"Probiotics are live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit." 1 In general, probiotics are similar to the beneficial bacteria that live naturally in your digestive tract. When taken daily, probiotics can help support digestive and immune health. You may think of bacteria as something harmful to your body. But it's important to have a balance of good bacteria in your digestive tract, which can be negatively impacted from factors such as diet and travel. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria your body may need to support good digestive health.∗
"There is an increasing interest in probiotic interventions," wrote the authors of one of the most recent studies, a meta-analysis of previous research in a recent issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Those researchers found that probiotics were particularly useful against a common gastrointestinal problem: antibiotic-associated diarrhea (AAD).
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.
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).
They can break down substances in foods that keep you from absorbing the micronutrients inside. They not only protect against the consequences of rogue molecules passing through a leaky gut, but they assist your intestinal cells in staying healthy to optimize nutrient absorption. In addition, some of the metabolic by-products of probiotics, such as short-chain fatty acids and vitamin production, are very nourishing to your GI tract.
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.
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.
Caution needs to be taken by everyone who chooses to take these supplements, but this is especially true for children, pregnant women, elderly people, and people with compromised immune systems. For people with compromised immune systems due to disease or treatment for a disease (such as cancer chemotherapy), taking probiotics may actually increase one's chances of getting sick. It has been shown that the use of various probiotics for immunocompromised patients or patients with a leaky gut has resulted in infections and sepsis (infection of the bloodstream). One case of bacteremia (bacteria in the bloodstream) was recently found when someone with active severe inflammatory bowel diseases with mucosal disruption was given Lactobacillus GG. Always speak with a doctor before taking any supplement under these circumstances.
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.
We are clearly getting to the strain level by going beyond “Saccharomyces boulardii” and to “Saccharomyces boulardii CNCM I-745”. They did a great job by actually putting it on the label so you don’t even have to contact the company to see exactly what strain you’re getting. (P.S. this is a well-researched strain that I highly recommend, especially for preventing antibiotic-associated diarrhea.)
Probiotics also seem to ameliorate irritable bowel syndrome, a chronic disease characterized by abdominal pain, bloating, and frequent diarrhea or constipation (or a mix of the two). A 2014 review of more than 30 studies, published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology by an international team of researchers, determined that in some cases, probiotics help to relieve the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome for reasons that are not entirely clear, although it may be that they impede the growth of harmful microbes. The researchers concluded, however, that they did not have enough data to recommend any particular strains of bacteria. Microbiologists often caution that a promising study on a single strain of a particular species of bacteria should not be taken as proof that all probiotics work equally well. “Bacterial strains are so genetically different from one another, and everybody has a different gut microbiota,” Allen-Vercoe says. “There will probably never be a one-size-fits-all probiotic.”

You experience that afternoon slump and reach for a candy bar or a sugar-laden coffee. Or maybe you go through your day, starting with a breakfast of doughnuts or sugary cereal, and then proceed to sodas for drinks, cookies to snack on, dessert after dinner, and finally to a nighttime snack of ice cream. You know that feeling; it’s that I-have-to-have-something-sweet-and- I-have-to-have-it-NOW feeling.
Unfortunately, the U.S. has no federal standards for probiotic supplements. Therefore, you run the risk of purchasing a product without any guarantee that it contains its advertised probiotic strains, that the strains are alive, or that the product is free from unhealthy ingredients. Therefore, it may be best to choose a brand-name probiotic that has research backing their effectiveness. Here are some examples:
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.
Women’s health expert Dr. Amy Myers is a goop-trusted authority on subjects from autoimmunity and Candida to thyroid dysfunction; and she’ll be speaking IRL at our first wellness summit on June 10. Here, Myers helps us evaluate the increasing buzz around probiotics, and outlines the ins and outs of selecting a particular supplement (whether hers or other brands). Plus, we’ve rounded up our probiotic essentials, from inner beauty powders to favorite fermentation recipes, in one guide:

"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.


