In a separate study involving 21 healthy volunteers, also published today in Cell, the same group of researchers found that taking probiotics after treatment with broad spectrum antibiotics may actually delay the return of people's normal gut microbiome. This goes against the idea that probiotics can help "repopulate" people's gut bacteria after antibiotics wipe them out.
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.
Let’s start at the very beginning: probiotics are bacteria. We know what you’re thinking, bacteria cause infections and are just generally kind of gross. Well, in some aspects, you’re absolutely right. But when it comes to your digestive and feminine health, some bacteria are teeny tiny miracle workers that can make all the difference in the way you feel!
Among their numerous health benefits, research shows these friendly microorganisms help prevent bowel diseases, improve your immune system, reduce traveler’s diarrhea, help you maintain a healthy weight, heal various skin conditions, improve bloating and other uncomfortable GI symptoms, and even boost your mood, helping to reduce the effects of anxiety and depression.
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:
This smooth, slightly tangy, and sippable yogurt contains a dozen different types of live active cultures. It's also 99% lactose-free, making it easier to digest for those with intolerant tummies. "If you have lactose intolerance, start slowly on kefir as a test. If you have no symptoms, go ahead and slowly increase your intake," advises Tallmadge. Plus, with 8 to 11 grams of protein per cup (depending on the brand), it can help fill you up for around 100 calories.
Many factors influence the proportion of each family; from the early years of your life (the type of birth you had, breastfed vs. formula-fed, exposed to antibiotics prenatally) to the later years, where more lifestyle factors like diet, smoking, alcohol consumption, stress, and sleep come into play. The bacteria species found in the digestive tract have a significant influence on overall health, both physical and mental, which is why it’s important to take care of them every day.
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.
In addition to the impact on our immune systems, our digestive systems are the second largest part of the neurological system. It’s called the enteric nervous system and is located in the gut. This is why it’s called the second brain — the gut is responsible for creating 95 percent of the serotonin and may have significant impact on brain function and mood.
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.
The label should also specify that the living microbes are viable through end of shelf life or best by date rather than at time of manufacture to ensure the bacteria are still live when you take them and able to reach your colon. Quality trumps everything- supplements that are a bargain are typically not of quality. A good probiotic (depending on strands) can cost anywhere from $25-$60.
Following a healthy and active lifestyle and eating a balanced diet are the best ways to foster a bountiful gut flora. Taking care of your gut flora can help with things like irritable bowel syndrome and chronic constipation, among other things. Even if you’re not sold on pursuing probiotics for your allergies, they’re good to consider if you’re experiencing any gastrointestinal issues.