A popular dish in Japan consisting of fermented soybeans, natto contains the extremely powerful probiotic bacillus subtilis, which has been proven to bolster your immune system, support cardiovascular health and enhance digestion of vitamin K2. Natto can also contain vitamin B12, which is usually lacking in vegan diets. It’s also one of the highest plant-based proteins.
“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.
Better Health Review ranks Ultimate Flora as the most effective probiotic supplement. It contains 30 billion active bifidobacteria for colon health, and 20 billion lactobacilli and lactococcus cultures for the small intestine. According to Better Health Review, it contains all natural ingredients. It earns a perfect 5 score from Better Health Review, and the magazine “Vitamin Retailer” voted it best two years in a row.
Despite the uncertainty, foods enriched with probiotics and probiotic supplements are increasingly popular in the U.S. Finding probiotic supplements in grocery and health food stores is easy. For example, you may already know that yogurt contains probiotic bacteria such as lactobacillus and bifidobacteria. Many clinical studies suggest these bacteria relieve symptoms related to lactose intolerance.
Previous studies have been contradictory, with some yielding more positive results about the benefits of probiotics, but most of them looked at probiotics in stool samples, not directly in the gut itself. In the new research, the scientists used more invasive methods to take samples of gut bacteria directly from different areas of the digestive system.
In the first study, 25 human volunteers underwent upper endoscopies and colonoscopies to sample their baseline microbiome in regions of the gut. 15 of those volunteers were then divided into two groups. The first group consumed generic probiotic strains, while the second was administered a placebo. Both groups then underwent a second round of upper endoscopies and colonoscopies to assess their internal response before being followed for another 2 months.
What are bacteria and what do they do? Bacteria are single-celled organisms that exist in their millions, in every environment, inside or outside other organisms. Some are harmful, but others support life. They play a crucial role in human health and are used in medicine and industry. Learn about the types, lifecycles, uses, and hazards of bacteria here. Read now
They can break down substances in foods that keep you from absorbing the micronutrients inside. They not only protect against the consequences of rogue molecules passing through a leaky gut, but they assist your intestinal cells in staying healthy to optimize nutrient absorption. In addition, some of the metabolic by-products of probiotics, such as short-chain fatty acids and vitamin production, are very nourishing to your GI tract.
Probiotics are live microorganisms (bacteria or yeast) that have been shown to have a health benefit for humans. They are available in supplement form or in probiotic foods and drinks. Probiotics are thought to be akin to (and to increase the level of) the "good" bacteria found in your intestines. These "good" bacteria are thought to enhance our health through their support of our immune systems.
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.
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.
Bottom line: Probiotics are a promising field of research and may one day be used to treat or help prevent many disorders. But there’s not enough solid evidence to recommend their widespread use. Vague claims that probiotics "support good digestive health" are meaningless. Larger, longer and better studies are needed to test specific strains for specific conditions and to determine the proper doses and regimens.
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.
Yeast Infections and Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) – If you’ve ever experienced the discomfort of a yeast infection or BV, then you are probably aware that an overgrowth of bacteria causes these unfortunate episodes. While your reproductive system is supposed to foster a healthy environment for yeast, sometimes these levels can increase causing the pain and discomfort of a yeast infection or bacterial infection. By taking a probiotic that contains prebiotics and feminine health probiotics, you can treat and prevent recurrent symptoms!
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Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CDN, founder and director of Real Nutrition based in NYC, discusses the effect probiotics have on immune system issues. "Probiotics compete with pathogenic microorganisms and produce chemicals that inactivate or kill pathogens," says Shapiro. "They help prevent immune-mediated diseases by improving the gut mucosal immune system. Overall, probiotics protect the body from infections and allow the body to maintain homeostasis."
“You have all sorts of microbiomes in your body, in the lungs, the oral cavity, the vagina and of course the gut. Everybody was looking at the microbiome as just being about just good bacteria,”Afif Ghannoum said. The elder Ghannoum, who is associated with Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH, showed the importance of the fungal components of those microbiomes, he said.
Every person's microbiome is different, which means what worked for others might not work for you. "What you eat, whether you were born by C-section or vaginally, what antibiotics you have been exposed to, and whether or not you have ever developed food-borne illness are just some of the many factors that impact your gut microbiome," explains Scarlata. And while research can help you determine which strains to take at which dosages, there may still be several different formulations to choose from.