According to a 2014 meta-analysis, probiotics benefit diabetics by improving insulin sensitivity and decreasing the autoimmune response found in diabetes. The authors suggest that the results were significant enough to conduct large, randomized, controlled trials (the “gold standard” of scientific studies) to find if probiotics may actually be used to prevent or manage diabetes symptoms. Combining probiotics with prebiotics may also help manage blood sugar, particularly when blood sugar levels are already elevated. (87)
Vitamin Bounty’s probiotic contains a variety of well-studied strains and a competitive 25 Billion CFU. It also contains a natural prebiotic resistant starch, rice flour, to fuel the strains this probiotic supplies. Over 95% of Pro 25’s strains were still active and viable, the second highest observed strain viability out of all probiotics reviewed-to-date!
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.
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.
There is also promising research on this species for supporting skin. Ceramides are natural lipids that make up the surface of the skin structure. Depleted ceramide levels are clinically linked with dry and damaged skin. S. Thermophilus was shown to have a beneficial effect on the level of ceramides in the barrier of the skin, which protects underlying tissue from infection, dehydration and chemicals. These skin-supporting microbes also act as antioxidants in the body, trapping reactive forms of oxygen that dry, damage and age the skin [1].

Probiotics stick around for a while, though for how long isn’t precisely clear. You have to keep taking them to continue to reap the benefits. Further, getting a wide variety of strains into your system is beneficial. “Periodically mixing up your probiotic supplement is also a good way to ensure that you get different health-building strains in your health regime,” says Dr. Cook.
Dermatologist Dendy Engelman, MD, also points out the key role probiotics play in gut health and your body's immune system. "Probiotics are live microorganisms that may be able to help prevent and treat some illnesses," explains Engelman. "Probiotics can create 'holes' in bad bacteria and kill them. Similar to the way antibiotics work in the treatment of acne and rosacea, probiotics can help fight harmful bugs from triggering inflammation. In patients with acne and rosacea, living microorganisms on the skin are recognized as foreign by the body's immune system. The immune system springs into action to counter this potential threat resulting in the inflammation, redness, or bumps common in these skin conditions."
"I recommend supplementing with the species lactobacillus and bifidobacterium, and there are different strains within those species that are each beneficial. Garden of Life and Align probiotics contain bacteria that help the gut microbiome and maintain digestive balance, and 1MD's Complete Probiotics Platinum is one of the best probiotics with over 50 billion live cultures that help with gut and digestive health."

Clinically shown to work in 7 days§, AZO Complete Feminine BalanceTM works differently because it contains the power of INTELLIFLORA,TM the only clinically proven blend with the 4 vaginal lactobacilli species most commonly found in healthy women.* Specially designed to restore the vagina’s microflora, it’s a safe and beneficial probiotic for women’s health—including pregnant women.*§ Add it to your daily regimen for help with protection and ongoing vaginal health support.*

Taking probiotics can also help keep your urinary system working properly. While you might think that yeast imbalances or urinary tract issues are primarily women's problems, both are common in men as well, especially in those whose bacterial balance is off-kilter. Taking probiotics can help address these issues by encouraging the growth of good bacteria to crowd out unwanted yeast.10
Probiotics are officially defined by the Joint Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations/World Health Organization Working Group as “Live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.” Basically, probiotics at this point in time are live bacteria and yeasts that provide health benefits to you if you take them in adequate quantities.
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. 

Walk into any grocery store, and you will likely find more than a few “probiotic” products brimming with so-called beneficial bacteria that are supposed to treat everything from constipation to obesity to depression. In addition to foods traditionally prepared with live bacterial cultures (such as yogurt and other fermented dairy products), consumers can now purchase probiotic capsules and pills, fruit juices, cereals, sausages, cookies, candy, granola bars and pet food. Indeed, the popularity of probiotics has grown so much in recent years that manufacturers have even added the microorganisms to cosmetics and mattresses.
In 2019, dietary restrictions have become so mainstream that it is virtually impossible to step into a restaurant without spotting a specialized menu for dairy, gluten, vegan, and vegetarian eaters. The supplement industry is no exception and the majority of high-quality probiotics available on the market today include vegan or vegetarian capsules. Many brands are also gluten-free these days as well, and several are dedicated to keeping their formulas free of dairy, soy, and many other common allergens.
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.
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