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.
Bottom line: Probiotics are a promising field of research and may one day be used to treat or help prevent many disorders. But there’s not enough solid evidence to recommend their widespread use. Vague claims that probiotics "support good digestive health" are meaningless. Larger, longer and better studies are needed to test specific strains for specific conditions and to determine the proper doses and regimens.
"Contrary to the current dogma that probiotics are harmless and benefit everyone, these results reveal a new potential adverse side effect of probiotic use with antibiotics that might even bring long-term consequences," Elinav says. "In contrast, replenishing the gut with one's own microbes is a personalized mother-nature-designed treatment that led to a full reversal of the antibiotics' effects."
There are two main types of probiotics; the first is the live cultures I describe above, like the strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. You might have heard some naysaying about this kind of probiotic—the typical argument against them is that the classic form of live cultures is destroyed by the acidic environment in the stomach. To get around this, quality probiotics are made with an acid-resistant capsule so that they don’t get immediately broken down. (Which means you don’t have to take the probiotics with food, although I normally do. I’ll sometimes break the capsule and mix it into a smoothie, or use the powder form. You might lose a bit of potency but it’s not significant.)
Back to the question of what are probiotics: There are five main types, each in its own classification called a genus. Within each genus there are multiple species, and within those species there are multiple strains. For example, Lactobacillus is a very common genus of probiotics. Within that genus are numerous species, such as rhamnosus. The genus and species of a microbe are always italicized, making it easy to know that a microbe is involved. In a species such as Lactobacillus rhamnosus (often abbreviated L. rhamnosus), there are many strains. An example of the name of a strain is L. rhamnosus GR-1.
Stability and organism types — Some probiotic strains need to be kept cold in order to preserve their potency. This applies to their production, transport, storage and sales. Others are shelf-stable and don’t require refrigeration. Unfortunately, most refrigerated probiotics never make it past the stomach because they aren’t stable. Instead, look for a shelf-stable product that contains soil-based organisms.
Flu is short for influenza, an upper respiratory viral infection. The main problem for you, and the main advantage for the survival of influenza viruses, is that there are many variations that can cause illness. Flu shots are based on virus strains that are anticipated to be widespread. Sometimes those assumptions are correct and other times they are not. This section will show you one overlooked way to fortify your body to best avoid becoming sick with the flu at all, or how to recover if you do succumb.
Another study by Elinav and his colleagues suggests that not everyone’s gut reacts the same way to probiotic pills. They studied samples of microbiomes from antibiotic users before and after they took supplements for four weeks. The good bacteria were found in the digestive tracts of some people. But in others, the bacteria were present only in stool samples, not in their digestive tracts, where they’re thought to be needed to improve health.
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.
Candida yeast species, on the other hand, can cause numerous infections in and on you. Although they are usually present in controlled amounts, Candida overcomes your usual defenses and establishes itself when conditions are favorable, such as when you take antibiotics and many beneficial bacteria, which normally would control Candida, are killed. Unlike the Saccharomyces yeasts, which are not invasive, Candida species form hyphae, finger-like projections that penetrate tissues, causing deep infections that are difficult to eliminate. Candida is also able to weaken your immune defenses.
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.
These statistics are staggering, yet poor gut health actually affects much greater numbers than these statistics illustrate because your digestive health affects every physiological system in your body. How is this such a complex system? Well, for one, the human microbiome contains 360 times more protein-coding genes than human genes themselves contain.
Every woman’s microbiota is different and so results will vary. However clinical studies using the blend of probiotic strains in AZO Complete Feminine BalanceTM demonstrated benefits in as little as 7 days. We suggest continuing with use of the product for a minimum of 30 days. Also, keep in mind that for regular maintenance, you may not SEE results but the product is still helping to protect and maintain a healthy vaginal flora.*
"Although all of our probiotic-consuming volunteers showed probiotics in their stool, only some of them showed them in their gut, which is where they need to be," says Segal. "If some people resist and only some people permit them, the benefits of the standard probiotics we all take can't be as universal as we once thought. These results highlight the role of the gut microbiome in driving very specific clinical differences between people."
Additionally, it's a good idea to take note of the number of colony-forming units (CFUs) that are in the supplement you're considering, Angelone says. CFU count tells you the number of viable, active bacteria present in a tablet, she explains, and one billion (yes, seriously) is a typical dose. However, if you're struggling with a specific health condition, you may need more than that, Warren says. Your doctor can help you decide whether that's the case and may be able to steer you toward a good supplement to get you started. Here are a few to consider if you decide that probiotics are right for you.
To boost the immune system, B. Lactis is a promising choice. One study had participants taking either a probiotic or a placebo for 6 weeks. At the end of the period, researchers measured antibody levels and found greater increases in antibodies of the B. Lactis group than in placebo participants, concluding that this probiotic may help improve immune function . In addition, a 2009 study found that supplementation of the strain B. Lactis DN-173 led to self-reported improvements in digestive comfort .
