Importantly, patients with gastrointestinal conditions are not the only ones taking probiotics. 3·9 million people in the USA alone regularly take probiotic supplements, with promised benefits ranging from improved digestion and immune function to improved mental health and prevention of heart disease. However, evidence for these benefits is lacking, and because probiotics are often sold as supplements, manufacturers in many countries are not required to provide evidence of their safety and efficacy to regulatory bodies. The ubiquity of probiotic products would suggest that, at worst, they are harmless. Nevertheless, some safety concerns have been raised, including the risk of contamination, possibility of fungaemia or bacteraemia (particularly in immune-compromised, elderly, or critically ill individuals), small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, and antibiotic resistance. Adding to concerns, clinical trials of probiotics have not consistently reported safety outcomes.
Probiotics have become buzzy in recent years: Celebrities including Lauren Conrad and Anna Paquin have been spotted carrying bottles of kombucha, a probiotic-containing fermented tea, and the probiotics market has been growing rapidly as more people pursue better health by taking probiotic supplements. Prebiotics are attracting notice too, but you may still be unsure of what exactly prebiotics and probiotics are. Here's what you need to know about them to decide whether taking supplements is right for you.
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.
Once the GI microbiome is disrupted, and especially if an infection is treated with antibiotics, it can take time for the resident microbiota to recover, if it ever does. A disrupted gut microbiome sets the stage for altered motility, intestinal hypersensitivity, gut immune activation, leaky gut, altered bile, mental disorders, and a host of other factors that can play a role in IBS. Good probiotics, along with a proper diet, can help the GI tract get the microbes it needs to function normally.

​​​​​​AZO Complete Feminine BalanceTM is a daily probiotic supplement designed for the unique needs of women. Researchers that formulated the blend started by selecting species that are dominant in the healthy vaginal microbiota. Then they further refined the formula by selecting strains of probiotics that flourish in the vagina. The blend is clinically proven to help protect vaginal/feminine health.*
Two large-scale clinical trials recently reported in the New England Journal of Medicine suggest that the situation in infectious diarrhoea might also be more complex than previously believed. Freedman and colleagues did a randomised controlled trial of a probiotic containing Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Lactobacillus helveticus in children presenting to the emergency department with gastroenteritis. Contrary to expectations, they found that the probiotic did not prevent development of moderate-to-severe gastroenteritis within 14 days after enrolment. In a separate study, Schnadower and colleagues found similar results with L rhamnosus GG alone. Both trials used probiotics that are available over the counter in North America and showed no significant difference from placebo in the duration of diarrhoea and vomiting, number of unscheduled health-care visits, or length of absence from day care. These results cannot be generalised to other probiotic strains or preparations, but they do show that we have some way to go in elucidating which probiotics might provide benefits in which clinical settings.
In the past, probiotics have been proposed as part of a weight loss diet. However, a 2015 meta-analysis looked at available randomized, controlled trials investigating this effect and determined that the studies did not seem to support this hypothesis, as body weight and BMI were not consistently reduced. The researchers did point out the need for better designed trials, because they were not convinced the results were based on well-designed science.
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.
Then, study participants were divided into one group that consumed a standard probiotic strain available in commercial supplements and a control group that was given a placebo. After two months of treatment, the researchers found that some people were so-called “resisters” who expelled the gut microbiomes in probiotics; others were identified as “persisters” who successfully colonized the generic probiotic strains in their GI tracts.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
BlueBiotics is a good product to start with and then evaluate from there. The cold is actually good for probiotics as freezing them extends the life of the cultures. Companies who freeze dry their probiotics (which if I’m not mistaken, each of these companies do), but having them shipped in very high temperatures can and does kill probiotic microorganisms so it’s definitely a concern. Ideally, it’s better to stock up during the winter so that you don’t have your product stuck in the back of a hot truck before it gets to you.
Many wondered whether probiotics could be therapeutic in other gastrointestinal disorders. Unfortunately, that doesn’t appear to be the case. Probiotics didn’t show a significant benefit for chronic diarrhea. Three reviews looked at how probiotics might improve Crohn’s disease, and none could find sufficient evidence to recommend their use. Four more reviews looked at ulcerative colitis, and similarly declared that we don’t have the data to show that they work. The same was true for the treatment of liver disease.
Made from fermented cabbage and other vegetables, sauerkraut is not diverse in probiotics but is high in organic acids (what gives food its sour taste) that support the growth of good bacteria. Sauerkraut is extremely popular in Germany today. It is high in vitamin C and digestive enzymes. It’s also a good source of natural lactic acid bacteria, such as lactobacillus.
For most of my life, I thought of probiotics as something I’d only drink if I lost a bet. Then stress-induced irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) turned my intestinal tract into a nonstop river of shit—we’re talking weeks of everything I ate shooting straight out my butt in liquid form. The internet said probiotics were my best non-pharmaceutical bet to help my digestive system calm down, so I swallowed my pride (and my first kombucha ever) and kinda sorta saw the light. My IBS wasn’t cured, but probiotics did help me spend less time on the toilet wide-eyed with terror, and more time doing what’s really important in life—watching TV with my family.
Unfortunately, many commercial brands don’t measure up. They are unstable in stomach acid. Quality control measures aren’t intact, including ensuring supplements have been handled correctly and maintain their freshness. Moisture slipping into probiotic supplements can reduce their efficacy. Companies that use bioshield capsules produce higher quality probiotic supplements that are able to endure the stomach acid, releasing their contents within the small intestine, where a more alkaline environment ensures the survival of the bacteria.
While Lebwohl isn't comfortable endorsing a specific brand publicly, he did say "a widely used brand in which the compound is bifidobacteria or lactobaccilus seems like a reasonable way to go in a patient who is eager to give this a try, but would be best done under the supervision of a healthcare professional.” He does advise looking for a supplement with between 1 billion and 10 billion colony-forming units, or CFUs.
The popular frenzy surrounding probiotics is fueled in large part by surging scientific and public interest in the human microbiome: the overlapping ecosystems of bacteria and other microorganisms found throughout the body. The human gastrointestinal system contains about 39 trillion bacteria, according to the latest estimate, most of which reside in the large intestine. In the past 15 years researchers have established that many of these commensal microbes are essential for health. Collectively, they crowd out harmful microbial invaders, break down fibrous foods into more digestible components and produce vitamins such as K and B12.
The popular frenzy surrounding probiotics is fueled in large part by surging scientific and public interest in the human microbiome: the overlapping ecosystems of bacteria and other microorganisms found throughout the body. The human gastrointestinal system contains about 39 trillion bacteria, according to the latest estimate, most of which reside in the large intestine. In the past 15 years researchers have established that many of these commensal microbes are essential for health. Collectively, they crowd out harmful microbial invaders, break down fibrous foods into more digestible components and produce vitamins such as K and B12.