Most bacteria are included through the fermentation process. Fermentation helps extend the shelf life of perishable foods. It is a slow decomposition process of organic substances induced by microorganisms or enzymes that essentially convert carbohydrates to alcohols or organic acids. The lactic acid supplies the bacteria that then add the health benefits to the food. You can purchase foods that are fermented or ferment them yourself.
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.
D-Mannose can be naturally found in citric fruits like cranberries and has been found to be extremely beneficial in the prevention and relief of urinary tract infections. However, unless you are growing your own cranberries or spending hours in the kitchen measuring out portions, it can be extremely difficult (if not impossible!) to know how much D-Mannose you are ingesting by eating alone. That’s why HyperBiotics cut out the middle man and includes the D-Mannose compound directly in its probiotic blend.
If you've ever been to an Indian restaurant, then you've probably seen a lassi—a smoothie made of milk, yogurt, fruit, honey, and cardamom. The drink goes well with spicy Indian food because it helps extinguish the fiery feeling in your mouth. If you want to try it at home, you can pick up bottles from brands like Dahlicious, which contain 15 billion live probiotics per serving and are available in flavors like mango and turmeric. Or, try this mango lassi recipe.
If that's not enough, your doctor may also suggest a probiotic supplement. But don't go and grab just anything off the pharmacy shelf. Probiotic supplements are not all the same, and they often contain different strains to serve different needs, says naturopathic physician Amy Fasig. Example: What one person gets to battle strep throat is different from what would be prescribed for someone suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome, she says.
For most of my life, I thought of probiotics as something I’d only drink if I lost a bet. Then stress-induced irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) turned my intestinal tract into a nonstop river of shit—we’re talking weeks of everything I ate shooting straight out my butt in liquid form. The internet said probiotics were my best non-pharmaceutical bet to help my digestive system calm down, so I swallowed my pride (and my first kombucha ever) and kinda sorta saw the light. My IBS wasn’t cured, but probiotics did help me spend less time on the toilet wide-eyed with terror, and more time doing what’s really important in life—watching TV with my family.
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.
The best probiotic manufacturers will list their potency (in CFUs) at the time of expiration, ensuring you get the dosage you’re paying for. Dr. David Perlmutter, board-certified neurologist, American College of Nutrition Fellow, and author of The New York Times bestsellers "Brain Maker" and "Grain Brain" puts it this way: “Avoid products that indicate a specific number of bacteria ‘at the time of manufacture,’ and instead look for products that, like other supplements, have a shelf life.” Each of our top picks clearly shows a specific “best by” or “expires on” date on its bottle.
Probiotics are live bacteria that are present in yogurt, other fermented foods, and in pills. They are promoted as a benefit to the human digestive system. Normally you have trillions upon trillions of bacteria within the colon. Normally we ingest bacteria every time we swallow. Many of these swallowed bacteria may be beneficial while most are simply innocuous and cause no problems. The question for everyone who takes a probiotic much beyond yogurt is whether they really are a health benefit. Here is what we know medically about probiotics.
The benefits of probiotics don't stop at internal health. Research from the American Academy of Dermatology found that, whether applied topically or taken orally, probiotics can potentially help patients with skin issues such as acne, rosacea, and eczema. More studies need to be done though, so talk to your dermatologist before changing your regular routine.
Survival past stomach acids - probiotic powder in capsule form is ill prepared when it comes to protecting the delicate bacteria from being pulverized by the harsh environment of the stomach acids. Worse, most of the organisms tend to die off before they reach their intended destination due to moisture that gets trapped between the capsule shell and the powder.
Probiotics for allergies are fast becoming a preferred treatment method because they are understood to be much safer than traditional allergic rhinitis medication. A nasal spray for allergies is often a ‘go to’ treatment, for example, but allergy nose spray medications often contain corticosteroids, like Beclometasone dipropionate, which could affect bone metabolism, blood cells, and the pituitary gland.
If this happens, it's time to consider switching to a new probiotic. Other reasons a probiotic may not be the right fit: SIBO or Candida. If you have either of these conditions, the strain of the probiotic could potentially make your symptoms worse. Remember, if you think a probiotic is not helping, seek the advice of a functional medicine provider to help you navigate the choices out there.
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.
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.