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Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by Dr. Natura Flora Protect Probiotic. This supplement exceeded my expectations as a daily probiotic and I can even see the potential for taking it for a specific ailment. As most of you know, sometimes you have to compromise when it comes to probiotics. However, with Dr. Natura Flora Protect, I was able to check off a lot of my “must-haves” for a probiotic, without having any major drawbacks. Read the full review here… or click here to go buy it now!
If you get sick often, probiotics might be the immune booster you've been looking for. The Cleveland Clinic says they've been shown to strengthen immunity by enriching and replenishing the good bacteria in the body. And when you eat foods with probiotics regularly, it's easier for your body to produce vitamins and enzymes that help keep your intestines happy.
Most probiotics are like what is already in a person's digestive system. Some probiotics have been used for a very long time throughout history, such as in fermented foods and cultured milk products. These don't appear to cause illness. But more study is needed on the safety of probiotics in young children, the elderly, and people who have weak immune systems.
Even if some of the bacteria in a probiotic managed to survive and propagate in the intestine, there would likely be far too few of them to dramatically alter the overall composition of one's internal ecosystem. Whereas the human gut contains tens of trillions of bacteria, there are only between 100 million and a few hundred billion bacteria in a typical serving of yogurt or a microbe-filled pill. Last year a team of scientists at the University of Copenhagen published a review of seven randomized, placebo-controlled trials (the most scientifically rigorous types of studies researchers know how to conduct) investigating whether probiotic supplements—including biscuits, milk-based drinks and capsules—change the diversity of bacteria in fecal samples. Only one study—of 34 healthy volunteers—found a statistically significant change, and there was no indication that it provided a clinical benefit. “A probiotic is still just a drop in a bucket,” says Shira Doron, an infectious disease expert at Tufts Medical Center. “The gut always has orders of magnitude more microbes.”
Once GI experts realized there is more to the lower gut than first assumed, the push to understand the diverse roles these bacteria play became urgent. Many mysteries still need solving, but clinical evidence increasingly indicates that people in good health should optimize lower gut bacteria. You can accomplish this by eating prebiotics to encourage the growth of your existing gut microbes, and probiotics to add to the ones that are already there.
Research suggests probiotics work better as a team. Even pairs are more effective than individuals. Take the strains Lactobacillus Acidophilus and Bifidobacterium Bifidum BB-12, for example. When combined, this duo-force has been shown to help treat GI-specific ailments. In fact, one survey found 75 percent of studies that compared the effect of a strain mixture with a single-strain supplement showed a mixture was more effective at improving irritable bowel symptoms, immune function, and digestive health.
By eating probiotic-rich foods and maintaining good intestinal flora, a person can also help to maintain a healthy immune system. And that has real world effects: for example, in one small study of students, those who were given a fermented dairy drink (instead of milk) displayed increased production from lymphocytes -- a marker of immune response.
Bacteria in your digestive tract can be good or bad, according to the website Best Probiotic. It quotes the Royal Academy of Medicine England as blaming an imbalance between good and bad bacteria for causing 80 percent of all degenerative diseases. Probiotic supplements with "good" bacteria have become increasingly popular. They can aid the immune system, digestion and vitamin absorption, as well as prevent diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome. The website Women to Women recommends probiotics that combine saccharomyces, lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidobacteria in the billions. MayoClinic.com also recommends lactobacillus and advises looking for products that contain live, active cultures. You should always check with your doctor before adding any supplements to your diet.
In the new study, the researchers analyzed information from 15 healthy volunteers who took either a probiotic product containing 11 strains of bacteria, or a placebo, for four weeks. The participants also underwent colonoscopies and upper endoscopies before they took the probiotics or the placebo, and again after the four-week treatment period. (An upper endoscopy looks at the upper part of the digestive tract.) During these procedures, the researchers took samples from inside participants' guts.
This is one of the newer areas of probiotic research. Described as the “gut-brain axis,” researchers believe that the communication between the gut and the brain affects not just physical but also mental health and behavior. For example, a recent study found that probiotics can reduce anxiety, relieve stress and improve mental outlook. Another study found that the probiotics L. helveticus and Bifidobacterium longum reduced depression, anger, hostility and self-blame and improved problem-solving ability. Another study showed a difference in brain activity between women consuming yogurt and those consuming a placebo. More research needs to be done to confirm the effect of probiotics on mental and emotional health.
L. Casei also made headlines when a study found it beneficial in relieving anxiety. The randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study found supplementation with 24 billion units of the L. Casei strain Shirota led to a rise in probiotics Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, as well as a significant decrease in symptoms of anxiety and depression .
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: