help with diarrhea or symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), but strong evidence to support their use for most health conditions is lacking, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
Probiotics and raw fermented foods and drinks, such as sauerkraut and kefir that contain probiotic-like microbes, are very helpful for digestion. They help to keep your gastrointestinal tract at the proper pH for optimal digestion and help to break down foods. They also regulate the motion of your intestines so that food moves through at the proper pace.
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.
They probably are. Lebwohl says probiotics may decrease the risk of getting diarrhea during the course of taking antibiotics, and may also play a role in specifically preventing the development of the dreaded antibiotic-related super diarrhea called C. difficile or C. diff. Antibiotics can wipe out the good bacteria that keep you from getting sick if you’re exposed to C. diff, or if you already have it in your system. C. diff symptoms can range from a moderate watery diarrhea several times a day to severe infections, which can be accompanied by fever, bloody stools, rapid heart rate, and can even lead to kidney failure. 500,000 Americans were infected with C. diff in 2015 and 15,000 died from it.
Some foods are made by adding bacteria — yogurt, pickles, cottage cheese, kombucha, and sauerkraut are good examples. Those foods work to provide the same probiotic benefits as supplements. However, most foods are so processed and pasteurized that it’s unlikely you’ll see the same benefits, let alone the right strains, as you would with a supplement. Regardless, it can’t hurt to get extra probiotics through your diet.
One review of probiotics benefits for necrotizing enterocolitis was bold enough to say, “The results confirm the significant benefits of probiotic supplements in reducing death and disease in preterm neonates. The … evidence indicate that additional placebo-controlled trials are unnecessary if a suitable probiotic product is available.” Regarding sepsis in developing countries (where it is overwhelmingly more common), a 2017 randomized, controlled trial claims that a large number of these cases “could be effectively prevented” if mothers are given a synbiotic (probiotic and prebiotic together) that contains the probiotic strain L. plantarum.
Other foods without substantial research: miso (fermented soybean paste); tempeh; sauerkraut; aged soft cheese; sourdough bread; sour pickles; gundruk (nonsalted, fermented, and acidic vegetable product); sinki (indigenous fermented radish tap root food); khalpi (fermented cucumber); inziangsang (traditional fermented leafy vegetable product prepared from mustard leaves); soidonis (widespread fermented product prepared from the tip of mature bamboo shoots)
The second Elinav study, “Post-Antibiotic Gut Mucosal Microbiome Reconstitution Is Impaired by Probiotics and Improved by Autologous FMT” involved a mouse model and human patients. One cohort of mice and a parallel human group was given the same probiotic strain used in the first study to see if they had more success repopulating their gut microbiota after a round of antibiotics. Another “watch-and-wait” cohort didn’t take probiotics to assist gut microbiome recovery after antibiotic-related depletion. A third cohort was given an “autologous fecal microbiome transplant” (aFMT) which consisted of a patient’s own gut microbiota that had been collected before he or she started a cycle of antibiotics.
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.*
The best case for probiotic therapy has been in the treatment of diarrhea. Controlled trials have shown that Lactobacillus GG can shorten the course of infectious diarrhea in infants and children (but not adults). Although studies are limited and data are inconsistent, two large reviews, taken together, suggest that probiotics reduce antibiotic-associated diarrhea by 60%, when compared with a placebo.
If you go with a supplement, know that the FDA regulates these products but treats them like foods and not medications. Unlike drug manufacturers, supplement makers don’t have to show their products are safe or effective to sell them. That means that these firms are in charge of checking the safety and labeling of their products before they sell them to make sure they meet FDA rules.
“Microbiome” refers to the trillions of bacteria and microorganisms that live on and in our individual bodies. “There’s increased recognition of the various ways that the microbiome affects our health,” Lebwohl tells me. “And with that recognition comes the true observation that many bacteria are good for us. This goes against the old idea that bacteria equal germs, which equal harm. It turns out that many bacteria keep us healthy and probiotics could potentially support that notion.”
The science on what probiotics do is still emerging. There is some hard evidence that suggests eating probiotic foods and supplements can have a beneficial effect on health. Other evidence suggests probiotics benefits are limited to those individuals in good health and should be avoided by those who suffer from certain serious health conditions. There is no research that demonstrates the risks or the benefits of probiotic supplements on children.
What about prebiotics vs probiotics? Prebiotics are the food fibers that go through the gut unchanged and are then used by good colon bacteria as a food source for their own growth. Everyone already has most of these good bacteria present, but often in small quantities. Prebiotics are used to stimulate their growth. Simply stated, you already grow your own probiotics within your colon. You do not rely on them to make the passage through the stomach acid — acid that can destroy many probiotic bacteria. That’s why taking a probiotic supplement or adding probiotic foods to your diet does not always help your digestive system. You can eat as many probiotic bacteria as you want, but if they don’t survive the trip to the colon, your effort will be fruitless.
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:
Most bacteria are included through the fermentation process. Fermentation helps extend the shelf life of perishable foods. It is a slow decomposition process of organic substances induced by microorganisms or enzymes that essentially convert carbohydrates to alcohols or organic acids. The lactic acid supplies the bacteria that then add the health benefits to the food. You can purchase foods that are fermented or ferment them yourself.
How is it that probiotics are such a ubiquitous trend in the wellness scene but subject to tons of misinformation all the same? Consider the myth, for example, that the only appeal of replenishing your good bacteria is smoother digestion. On the contrary, the benefits of probiotics abound: from a boosted mood and better skin to a healthier immune system.
Some people prefer probiotic supplements over foods, but Dr. Cresci notes that probiotic foods are a better choice. In particular, fermented foods — like yogurt, kefir (a yogurt-like beverage), kombucha (fermented black tea), sauerkraut (refrigerated, not shelf-stable), kimchi (made from fermented cabbage) and tempeh and miso (made from fermented soybeans) — provide a nourishing environment in which healthful bacteria thrive and release an important byproduct: short-chain fatty acids.
Quick note about some formulations with multiple strains (including this one): Take a look at the label below and you’ll see that the supplement contains a mix of strains, but the label just says there is a total of 20 billion CFUs (how they measure the amount of bacteria). This does not tell us how much of each particular strain there is, and we want to know that there are at least 1 billion CFUs per strain to get a beneficial effect.
Other uses. Many other claims are made for probiotics—that they lower cholesterol, alleviate allergic skin conditions (like eczema), treat ulcers and urinary tract infections, improve vaginal health, reduce the risk of colon cancer, ease anxiety and depression, and ward off traveler’s diarrhea. Good evidence to support these claims is lacking. Research on probiotics for weight loss has yielded inconsistent results, and even studies with positive results have mostly found very small benefits, as was seen in an analysis of 15 clinical trials in Obesity Reviews in 2018.
Evidence from clinical trials is mixed and often of low quality, but findings from meta-analyses suggest that probiotics can provide benefits in the treatment of some conditions, such as infectious and antibiotic-associated diarrhoea. As such, taking probiotics after antibiotic treatment is an increasingly common practice. However, two studies recently reported in Cell question whether taking highly concentrated supplements of so-called good bacteria aids the recovery of normal gut flora.
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.∗