What exactly do probiotics do? They are believed to protect us in two ways. The first is the role that they play in our digestive tract. We know that our digestive tract needs a healthy balance between the good and bad bacteria, so what gets in the way of this? It looks like our lifestyle is both the problem and the solution. Poor food choices, emotional stress, lack of sleep, antibiotic overuse, other drugs, and environmental influences can all shift the balance in favor of the bad bacteria.
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)
"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.
Supplements: dietary probiotic supplements -- which are available in capsules, tablets, powders and liquid extracts -- each contain a specific type of probiotic. These products are available at health food and natural food stores, vitamin shops, and other stores. As an example, one commonly used supplement is acidophilus, which is available from several supplement manufacturers.
From Lactobacillus acidophilus to Bacillus Coagulans, the BlueBiotics blend is a veritable list of the most researched and proven probiotic bacteria known to science. And recent advances on the blend have made it the only full-spectrum probiotic supplement on the market, as it contains strains which are typically not available to the general public (Bacillus Coagulans and S. boulardii). The CFU count alone is remarkable enough, leaving most comparable spectrums in the dust… HOWEVER even more surprisingly our tests showed that a whopping 98% of the probiotic colonies in BlueBiotics were still alive, making this BY FAR the most effective probiotic supplement that we have ever reviewed. Also, because of the diverse pool of strains in BlueBiotics, users have reported a wide variety of benefits from weight loss, to increased energy, improved digestive health and cognitive function. Many of our staff switched to these probiotics, as well as myself and my family.
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Self-dosing with bacteria isn't as outlandish as it might seem. An estimated 100 trillion microorganisms representing more than 500 different species inhabit every normal, healthy bowel. These microorganisms (or microflora) generally don't make us sick; most are helpful. Gut-dwelling bacteria keep pathogens (harmful microorganisms) in check, aid digestion and nutrient absorption, and contribute to immune function.
Until recently, testing of probiotics by ConsumerLab.com found that some products had far lower amounts of live organisms than claimed on the labels. But in 2018, it found that 17 out of 18 products tested contained the amounts listed; none exceeded limits for heavy metal contaminants. In contrast, in 2016, a study in Pediatric Research found that only one out of 16 Bifidobacterium longum supplements tested contained the species named on the label.
A large analysis reviewed available research and determined that probiotics help lower blood pressure by improving lipid profiles, reducing insulin resistance, regulating renin levels (a protein and enzyme secreted by the kidneys to lower blood pressure) and activating antioxidants. Researchers consider them valuable prospects in the treatment of high blood pressure because their side effects are generally minimal or nonexistent. (82, 83)
While past studies have investigated similar questions, they have all used patients' excrement as a proxy for microbe activity in the GI tract. Instead, Elinav, his colleague Eran Segal, (a computational biologist at the Weizmann Institute), and their teams spearheaded by Niv Zmora, Jotham Suez, Gili Zilberman Schapira, and Uria Mor of the Elinav lab collaborated with Zamir Halpern, Chief of Gastroenterology at the Tel Aviv Medical Center to measure gut colonization directly.
CFU: This is the number of "colony forming units" present in each dose, which are measured in the billions. And while more isn't always better, "you want at least 20 to 50 billion CFU," says Dr. Nazareth. Just for reference, a very high dose is 400 CFU, which most experts agree is not necessary unless your health care practitioner specifically recommends this for you. It's also important to check for the guaranteed CFU upon expiration, which should be listed clearly. "Some products only guarantee the CFU number at the time of manufacturing, therefore will be less potent by the time the product reaches your home," she says.
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.
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).
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.
How can something as small as a microscopic organism be so important for health? The reason is that there is not just one microbe, nor a handful; there are approximately 1 trillion microbes per gram of feces. Microbes within you are found on your mucous membranes, spanning from your mouth to your anus, from your nasal passages to your lungs, in your urinary tract, and even on your eyes. In fact, in your digestive tract alone, it is calculated that for every cell of yours that is human, there are an equal number of bacterial cells.
The U.S. Clinical Guide to Probiotic Products1, Canadian Guide to Probiotic Supplements2 and the WGO Global Guidelines for Probiotics and Prebiotics3 provide suggested effective amounts of specific strains for treating certain health conditions, such as constipation or IBS. All 37 products listed the species of bacteria they contained, but only 14 listed amounts of individual strains. We found that 9 of those 14 products provided beneficial bacteria at effective levels. The Center for Responsible Nutrition recommends4 the industry move toward specifying strains as a best-practice because whether a product works and for what purpose depends on its strains.
