Many Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species are naturals at protecting and improving gut health. Additionally, research in animals and humans has shown that probiotics decrease scores on depression assessments, thereby alleviating depression. As a matter of fact, there is a new term, psychobiotics, for these microbes that influence mental health conditions like depression.
What are the benefits of taking probiotics? Bacteria have a reputation for causing disease, so the idea of tossing down a few billion a day for your health might seem — literally and figuratively — hard to swallow. But a growing body of scientific evidence suggests that you can treat and even prevent some illnesses with foods and supplements containing certain kinds of live bacteria. Northern Europeans consume a lot of these beneficial microorganisms, called probiotics (from pro and biota, meaning "for life"), because of their tradition of eating foods fermented with bacteria, such as yogurt. Probiotic-laced beverages are also big business in Japan.
Probiotics may also be of use in maintaining urogenital health. Like the intestinal tract, the vagina is a finely balanced ecosystem. The dominant Lactobacilli strains normally make it too acidic for harmful microorganisms to survive. But the system can be thrown out of balance by a number of factors, including antibiotics, spermicides, and birth control pills. Probiotic treatment that restores the balance of microflora may be helpful for such common female urogenital problems as bacterial vaginosis, yeast infection, and urinary tract infection.
Better Health Review named Dr. Ohhira’s Probiotics 12 Plus on its list of the top probiotic supplements on the market. It contains less than a billion active probiotic cells per dosage, but it adds vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients for optimal health. It claims to be 100 percent vegetarian. Better Health Review gives Dr. Ohhira’s Probiotics 12 Plus a rating of 3.5 on a scale of 5.
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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!
Although most studies have shown few, if any, negative side effects, it is important to keep in mind that research on probiotics is still in a preliminary phase. There may be some risk for people who have certain health conditions. As with any supplement, it is essential that before you begin to take a probiotic supplement, that you speak with your physician first to help to ensure that you will not be putting your health at risk.
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.
Probiotic bacteria readily colonised the gut of everyone in the second group after antibiotics had cleared the way. However, the researchers were surprised to find that this prevented the return of the person’s normal microbiome for up to six months. “The probiotics very potently and persistently prevented the original microbiome returning to its original situation,” says Elinav. “This was very surprising and alarming to us. This adverse effect has not been described to date.”
The bad news about constipation is that there can be many causes, from simple causes like dehydration and lack of fiber to complicated structural causes or disease. While constipation may seem to be only a nuisance that causes uncomfortable symptoms such as abdominal bloating or pain, the truth is that constipation increases the risks of several diseases.
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.
If you go with a supplement, know that the FDA regulates these products but treats them like foods and not medications. Unlike drug manufacturers, supplement makers don’t have to show their products are safe or effective to sell them. That means that these firms are in charge of checking the safety and labeling of their products before they sell them to make sure they meet FDA rules.
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:
"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."
Unlike many of the probiotics on the market today for women, Vitamin Bounty’s formula is fermented naturally and encased in a delayed-release capsule for more efficient digestion. Specifically, this capsule helps to protect the micro-organism strains from stomach acid, which can dissolve them before your gut has a chance to absorb all of their healthy goodness. With this Women’s Pro-Daily Probiotic design, you can expect more cultures and, as a result, fewer stomach upsets and feminine health problems!
Next time you pack your travel beauty bag, slip a shelf-stable probiotic in there to preempt bathroom emergencies, Fasig says. Look for one that contains Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus sporogenes, Bifidophilus bifidum, and Sacchromyces boulardii strains ($20, amazon.com), which Fasig says can improve your intestinal health to fix issues with constipation or diarrhea.
Lacto-bacillus plantarum: If you’ve ever heard of the beneficial effects of fermented foods (pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, etc.), then you’ve heard of this powerful probiotic, which may help improve the symptoms of IBS, gluten intolerance, soy allergies, and Crohn’s disease. This is also one of the most antibiotic-resistant probiotics, which is especially important if you have taken antibiotics recently.
Florastor uses the unique strain Saccharomyces boulardii lyo, which works to strengthen digestive balance and boost immunity. To boost immunity, Florastor stimulates the production of immunoglobulin A — an antibody that helps defend your body against infection. If you’re on long-term antibiotics, this will be a good option for you as Florastor is genetically resistant to antibiotics. When taking a probiotic supplement at the same time as an antibiotic, Gans advises waiting at least two hours in between. Each box contains 50 capsules. Take one to two capsules per day.
While the logic behind probiotics might seem sound, it is clear that we have a long way to go before understanding the complexity of the microbiota and the effects—both good and bad—that probiotics might have. All individuals have a unique gut microbiome, and the effects of different bacteria on different people are likely to be highly variable; as such, probiotic use might even need to be personalised for optimal benefits. Commercially available products might not contain the correct strains or quantities of bacteria to provide benefits, and most probiotic supplements contain only single strains, vastly oversimplifying the complexity of the microbiota. While taking a supplement for improved health is certainly an attractive prospect, those looking to aid their gut microbiota might be better served by consuming a healthy, varied diet. In the meantime, rigorous clinical trials are needed to substantiate potential health benefits and to confirm whether probiotics are elixirs or just empty promises.
Diversity of strains - research has demonstrated that bacteria prefer to colonize in different parts of your digestive tract, where there are various ecological niches. The more probiotic strains you ingest, the more coverage you’ll provide for each of these niches. Each strain of bacteria also has its own different purpose, so choosing a formula with many different strains gives you that many more benefits.