"Probiotics help with constipation, diarrhea, colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, abdominal pain, Crohn's disease, and flatulence," says Shapiro. "Probiotics work to increase the number of immunoglobulin cells and cytokine-producing cells in the intestine. They improve the healthy bacteria population in the GI tract by repopulating the gut to help with digestion."
About 60 to 80 percent of our immune system lives in our gut. Imbalances in the gut’s microbiome (which is primarily made up of bacteria) lead to digestive issues, while many many other potential effects can be felt throughout the body—from feelings of fatigue to depression, thyroid dysfunction, autoimmunity, and a host of skin issues. Conditions like rosacea, psoriasis, eczema, and acne are really inflammatory conditions, and often a manifestation of something that is happening deeper within the body. When you fix the gut (which, depending on your health, might include getting rid of an infection like Candida, eating a clean diet, and taking a probiotic), skin issues often resolve as well.
If these issues and many others are connected to gut health, then what elements are essential for digestive health? Consider this: According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, upward of 60 million to 70 million Americans are affected by digestive diseases. In addition, digestive disease and disorders cost the United States over $100 billion per year.
Probiotics' side effects, if they occur, tend to be mild and digestive (such as gas or bloating). More serious effects have been seen in some people. Probiotics might theoretically cause infections that need to be treated with antibiotics, especially in people with underlying health conditions. They could also cause unhealthy metabolic activities, too much stimulation of the immune system, or gene transfer (insertion of genetic material into a cell).
If you get sick often, probiotics might be the immune booster you've been looking for. The Cleveland Clinic says they've been shown to strengthen immunity by enriching and replenishing the good bacteria in the body. And when you eat foods with probiotics regularly, it's easier for your body to produce vitamins and enzymes that help keep your intestines happy.
Best Probiotic says that Suprema Dophilus, manufactured and distributed by Vitabase, enjoys the highest customer rating in the market. Specially coated to help the bacteria spread through your entire digestive tract, its website claims over four billion viable cells per capsule, including five lactobacillus strains and three bifidobacteria cultures. Best Probiotic says that Suprema Dophilus also contains fructo-oligosaccarides to increase the life span of the bacteria.
Pure Therapeutics Power Probiotic 100B offers 100 billion CFUs of 4 powerful probiotic strains, including science darling, the HN019 strain of Bifidobacterium lactis. Since environmental factors, including moisture, oxygen and heat, can degrade the stability of your probiotics, Pure Therapeutics 100B is delivered in nitrogen-purged aluminum blister pacts, which ensure viability until the probiotic hits your system. No refrigeration is required.
Even for those without an urgent problem, probiotics can help with overall digestive management. Challa argues in his book, Probiotics For Dummies, that good bacteria help "crowd out" bad bacteria. That's because the intestine is lined with adherence sites where bacteria latches on. If the sites are populated with good-for-you microbes, there's no place for a harmful bacterium to latch on.
"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," says Segal. "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. These results highlight the role of the gut microbiome in driving very specific clinical differences between people."
Don't assume that the only way you can get your probiotic yogurt fix is through dairy. Cultured soymilk, or soy yogurt, is a non-dairy alternative that also boasts live active cultures. Most of these products are fortified with calcium and vitamin D to make them comparable to dairy yogurts. It makes a great option if you're vegan or lactose intolerant. (And if you're looking for more variety, almond milk and coconut milk yogurts are also rich in probiotics.)
Some foods are made by adding bacteria — yogurt, pickles, cottage cheese, kombucha, and sauerkraut are good examples. Those foods work to provide the same probiotic benefits as supplements. However, most foods are so processed and pasteurized that it’s unlikely you’ll see the same benefits, let alone the right strains, as you would with a supplement. Regardless, it can’t hurt to get extra probiotics through your diet.
More than 80 years later, probiotics have become wildly popular and incredibly profitable. A 2012 survey by the National Institutes of Health showed that 3.9 million Americans stated they had used some form of probiotics or prebiotics (a type of dietary fiber thought to feed the friendly bacteria in your gut) in the last 30 days—3 million more people than in the previous study in 2007. Probiotics are now available for consumption in almost every imaginable form—pills, tablets, yogurts, juices, cereals, and energy bars. They have been touted as having benefits not only for digestive health, but also mood disorders, cancer, cold and flu prevention, and reproductive health issues.
If you want to supercharge your probiotic friends, you may want to feed them with prebiotics. That’s P-R-E-biotics. They nourish the good bacteria in your gut in order to keep them healthy against the bad bacteria. They should go hand-in-hand with probiotics. Prebiotics are found in many foods, including bananas, whole grains, honey, garlic and onions. Try to get two to four servings of these prebiotic-rich foods a day.
Uncontrolled changes in blood sugar levels or a decreased ability to regulate insulin can have serious effects on your overall health, and since far more men than women are at risk for these changes, these issues are well worth paying attention to.5 Research indicates that regularly taking probiotic supplements containing Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium can help your body maintain blood sugar levels already within a normal range, whether you're simply at risk for insulin-related challenges or you're already experiencing them.