There is one Voluntary Certification Program by which a supplement manufacturer can choose to be evaluated. ConsumerLab.com (CL) is the leading provider of independent test results and information to help consumers and health-care professionals identify the best quality health and nutrition products. Products that have passed their testing for identity, strength, purity, and disintegration can print the CL Seal of Approval on their product. This is one step toward being confident that one is getting the amount and type of probiotic promised by the manufacturer.
Quality matters for any supplement, and that goes triple for probiotics. Many commercial brands lack the technology to identify specific strains and how much of that strain each dose contains. That could mean you get an ineffective or potentially harmful dose. It's a great sign if the company is using strains that have been used specifically in clinical trials at a dose similar to or the same as that used in the study. This is one of the only ways to guarantee a probiotic's clinical effectiveness.
As you progress with increasing dosages of probiotics internally, you may experience increased abdominal gas, upset digestion with diarrhea, headache, fever, muscle pain, brain fog, and/or anxiety. If the symptoms become too uncomfortable, decrease the dosage for a few days and try again. These symptoms are your body’s way of telling you that things—such as a die-off of pathogens or an awakened intestinal reflex—are changing.
Selecting a multi-strain probiotic is also consistent with the theory that filling your gut with enough good bacteria outcompetes any bad bacteria for the same space and resources. In your gut, the more diversified the good bacteria, the harder it is for the baddies to gain a foothold. With all this in mind, we only looked at supplements containing multiple strains of bacteria.
Lactobacilli dominate a healthy vaginal microbiota. Menstrual cycles, sexual activity, diet, certain medications, hygiene, and other factors can occasionally disrupt the vaginal microbiome. AZO Feminine Balance Daily Probiotic has been clinically demonstrated to contribute to the colonization of these important lactobacilli in the vagina.* The result: restoring the natural balance of good bacteria and yeast to maintain vaginal health.*
"Contrary to the current dogma that probiotics are harmless and benefit everyone, these results reveal a new potential adverse side effect of probiotic use with antibiotics that might even bring long-term consequences," Elinav said in a statement. "In contrast, replenishing the gut with one's own microbes is a personalized mother-nature-designed treatment that led to a full reversal of the antibiotics' effects." Segal added, "This opens the door to diagnostics that would take us from an empiric universal consumption of probiotics, which appears useless in many cases, to one that is tailored to the individual and can be prescribed to different individuals based on their baseline features."
Certain brands, like Attune (attunefoods.com; available at Whole Foods), have pumped up the dessert by adding probiotics. (Attune boasts 6.1 billion CFUs, or "colony forming units," a measure of live, active microorganisms per serving. As a comparison, some probiotic supplements may contain 1 to 50+ billion CFUs.) Sounds crazy, but it's backed by science. One study in the International Journal of Food Microbiology found that probiotics added to chocolate were able to reach the GI tract where they could get to work colonizing the gut with healthy bacteria.
The second piece of research investigated whether patients should take probiotics to help the recovery of the natural gut bacteria after treatment with antibiotics. The evidence supporting this is not entirely clear and the FDA does not officially recommend it, but there are some reputable sources which discuss their use, such as this blog from Harvard Medical School. Research has suggested that up to 60% of healthcare professionals in the U.S. recommend taking probiotics, but is this justified and could it even be harmful?
It’s important to note that there are different types of strains of probiotics. The probiotics benefits of one probiotic strain may be completely different from the health benefits seen from another probiotic. If you want to use probiotics to address a specific health concern, it’s vital to select the right probiotic for the right condition — or you can consume a wide range of probiotics in your food to be covered.
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.
B. Bifidum has also been shown to prevent intestinal pathogens or digestive disrupters from flourishing in the gut, essential in restoring the bacterial balance and optimizing digestion. Clinical research found it supports a significant reduction in IBS symptoms, an improvement in quality of life and even helps relieve occurrences of ulcerative colitis – a chronic inflammatory bowel disease. .
I’ve been taking a Jamieson Probiotic for weeks now for my IBS. I’m not really getting results. It has 10 billion cells and about 14 strains. I tried taking it every day but then I was crampy, bloated and almost constipated. A friend suggested taking every other day so I did that and it was just the opposite. I’ve been trying to eat a low fodmaps diet as well. Can you tell me how long its supposed to take to work and also if I should possibly try something else? This probiotic was inexpensive so I’m wondering if you get what you pay for.