Historically, people had plenty of probiotics in their diets from eating fresh foods from good soil and by fermenting foods to keep them from spoiling. Over a century ago, the Russian Nobel Prize winner Elie Metchnikoff theorized that “health could be enhanced and senility delayed by manipulating the intestinal microbiome with host-friendly bacteria found in yogurt.” Metchnikoff was ahead of his time with his view of probiotics benefits, but he also was aware that most citizens had regular access to probiotic foods.

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.
The two main species you want to look for are: Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Within these two species, there are a lot of different strains. The strains we chose for our probiotic—Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus plantarum, and Bifidobacterium longum—have been shown to help modulate the immune system, help with autoimmunity conditions (which affect most of my patients), and counter infections in the gut.
Of course, your gut microbiome can only do this when it’s healthy and in balance, which is where probiotics come in. Since so many factors can deplete your beneficial bacteria—including everything from exposure to antibiotics in food or medication to spending too much time inside—supplementing with a premium probiotic is almost always necessary to maintain balance.
“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.”
If that's not enough, your doctor may also suggest a probiotic supplement. But don't go and grab just anything off the pharmacy shelf. Probiotic supplements are not all the same, and they often contain different strains to serve different needs, says naturopathic physician Amy Fasig. Example: What one person gets to battle strep throat is different from what would be prescribed for someone suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome, she says.
In a food allergy, there is an immediate immune reaction to the offensive food. Classic allergic symptoms such as tingling lips, burning/tightness in the mouth/throat, gastrointestinal upset, difficulty breathing, rashes, hives, and even anaphylaxis may be present. Although any food can cause an allergic reaction, the most common offenders are peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, fish, shellfish, eggs, soy, and wheat.
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. 

That doesn't mean that all probiotics, or probiotic-containing foods are created equal. So what should you look for? "There is a lot of 'noise' in this space as more and more 'food products' are coming out with Probiotics," Dr. Shekhar K. Challa, a gastroenterologist and the author of Probiotics For Dummies tells The Huffington Post. "Unfortunately it is impossible to quantitate the CFU's of probiotics in most food products."

