Probiotics are found in everything from chocolate and pickles to hand lotion and baby formula, and millions of people buy probiotic supplements to boost digestive health. But new research suggests they might not be as effective as we think. Through a series of experiments looking inside the human gut, researchers show that many people's digestive tracts prevent standard probiotics from successfully colonizing them. Furthermore, taking probiotics to counterbalance antibiotics could delay the return of normal gut bacteria and gut gene expression to their naïve state. The research publishes as two back-to-back papers on September 6 in the journal Cell.
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.
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.
Prebiotic fibers are the non-digestible parts of food that are typically found in fruits, vegetables, and legumes. These fibers act as food for the healthy bacteria in your gut, and are an essential part of the digestive process. That’s why the Vitamin Bounty Women’s Pro-Daily Probiotic contains prebiotics and probiotics for a truly complete formula that helps ease digestive issues while also maintaining proper feminine health.
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.
Yes, they may help. Lebwohl says there are reputable studies that show a link between the use of probiotics and the reduction in IBS symptoms, citing this meta-analysis. It's estimated that 11 percent of the world population complains of symptoms like abdominal cramps, diarrhea, constipation, excessive gas and/or mucus in their stools. While for some the condition can be attributed to certain dietary triggers, others appear to be stress-related, which brings us to the heart of where many claims about the effectiveness of probiotics lie—in the gut-brain axis.
Yes. Probiotics are incredibly important and effective. We know there are more bacteria in us and on us than our own human cells. The body is almost like a puppet—it is bacteria that really runs the show: They turn on enzymes, turn off genes, and dictate much of our health. We need them to break down nutrients, like copper and magnesium, so we can better absorb them. Interestingly, studies show that conditions like anxiety, depression, and weight gain can be transferred via fecal transplants (with mice), suggesting the broad impact bacteria has on health.
Probiotic therapy may also help people with Crohn's disease and irritable bowel syndrome. Clinical trial results are mixed, but several small studies suggest that certain probiotics may help maintain remission of ulcerative colitis and prevent relapse of Crohn's disease and the recurrence of pouchitis (a complication of surgery to treat ulcerative colitis). Because these disorders are so frustrating to treat, many people are giving probiotics a try before all the evidence is in for the particular strains they're using. More research is needed to find out which strains work best for what conditions.
After suffering from liquid nighttime but painless diarrhea for over a year (which I semi-controlled with one Imodium/day), I had a colonoscopy that gave a diagnosis of microcolitis. After the colonoscopy, I developed for the first time excrutiatingly painful gas pain in the LLQ. Usually this pain started during aerobic activity such as walking, but not always. Sometimes I woke up with it. CT scan revealed nothing. Will a probiotic help and if so, which would be best? There are so many it is hard to choose.
Third-party testing: Lastly, it's important to remember that probiotics are an unregulated supplement. "Find out whether there is third-party data verifying the potency, purity, and effectiveness of the product," suggests Dena Norton, a registered dietitian and holistic nutrition coach. "Remember that dietary supplements aren't regulated, so you can't necessarily just trust the claims on the label." Check out AEProbio, a site that has compiled research on specific brands of probiotics available in the U.S., recommends Scarlata, and an NSF seal is always a good marker to look for.
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.
The U.S. Clinical Guide to Probiotic Products1, Canadian Guide to Probiotic Supplements2 and the WGO Global Guidelines for Probiotics and Prebiotics3 provide suggested effective amounts of specific strains for treating certain health conditions, such as constipation or IBS. All 37 products listed the species of bacteria they contained, but only 14 listed amounts of individual strains. We found that 9 of those 14 products provided beneficial bacteria at effective levels. The Center for Responsible Nutrition recommends4 the industry move toward specifying strains as a best-practice because whether a product works and for what purpose depends on its strains.
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.
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.
Probiotics are “friendly” bacteria that inhabit your body. Sound strange? These microscopic roommates can be your best buds if you show them a little love. One surefire way to do that is with probiotic supplements. Probiotics support the right ratio of good to bad bacteria in your gut. For bonus points, call on digestive enzymes. These unique blends offer specific nutritional support to assist digestion and nutrient absorption. Your healthy body will quickly appreciate these lifelong friends.