If you’re giving probiotics to a baby under two years old, you want to look for specific strains, though, that are better suited to such young microbiomes. For babies, these are the strains of Lactobacillus to look for: rhamnosus, casei, paralisei, gasseri, salvarius. And for Bifidobacterium: infantis, bifidum, longum, breve, lactis. If you’re breastfeeding, you can put probiotics on your breast, or you can heat up formula and put probiotics in it, or wet your finger and dip it in the probiotics powder and let your baby suck on your finger.
Scientists are investigating probiotics, and their combined effects, by trying to classify the probiotic benefits of ingesting specific probiotic strains and understanding their role in the digestive tract. At present, the methodological and ethical limitations of human studies still make it difficult to fully understand the mechanisms of action of probiotics, but some explanations are available. Nevertheless, benefits linked to the consumption of probiotic strains have already been suggested (e.g. helping to support the immune system, help support digestive health), and others are still being investigated.
Gut flora makes up 70 to 80 percent of the human immune system. Too much bad bacteria can inflame and destroy intestinal walls, enter the bloodstream, and trigger a multitude of health issues — constipation, depression, skin problems, autoimmune disease, and even bad breath. Adding good bacteria protects the digestive tract from the harmful bacteria in sugars, pesticides, and saturated fats.
More and more evidence shows that the gut microbiota may play an important role in the development of obesity, obesity-associated inflammation and insulin resistance. Obesity and Type 2 diabetes are associated with changes in gut microbiota. Several studies describe differences between the microbiota of lean individuals and those who are obese. The potential for using probiotics in weight management and obesity and diabetes prevention is exciting.
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.
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“Some strains have been shown to help with GI complaints, some with immune function, and some even have been shown to have benefits outside the intestinal tract, such as with vaginal health or eczema,” says Gail Cresci, Ph.D., R.D., a Cleveland Clinic researcher who studies the microbiome. But there are few definitive conclusions from the current research.
Align uses the patented probiotic strain Bifidobacterium, which helps to maintain a healthy digestive system and digestive balance. It contains 1 billion CFUs when manufactured, and 10 million CFUs when used by the best by date. (Very often, the number of CFUs in a product decreases over time.) If you have trouble digesting certain foods such as caffeine or dairy, this will be a good option for you.
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.
If you decide to use a probiotic supplement and get clearance from your doctor for doing so, be sure to read the label carefully. You want to be sure that the supplement contains live strains of the bacteria or yeast, and that the life of these strains is guaranteed at the time of use, and not at the time of manufacture. Other points of comparison are the number of bacteria strains and the number of colony-forming units, although this does not necessarily guarantee results.
Suez and colleagues investigated the recovery of the gut microbiota after antibiotic treatment and found that probiotics might perturb rather than aid this process. The probiotics rapidly colonised the gut but prevented the normal microbiota from repopulating for up to 5 months. While likely to be considerably less appealing, the group who received autologous faecal microbiota transplantation recovered their microbiota the quickest, with the composition of the microbiota returning to normal within days. Furthermore, Zmora and colleagues showed that colonisation occurred in highly individualised patterns, with some people's gastrointestinal tracts rejecting probiotics and others allowing colonisation by the probiotic strain, meaning that many individuals taking probiotic supplements are simply wasting their money.
"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," co-senior author Eran Segal, a computational biologist at the Weizmann Institute, said in the statement. "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."
As with other types of supplements, scientists are still discovering the full potential of probiotics. However, when taken regularly, it is believed that they help support digestive health by helping maintain the balance of beneficial and non-beneficial bacteria in your digestive tract. Having a natural balance of good bacteria in the digestive tract can help defend against occasional digestive issues. In addition, probiotics play an important role in supporting immune health, since 70% of the body's immune system is found in the digestive tract.∗