While one 2009 study did show some evidence for reducing cold and flu symptoms in children ages three to five and a 2015 analysis showed probiotics to be better than placebo in preventing acute upper respiratory infections, neither were enough to convince the National Institutes of Health of the efficacy of probiotics for colds and flu. The NIH confirms, “the evidence is weak and the results have limitations.”
Like some of the other probiotics we’ve reviewed, the HyperBiotics PRO-Women Probiotics with Cranberry Extract and D-Mannose do not need to be refrigerated in between uses. What sets this particular formula apart though is its longer shelf life made possible by the patented HyperBiotics ‘LiveBac’ manufacturing process. In fact, the HyperBiotics PRO-Women Probiotics formula can usually last for more than a year when stored in normal indoor conditions!
Probiotics are bacteria that help keep the natural balance of organisms (microflora) in the intestines. The normal human digestive tract contains about 400 types of probiotic bacteria that reduce the growth of harmful bacteria and promote a healthy digestive system. The largest group of probiotic bacteria in the intestine is lactic acid bacteria, of which Lactobacillus acidophilus, found in yogurt with live cultures, is the best known. Yeast is also a probiotic substance. Probiotics are also available as natural health products.
What’s more, RAW Probiotics are exactly what they purport to be – raw! They’re uncooked, untreated and unadulterated, and have no fillers or binders. You also won’t find any displeasing carriers, such as maltodextrin or dextrose. And since RAW Probiotics are kept in temperature-controlled cold storage through delivery and until they make it into your fridge, you can be sure your probiotics “arrive alive.”
Research indicates that the gut and brain are in constant communication, and the health of your gut can have a big, supportive impact on your mental health and well-being.17 One reason is the role the gut microbiome plays in maintaining your hormones––in addition to oxytocin, your beneficial bacteria also support your levels of serotonin (the "happy hormone), and cortisol (which is associated with high stress levels).18 They also help encourage GABA, an important neurotransmitter that determines how your body responds to stress. When you support your microbiome with probiotics, it can help to keep everything balanced, but if it becomes unbalanced and unwanted bacteria take over, you can end up with a low mood and anxious thoughts.19
Have you ever baked bread and had to proof the yeast? Proofing the yeast allows it to become active in the conditions it prefers the most: warm and moist with access to sugar. Baker’s and brewer’s yeast are both forms of Saccharomyces yeasts, as is Saccharomyces boulardii, but these yeasts are usually helpful to you and noninfectious, except in immunocompromised people or people with yeast allergies.
Of course, your gut microbiome can only do this when it’s healthy and in balance, which is where probiotics come in. Since so many factors can deplete your beneficial bacteria—including everything from exposure to antibiotics in food or medication to spending too much time inside—supplementing with a premium probiotic is almost always necessary to maintain balance.
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.
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.
What's more, people who have serious heart issues commonly have S. mutans in their heart valves—this is an undesirable type of bacteria that’s actually more often found in the mouth. If your oral microbiome is in balance, S. mutans are normally kept in control by more beneficial species, but if things get out of balance, they can reproduce and make their way into your bloodstream via openings in your gums, compromising your cardiovascular function.3
Although probiotics have been around since the early 1900s, they have recently gained popularity due to their ability to treat a wide range of ailments. Research also suggests that probiotics can help you lose weight and maintain a healthy body-mass index, according to a meta-analysis that reviewed 20 studies that was published in May 2016 in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition.
To avoid those and other problems, I strongly recommend buying a professional brand from a reputable health care professional or other vendor who stands by their products and undergoes third-party testing. Some of these professional brands have created advanced technology that preserves a probiotic supplement’s survival on the shelf and in your gut.
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.
This high-potency (25 billion CFU) supplement blends 12 different strains in a base of inulin. The Ther-Biotic Complete capsules are vegetarian (made from hydroxypropyl methylcellulose, water) and the formula is free of common allergens, such as milk, eggs, fish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, gluten, and soy so it’s perfect for those with allergies. There are 60 capsules per bottle.
The Number of CFUs The quality of a probiotic supplement has more to do with strains and how many CFUs it provides. (CFU stands for colony forming units, and it refers to the amount of live microorganisms in your supplement.) Although recommendations may vary, Gans says to look for probiotics with at least 1 billion CFUs: “Doses will typically range from 1 billion to 10 billion CFUs for adults; although doses for children are often under 1 billion.”
Popular probiotic foods include yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, and kombucha. While delicious, these foods don’t claim specific amounts of whatever microorganisms they may contain. By contrast, Probiotic All-Flora is optimally formulated with the right amounts of the right strains to deliver researched benefits. The label lists out the DNA-tested flora that make up that ideal 10 billion CFU in just one capsule daily. So probiotic supplements actually have more reliable strain benefits than probiotic foods.
We also found strains linked to five other health benefits like weight loss and lowering cholesterol. We feature options for those cases below, but they aren’t top picks because those use cases aren’t as heavily researched as immune health or IBS relief. Still, chances are any probiotic supplement is going to make some improvement to your digestive health, so don’t be afraid to experiment.
We have to give a nod to the most famous probiotic food: yogurt. Whether you love Greek or regular, low-fat or full-fat, look for the phrase "live active cultures" on the label. And although choosing a plain yogurt has less added sugar than the flavored kinds, Tallmadge gives you the okay to choose a fruit-infused flavor if that's the only way you'll eat it. Just be sure to aim for fewer than 15 grams of the sweet stuff per serving; sugar can feed the bad bugs in your gut.
To factor strain-specific benefits into our efficacy score, we referenced the information in these guides. Products were rewarded for containing strains on these lists. Additionally, measured levels of each strain were compared to what is thought to be effective based on these guides, and scores were scaled accordingly. In cases where products did not list strain-specific amounts, or their listed strains were not included in these guides, total measured CFUs were compared to a general effectiveness threshold of 1 billion CFUs cited by research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition11.