Prebiotics are fuel for the good bacteria (probiotics) in your gut; without prebiotics, probiotics can’t do their job. There are tons of prebiotics in whole fruits and vegetables, including onions, garlic, bananas, asparagus, and artichokes. If you’re worried you’re not getting five to 20 grams per day (more on prebiotic-rich foods here), consider taking a prebiotic supplement, usually a powder or drink mix.
Myriad factors – antibiotics, diet, stress, and age, among them – affect the balance of diverse microbes present in your gut. While you can replenish your gut bacteria by eating well and incorporating natural probiotics (ex. yogurt and kefir) into a healthy diet, these processes can take weeks or months; taking a regular probiotic is an easy and effective way to ensure your gut (and immune system) stays healthy, always.
Digestive tract conditions. Probiotic supplements may be useful in treating and preventing inflammatory conditions, such as pouchitis (which affects people who have their colons removed), inflammatory bowel diseases (such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease), and chronic stomach inflammation and ulcers caused by Helicobacter pylori bacterium. They may also be helpful in treating constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, acid reflux, spastic colon; shortening the duration of infectious diarrhea; and reducing the recurrence of bladder and colorectal cancer. Some studies suggest that yogurt is helpful in preventing diarrhea - a common side effect of treatment with antibiotics. It has also been shown to prevent or treat urinary tract infections and vaginal yeast infections in women.
As far as effectiveness, keep in mind that unlike medications, dietary supplements do NOT need to be approved by the FDA. This means that manufacturers can sell supplements simply with "claims" of safety and effectiveness. Currently, researchers are undecided if probiotic supplements are effective. Some say probiotics are effective; others believe they offer no benefit whatsoever. It also remains unclear which probiotics (or combination of probiotics) work to treat certain diseases. Despite these issues, some studies have shown positive results. Still, more research is needed to confirm that probiotics are safe and effective.
One of the best-studied effects of probiotics has been on the reduction in diarrhea severity and duration. Probiotics can prevent as well as reduce duration of several types of diarrhea. Lactobacillus has been found to be a safe and effective treatment for children with acute infectious diarrhea. Certain probiotics may also offer a safe and effective method to prevent traveler’s diarrhea, but research in this area is emerging.
As you progress with increasing dosages of probiotics internally, you may experience increased abdominal gas, upset digestion with diarrhea, headache, fever, muscle pain, brain fog, and/or anxiety. If the symptoms become too uncomfortable, decrease the dosage for a few days and try again. These symptoms are your body’s way of telling you that things—such as a die-off of pathogens or an awakened intestinal reflex—are changing.
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)
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.
Undaunted, researchers looked into whether probiotics might be beneficial in a host of disorders, even when the connection to gut health and the microbiome was tenuous. Reviews show that there is insufficient evidence to recommend their use to treat or prevent eczema, preterm labor, gestational diabetes, bacterial vaginosis, allergic diseases or urinary tract infections.
If you want to supercharge your probiotic friends, you may want to feed them with prebiotics. That’s P-R-E-biotics. They nourish the good bacteria in your gut in order to keep them healthy against the bad bacteria. They should go hand-in-hand with probiotics. Prebiotics are found in many foods, including bananas, whole grains, honey, garlic and onions. Try to get two to four servings of these prebiotic-rich foods a day.
Probiotics are “friendly” bacteria that inhabit your body. Sound strange? These microscopic roommates can be your best buds if you show them a little love. One surefire way to do that is with probiotic supplements. Probiotics support the right ratio of good to bad bacteria in your gut. For bonus points, call on digestive enzymes. These unique blends offer specific nutritional support to assist digestion and nutrient absorption. Your healthy body will quickly appreciate these lifelong friends.
This Korean staple relies on lactic acid fermentation (also called lacto-fermentation) to turn cabbage or other vegetables into a spicy, pungent side dish that's packed with vitamin C. Order it at Korean restaurants or buy it in the refrigerated section of your grocery store (King's Kimchi is widely available at Walmart). For some guidance on making your own, turn to The Art of Fermentation ($23; amazon.com). Then, use it to spike veggie-laden rice bowls, top on soup, or serve alongside meat.
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.
What exactly do probiotics do? They are believed to protect us in two ways. The first is the role that they play in our digestive tract. We know that our digestive tract needs a healthy balance between the good and bad bacteria, so what gets in the way of this? It looks like our lifestyle is both the problem and the solution. Poor food choices, emotional stress, lack of sleep, antibiotic overuse, other drugs, and environmental influences can all shift the balance in favor of the bad bacteria.