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) calls probiotics “live microorganisms (in most cases, bacteria) that are similar to beneficial microorganisms found in the human gut.” The NCCIH makes the point that we often think of bacteria as harmful “germs” — however, probiotic bacteria actually helps the body function properly.
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.
"In fact," she continues, "80% of immune system cells are found in the gut. In addition to the well-known GI benefits of minimizing bloat, gas, constipation, and diarrhea, probiotics aid in digestion by extracting nutrients, helping your body absorb minerals, produce vitamins, and make brain chemicals, including over 30 neurotransmitters along with mood-enhancing serotonin. A healthy person has over 100 trillion microbes, generally a five to one ratio of helpful to harmful."

4. Ohnmacht C, Park JH, Cording S, Wing JB, Atarashi K, Obata Y, Gaboriau-Routhiau V, Marques R, Dulauroy S, Fedoseeva M, Busslinger M, Cerf-Bensussan N, Boneca IG, Voehringer D, Hase K, Honda K, Sakaguchi S, Eberl G. The microbiota regulates type 2 immunity through RORγt+ T cells. Science. 2015 Jul 9. pii: aac4263. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 26160380.


Method of delivery: "The probiotic needs to be able to survive the acidic environment of the stomach and reach the intestine," explains Dr. Nazareth. This can be optimized through the way you take the probiotic and what's included in the formula. "Some delivery systems to consider are time-released tablet/caplet, capsules with an enteric coating and/or microcapsules, and ones that contain prebiotics and the optimal combination of probiotics," says Lori Chang, a registered dietitian with Kaiser Permanente in West Los Angeles.
Suez and colleagues investigated the recovery of the gut microbiota after antibiotic treatment and found that probiotics might perturb rather than aid this process. The probiotics rapidly colonised the gut but prevented the normal microbiota from repopulating for up to 5 months. While likely to be considerably less appealing, the group who received autologous faecal microbiota transplantation recovered their microbiota the quickest, with the composition of the microbiota returning to normal within days. Furthermore, Zmora and colleagues showed that colonisation occurred in highly individualised patterns, with some people's gastrointestinal tracts rejecting probiotics and others allowing colonisation by the probiotic strain, meaning that many individuals taking probiotic supplements are simply wasting their money.
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.
In the United States, most probiotics are sold as dietary supplements, which do not undergo the testing and approval process that drugs do. Manufacturers are responsible for making sure they're safe before they're marketed and that any claims made on the label are true. But there's no guarantee that the types of bacteria listed on a label are effective for the condition you're taking them for. Health benefits are strain-specific, and not all strains are necessarily useful, so you may want to consult a practitioner familiar with probiotics to discuss your options. As always, let your primary care provider know what you're doing.
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:
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.
How can something as small as a microscopic organism be so important for health? The reason is that there is not just one microbe, nor a handful; there are approximately 1 trillion microbes per gram of feces. Microbes within you are found on your mucous membranes, spanning from your mouth to your anus, from your nasal passages to your lungs, in your urinary tract, and even on your eyes. In fact, in your digestive tract alone, it is calculated that for every cell of yours that is human, there are an equal number of bacterial cells.
Gut flora makes up 70 to 80 percent of the human immune system. Too much bad bacteria can inflame and destroy intestinal walls, enter the bloodstream, and trigger a multitude of health issues — constipation, depression, skin problems, autoimmune disease, and even bad breath. Adding good bacteria protects the digestive tract from the harmful bacteria in sugars, pesticides, and saturated fats.
Importantly, patients with gastrointestinal conditions are not the only ones taking probiotics. 3·9 million people in the USA alone regularly take probiotic supplements, with promised benefits ranging from improved digestion and immune function to improved mental health and prevention of heart disease. However, evidence for these benefits is lacking, and because probiotics are often sold as supplements, manufacturers in many countries are not required to provide evidence of their safety and efficacy to regulatory bodies. The ubiquity of probiotic products would suggest that, at worst, they are harmless. Nevertheless, some safety concerns have been raised, including the risk of contamination, possibility of fungaemia or bacteraemia (particularly in immune-compromised, elderly, or critically ill individuals), small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, and antibiotic resistance. Adding to concerns, clinical trials of probiotics have not consistently reported safety outcomes.
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.∗
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