For Irritable Bowel Syndrome, patients who respond to a probiotic might take that in the long term, Lebwohl says, so as to maintain symptom control. With something like antibiotic-related diarrhea, you'd take it for a defined period of time until symptoms are gone. "This has been studied in children and adults and while study results have varied, meta-analyses suggest that probiotics can be protective in this context," he adds.
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.
Probiotics are very promising and used quite often in practice. Many physicians, including myself, use them regularly for many gastrointestinal issues and other issues like infant colic, preventing diarrhea in patients taking antibiotics and for overall immune and respiratory health. There is still a lot more research that needs to be conducted but it is clear that they are here to stay, and the research base is likely only going to lead to increased use in many other conditions in both preventing and treating diseases.
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.
"When certain types of probiotics are placed in contact with skin cells, they calm the parts of the cells that may want to react to the presence of bad bacteria that they see as a threat. These healthy signals produced by the probiotics stop the skin cells from sending 'attack' messages to the immune system that result in flares of acne or rosacea."
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Prebiotic fibers are the non-digestible parts of food that are typically found in fruits, vegetables, and legumes. These fibers act as food for the healthy bacteria in your gut, and are an essential part of the digestive process. That’s why the Vitamin Bounty Women’s Pro-Daily Probiotic contains prebiotics and probiotics for a truly complete formula that helps ease digestive issues while also maintaining proper feminine health.
Yogurt: It can contain Streptococcus thermophilus, Lactobacillus bulgaricus, L. acidophilus, and Bifidobacterium bifidum. Research has shown links with yogurt to have positive effects on the gut microbiota and is associated with a reduced risk for gastrointestinal disease and improvement of lactose intolerance (especially among children), type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, allergies and respiratory diseases, as well as improved dental and bone health.
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.
"There is an increasing interest in probiotic interventions," wrote the authors of one of the most recent studies, a meta-analysis of previous research in a recent issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Those researchers found that probiotics were particularly useful against a common gastrointestinal problem: antibiotic-associated diarrhea (AAD).
"The proprietary formula in this lotion supports a healthy microbiome of your skin promoting a more hydrated, stronger barrier function and protection from pathogens without harming the good stuff. Throw away your antibacterial soap and hand sanitizer and use this all over after your shower and after washing your hands," says Astarita, who is also a fan of the Nerium Prolistic Powder Pre & Probiotic Plus Vitamins ($45) and Be Well Probiotic Powder ($46) by Dr. Frank Lipman.
"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."
Probiotics can also help offset the bacterial imbalance caused by taking antibiotics. Antibiotics kill good bacteria along with the harmful ones, often leading to gas, cramping or diarrhea. Potential benefits of probiotics have been seen in the treatment or prevention of many conditions such as diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, and Crohn's disease.
Suez and colleagues investigated the recovery of the gut microbiota after antibiotic treatment and found that probiotics might perturb rather than aid this process. The probiotics rapidly colonised the gut but prevented the normal microbiota from repopulating for up to 5 months. While likely to be considerably less appealing, the group who received autologous faecal microbiota transplantation recovered their microbiota the quickest, with the composition of the microbiota returning to normal within days. Furthermore, Zmora and colleagues showed that colonisation occurred in highly individualised patterns, with some people's gastrointestinal tracts rejecting probiotics and others allowing colonisation by the probiotic strain, meaning that many individuals taking probiotic supplements are simply wasting their money.
Update: I think this product is being smeared by a competitor! Look at all the reviews in April. Suddenly, a butt ton of not just negative but 1 star reviews. It's uncanny. So, what would compel a competitor to do such a thing? Well, it was the only 50 CFU, enteric coated & 20 strain probiotic on Amazon & it cost about 15 bucks. That, while products far inferior to it were priced for - often times - 2 or 3x as much.
This Korean staple relies on lactic acid fermentation (also called lacto-fermentation) to turn cabbage or other vegetables into a spicy, pungent side dish that's packed with vitamin C. Order it at Korean restaurants or buy it in the refrigerated section of your grocery store (King's Kimchi is widely available at Walmart). For some guidance on making your own, turn to The Art of Fermentation ($23; amazon.com). Then, use it to spike veggie-laden rice bowls, top on soup, or serve alongside meat.
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As with other types of supplements, scientists are still discovering the full potential of probiotics. However, when taken regularly, it is believed that they help support digestive health by helping maintain the balance of beneficial and non-beneficial bacteria in your digestive tract. Having a natural balance of good bacteria in the digestive tract can help defend against occasional digestive issues. In addition, probiotics play an important role in supporting immune health, since 70% of the body's immune system is found in the digestive tract.∗