A Seal of Approval When looking for a good probiotic, Gans advises consumers to buy from a trusted retailer and look for a seal from a third-party certifier. “Reputable probiotic supplements should list the genus, species, and strain, in addition to the number of organisms that will be alive by the use-by date and the dose on the label,” says Gans. This transparency will help consumers understand what’s in their supplement and how to best use it.
What about prebiotics vs probiotics? Prebiotics are the food fibers that go through the gut unchanged and are then used by good colon bacteria as a food source for their own growth. Everyone already has most of these good bacteria present, but often in small quantities. Prebiotics are used to stimulate their growth. Simply stated, you already grow your own probiotics within your colon. You do not rely on them to make the passage through the stomach acid — acid that can destroy many probiotic bacteria. That’s why taking a probiotic supplement or adding probiotic foods to your diet does not always help your digestive system. You can eat as many probiotic bacteria as you want, but if they don’t survive the trip to the colon, your effort will be fruitless.
Unlike many of the probiotics on the market today for women, Vitamin Bounty’s formula is fermented naturally and encased in a delayed-release capsule for more efficient digestion. Specifically, this capsule helps to protect the micro-organism strains from stomach acid, which can dissolve them before your gut has a chance to absorb all of their healthy goodness. With this Women’s Pro-Daily Probiotic design, you can expect more cultures and, as a result, fewer stomach upsets and feminine health problems!
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.
Here’s a quick timeline of the latest probiotic research that is setting off alarm bells for scientists around the globe: On June 19, a study was published linking probiotic use to brain fogginess and extreme belly bloating in some people. Another study, published on August 31, reported that consuming probiotics after taking antibiotics was linked to more severe intestinal infections in mice exposed to Cryptosporidium. (For more see, "In a Brain Fog? Probiotics Could Be the Culprit" and "Unexpected Findings Cause Scientists to Rethink Probiotics.")
For the generally healthy person, you can make a very good case to trust your own body to select and grow the best bacteria that are already in everyone. The foods you eat greatly influence your bacterial mix. Although probiotics offer many positive health benefits, there is no guarantee that they can make the trip from your mouth to your lower gut intact. Although adding more prebiotic fiber to your diet cannot guarantee safe passage of probiotics, it can influence the healthy bacteria that already live in your system. If probiotics help you, eating prebiotic foods or supplements will cause those healthy bacteria to flourish.
“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.
When shopping for a probiotic, the first things to look at are CFUs count and probiotic strains. CFUs is the acronym for colony forming units, and is the measure of how many probiotic bacteria are capable of dividing to form colonies. In other words, the higher the CFUs, the higher the number of active, live good bacteria. Generally speaking, the higher the CFUs, the better, although there are exceptions.
Even if some of the bacteria in a probiotic managed to survive and propagate in the intestine, there would likely be far too few of them to dramatically alter the overall composition of one's internal ecosystem. Whereas the human gut contains tens of trillions of bacteria, there are only between 100 million and a few hundred billion bacteria in a typical serving of yogurt or a microbe-filled pill. Last year a team of scientists at the University of Copenhagen published a review of seven randomized, placebo-controlled trials (the most scientifically rigorous types of studies researchers know how to conduct) investigating whether probiotic supplements—including biscuits, milk-based drinks and capsules—change the diversity of bacteria in fecal samples. Only one study—of 34 healthy volunteers—found a statistically significant change, and there was no indication that it provided a clinical benefit. “A probiotic is still just a drop in a bucket,” says Shira Doron, an infectious disease expert at Tufts Medical Center. “The gut always has orders of magnitude more microbes.”
Got your gut on your mind? Then you’re probably up on the health benefits of probiotics. From boosting immunity to improving digestion, probiotics have been touted as the “superhero” of the gut bacteria underworld. And yet, there’s a lot we still don’t know about probiotics because the research is just heating up. To date, most studies that have been done on probiotics are on the Lactobaccilus, Bifidobacterium and Streptococcus thermophilus strains. Meanwhile, there are, oh, upwards of 100 trillion gut-friendly bacteria out there — some of which are popping up in trendy new waters, chocolates, nut butters and more. Here’s what you need to know before giving your gut the royal treatment.
