Today, most of the Japanese population begins the day with a warm bowl of miso soup, believed to stimulate the digestive system and energize the body. Made from fermented soybeans, rice or barley, adding a tablespoon of miso to some hot water makes an excellent, quick, probiotic-rich soup. The fermentation process can take anywhere from a few days to a couple of years to complete, and the end result is a red, white or dark brown paste with a buttery texture.
After the antibiotics had cleared the way, the standard probiotics could easily colonize the gut of everyone in the second group, but to the team's surprise, this probiotic colonization prevented the host's normal microbiome and gut gene expression profile from returning to their normal state for months afterward. In contrast, the aFMT resulted in the third group's native gut microbiome and gene program returning to normal within days.
The gut microbiota has been implicated in diseases ranging from obesity to Parkinson's disease and depression. Little wonder then that commercial probiotics have gained widespread popularity and are now estimated to command a US$37 billion market worldwide. But with research into the microbiome still in its infancy, increasing evidence suggests that both commercial and clinical use of probiotics is outpacing the science.
Here’s a startling fact: For every one human cell we have, there are ten bacteria cells in our body to match it. That means that the majority of DNA in our body isn’t even human; it’s from the 500 bacteria species that call us home.1 Thinking about that much bacteria might have your skin crawling, but the relationship between human and bacteria is really a perfect synergy: we give bacteria room and board, and in return, they work hard to protect our intestinal health, which ultimately protects the health of our immune system and overall well-being. But if we have that much bacteria already living in our gut, you might be thinking to yourself, what are probiotics’ benefits?
On my recent trip to Japan, one thing I noticed was the inclusion of pickled vegetables in almost every traditional Japanese meal. Unfortunately, many Americans don’t consume enough of these probiotic-rich foods and drinks. Even when they do, restoring equilibrium oftentimes requires therapeutic doses of these microorganisms, because most everyone has been on several rounds of antimicrobials. That’s where a probiotic supplement comes in.
When seeking out the best probiotic for you, consider your overall health, dietary needs, antibiotic use, GI challenges, and similar concerns. Then, review our list of the ten best probiotic supplements, which offer everything from raw probiotics, which must be refrigerated, to shelf-stable, slow-release probiotics that concentrate fewer CFUs in tiny, once-daily capsules.
"Many chronic health problems and inflammatory diseases are caused by a damaged microbiome where the good bacteria is overrun by the harmful bacteria and can't reinforce the gut walls, which results in increased intestinal permeability where bacteria and toxins leak through the intestines into the bloodstream triggering a system-wide immune response of inflammation that is a part of our body's natural healing cycle."
However, a 2003 pilot study and 2011 randomized, controlled trial both reported that RA activities remained unchanged, but the subjects treated with probiotics reported statistically significantly higher levels of “subjective well-being.” One suggested reason for this was that the trials were too short to establish changes in the observable changes in the internal earmarks of RA.
Keep in mind that when supplements contain a specific number of organisms, this number may not be what is actually within each capsule at the time of purchase. Probiotics are living organisms and can die out easily. Especially if that supplement sits on your drugstore or warehouse shelf for months or longer, the number of organisms you get may be far less than what the bottle claims. Hardier strains have a longer shelf life. Capsule strength decays faster if the probiotic has been sitting around at elevated temperatures during transport to the store. Companies actually have to produce probiotics with a much higher CFU (colony-forming units; see below) count in each capsule in order to guarantee the label potency by the expiration 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.
Lactobacillus predominantly live in your small bowel (the portion of your gut that follows the stomach). Probiotics containing Lactobacillus sp. help to repopulate the small intestine with friendly organisms that aid in supporting digestion and immune function. The most beneficial are L. acidophilus, L. plantarum, and L. paracasei. One study found Lactobacillus acidophilus could reduce gut inflammation. L. rhamnosus helps increase GABA expression (an inhibitory neurotransmitter that helps you feel relaxed) in the brain, resulting in lower anxiety and depression-related behavior. Another found that a combination of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria (which we'll talk about next) improved symptoms of bloating in patients with functional bowel disorders, and yet another found that when people took the Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG strain, it significantly reduced the risk for antibiotic-associated diarrhea.
Our gut is home to over 500 bacterial species. These “visitors” form a bioreactor, which facilitates digestion, provides nutrients, and helps form the immune system. Some important nutrients made by this bioreactor include several B vitamins, vitamin K, folate, and some short-chain fatty acids. Up to 10% of an individual’s daily energy needs can be derived from the byproducts of the good bacteria in your gut.
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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:
Whether a brand of probiotics works really depends on its quality and your body's own gut. Everyone has a different set of gut flora so try several to see what works for you. Using a brand of at least 40 billion CFU is best. There seems to be some debate as to whether one should use refrigerated or unrefrigerated probiotics. I went with the side that claims unrefrigerated are sturdier and less prone to die off.
The scientists discovered that the probiotics successfully colonized the GI tracts of some people, called the "persisters," while the gut microbiomes of "resisters" expelled them. Moreover, the persister and resister patterns would determine whether probiotics, in a given person, would impact their indigenous microbiome and human gene expression. The researchers could predict whether a person would be a persister or resister just by examining their baseline microbiome and gut gene expression profile.
This content is strictly the opinion of Dr. Josh Axe and is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of medical advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Axe nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement or lifestyle program.
Some of their benefits are universal, no matter your age or gender: supporting gut health, healthy skin, weight management, and strong teeth. But gender-specific probiotic benefits also exist. For instance, women who take probiotic supplements may be more likely to maintain vaginal and breast health, and expecting mothers who take probiotics can get support with some of the less pleasant side effects of pregnancy.
Some companies have been around for years, and you may know their names. Those that have made probiotics for a while likely have tested and studied them over and over. It's smarter to choose a product from them over one from a maker you don't know. Check a third-party certifier (like ConsumerLab or the USP) to see if they have tested the product and found that it’s safe and reliable. If you're in doubt, ask your doctor.
Coming in at a close second, our runner-up as the best probiotic for women is the Culturelle Women’s Healthy Balance Probiotic. As the #1 recommended brand by pharmacists, it is easy to see why so many women are turning to Culturelle for their digestive health. Featuring the LGG culture and a laundry list of other healthy bacteria, this probiotic offers a wonderful balance between digestive and feminine health. The Culturelle Women’s Healthy Balance Probiotic is also taken in an easy, chewable tablet and can even be taken during pregnancy, making it one of the most versatile formulas we reviewed!