Other foods without substantial research: miso (fermented soybean paste); tempeh; sauerkraut; aged soft cheese; sourdough bread; sour pickles; gundruk (nonsalted, fermented, and acidic vegetable product); sinki (indigenous fermented radish tap root food); khalpi (fermented cucumber); inziangsang (traditional fermented leafy vegetable product prepared from mustard leaves); soidonis (widespread fermented product prepared from the tip of mature bamboo shoots)
The takeaway: Certain strains were found useful in preventing diarrhea among children being prescribed antibiotics. A 2013 review showed that after antibiotic use, probiotics help prevent Clostridium difficile-associated diarrhea. A review focused on acute infectious diarrhea found a benefit, again for certain strains of bacteria at controlled doses. There’s also evidence that they may help prevent necrotizing enterocolitis (a serious gastrointestinal condition) and death in preterm infants.
Most probiotics are like what is already in a person's digestive system. Some probiotics have been used for a very long time throughout history, such as in fermented foods and cultured milk products. These don't appear to cause illness. But more study is needed on the safety of probiotics in young children, the elderly, and people who have weak immune systems.
In the past five years, for example, several combined analyses of dozens of studies have concluded that probiotics may help prevent some common side effects of treatment with antibiotics. Whenever physicians prescribe these medications, they know they stand a good chance of annihilating entire communities of beneficial bacteria in the intestine, along with whatever problem-causing microbes they are trying to dispel. Normally the body just needs to grab a few bacteria from the environment to reestablish a healthy microbiome. But sometimes the emptied niches get filled up with harmful bacteria that secrete toxins, causing inflammation in the intestine and triggering diarrhea. Adding yogurt or other probiotics—especially the kinds that contain Lactobacillus—during and after a course of antibiotics seems to decrease the chances of subsequently developing these opportunistic infections.
Some studies suggest that certain probiotic strains may also help in mild to moderate ulcerative colitis and possibly for bloating and gas in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Probiotic supplements, on the whole, “improve global symptoms, bloating, and flatulence in IBS,” by modifying the gut microbiome, according to a 2014 monograph from the American College of Gastroenterology. As IBS researchers said in a paper in Gastroenterology & Hepatology in 2015, “The concept of manipulating the microbiome is one of the most promising new ways in which to treat patients with IBS, but there is still much to learn.”
This content is strictly the opinion of Dr. Josh Axe and is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of medical advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Axe nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement or lifestyle program.
Reviews looking at the treatment or prevention of vulvovaginal candidiasis in women, pneumonia in patients hooked up to respirators, and colds in otherwise healthy people show some positive results. But the authors note that the studies are almost all of low quality, small in size, and often funded by companies with significant conflicts of interest.
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.
Because there's a huge variety of probiotic products available on the market, many people struggle to find the right one for them. "There are many different strains of bacteria in different combinations within different probiotic supplements," explains Brooke Scheller, a clinical and functional nutritionist. "For example, a probiotic may contain a single strain of bacteria or many. It may also contain other vitamins, minerals, or other ingredients that may tout health benefits," she says. There are many different dosages, delivery systems (powder, tablets, capsules), and formulations (refrigerated vs. shelf-stable), and some probiotics also contain prebiotics, which basically act as fertilizer for the probiotics. (Related: Why Your Probiotic Needs a Prebiotic Partner)
Those who took probiotics did replenish gut microbiome more successfully than the “watch-and-wait” group. That said, there was also an unexpected backlash to probiotic use. The researchers were alarmingly surprised to discover that successful microbiome colonization via probiotics actually prevented the host's pre-antibiotic microbiome and gut gene expression profile from returning to its natural state for months after the treatment. But there is good news: Using aFMT resulted in the third group's native gut microbiome and gene expression profiles returning to normal within days after they stopped taking antibiotics.
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.
There are four significant takeaways from this study: (1) murine gut mucosal probiotic colonization is only mildly enhanced by antibiotics, (2) Human gut mucosal probiotic colonization is significantly enhanced by antibiotics, (3) After taking antibiotics, probiotics delay gut microbiome and transcriptome reconstitution in mice and humans, (4) Autologous fecal microbiome transplant (aFMT) restores mucosal microbiome and gut transcriptome reconstitution.
According to a 2014 meta-analysis, probiotics benefit diabetics by improving insulin sensitivity and decreasing the autoimmune response found in diabetes. The authors suggest that the results were significant enough to conduct large, randomized, controlled trials (the “gold standard” of scientific studies) to find if probiotics may actually be used to prevent or manage diabetes symptoms. Combining probiotics with prebiotics may also help manage blood sugar, particularly when blood sugar levels are already elevated. (87)
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.
As of now, the most comprehensive meta-study (a study of different studies) has not been able to decisively identify any particular strain of bacteria that is specifically useful to treat seasonal allergies. Some studies contradict each other on which bacteria can treat grass pollen, and other studies will find that those strains the first two studies examined weren’t nearly as effective in their own trials.
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.
Niv Zmora, Gili Zilberman-Schapira, Jotham Suez, Uria Mor, Mally Dori-Bachash, Stavros Bashiardes, Eran Kotler, Maya Zur, Dana Regev-Lehavi, Rotem Ben-Zeev Brik, Sara Federici, Yotam Cohen, Raquel Linevsky, Daphna Rothschild, Andreas E. Moor, Shani Ben-Moshe, Alon Harmelin, Shalev Itzkovitz, Nitsan Maharshak, Oren Shibolet, Hagit Shapiro, Meirav Pevsner-Fischer, Itai Sharon, Zamir Halpern, Eran Segal, Eran Elinav. Personalized Gut Mucosal Colonization Resistance to Empiric Probiotics Is Associated with Unique Host and Microbiome Features. Cell, 2018; 174 (6): 1388 DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2018.08.041