The second type of probiotics are soil-based organisms (SBO), which tend to be more resistant to acid in the gut. Here’s the thinking behind soil-based probiotics: Many people (particularly in the paleo community) believe that widespread gut and health issues today are the result of life in a too-clean society. In the past, when more people worked in the dirt, played in the dirt, there was less obsessing over cleanliness and antibacterial products, we got more natural exposure to probiotics. The benefit of soil-based probiotics is that they come from the earth, and the bacteria (which are still living) have their own natural, protective capsule surrounding them. I recommend soil-based probiotics to patients with autoimmunity, in addition to the classic form. They are particularly helpful for people with SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth)—with SIBO, you also have an overgrowth of good bacteria; and in this case, the classic form of probiotic is not what you need to fight the infection.
Although some probiotics have shown promise in research studies, strong scientific evidence to support specific uses of probiotics for most health conditions is lacking. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any probiotics for preventing or treating any health problem. Some experts have cautioned that the rapid growth in marketing and use of probiotics may have outpaced scientific research for many of their proposed uses and benefits.
"I usually recommend Garden of Life, BioK or Megafoods brand," says Shapiro. "I also recommend starting with about 30 billion CFU and making sure your supplement has at least 12 different strains. And if you don't eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains that provide fiber for the probiotics to live off of, make sure you're the one you are taking contains prebiotics as well.
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.
Kefir: This could be the most ideal probiotic dairy product because it contains both bacteria and yeast working together to provide the numerous health benefits. In a recent eight-week study, people with diabetes were given kefir milk containing Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus acidophilus, and bifidobacteria vs. conventional fermented milk. The hemoglobin A1C levels were significantly lower in the group consuming the kefir.
However, a 2003 pilot study and 2011 randomized, controlled trial both reported that RA activities remained unchanged, but the subjects treated with probiotics reported statistically significantly higher levels of “subjective well-being.” One suggested reason for this was that the trials were too short to establish changes in the observable changes in the internal earmarks of RA.
It seems like one minute you have diarrhea (D) and the next minute you are constipated (C). Abdominal pain, cramping, and bloating come and go. You are tired of running to the bathroom frequently, or spending a long time in the bathroom waiting for something to happen. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a diagnosis of exclusion. Infections and other causes of your IBS-C dominant or IBS-D dominant symptoms have to be ruled out, but in many cases the diagnosis of IBS doesn’t really provide answers. You may be on a low FODMAP (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols) diet, which helps, but is restrictive.
Research suggests probiotics work better as a team. Even pairs are more effective than individuals. Take the strains Lactobacillus Acidophilus and Bifidobacterium Bifidum BB-12, for example. When combined, this duo-force has been shown to help treat GI-specific ailments. In fact, one survey found 75 percent of studies that compared the effect of a strain mixture with a single-strain supplement showed a mixture was more effective at improving irritable bowel symptoms, immune function, and digestive health.
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I’m 65 years of age. I have been taking acid reflux medication daily for at least 15 years and recently my doctor said my kidneys were declining. I’ve read that acid reflux medications taken over a long period of time, can cause kidney damage. By taking a probiotic, will it help reduce stomach acid, where I may be able to stop taking my acid reflux medication altogether?
Do you strain with infrequent bowel movements? Do the feces look like separate hard lumps or like bunches of hard lumps stuck together, or are they pencil-thin? You may have constipation. The Bristol stool chart (BSC) was developed by two doctors as a way to differentiate between states of constipation, normal elimination, a state of lacking fiber, and states of inflammation. Stools are supposed to be long and sausage-like, with few or no cracks in the surface.
Coming in at a close second, our runner-up as the best probiotic for women is the Culturelle Women’s Healthy Balance Probiotic. As the #1 recommended brand by pharmacists, it is easy to see why so many women are turning to Culturelle for their digestive health. Featuring the LGG culture and a laundry list of other healthy bacteria, this probiotic offers a wonderful balance between digestive and feminine health. The Culturelle Women’s Healthy Balance Probiotic is also taken in an easy, chewable tablet and can even be taken during pregnancy, making it one of the most versatile formulas we reviewed!