Probiotics are “friendly” bacteria that inhabit your body. Sound strange? These microscopic roommates can be your best buds if you show them a little love. One surefire way to do that is with probiotic supplements. Probiotics support the right ratio of good to bad bacteria in your gut. For bonus points, call on digestive enzymes. These unique blends offer specific nutritional support to assist digestion and nutrient absorption. Your healthy body will quickly appreciate these lifelong friends.
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.
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.
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)
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.
Inside your body bacterial and other microbial cells live in close contact with your own cells, and in healthy conditions the thing that separates them from you is a layer of mucus. Between that layer of mucus and the inside of you is a layer of skin-like cells one-cell thick. One thing you have to understand about your gastrointestinal (GI) tract is that although it resides within you, it is really connected to the outside world, from your lips to your anus, and the things that protect you from the outside world are the mucus; the skin-like layer of cells with immune, nervous, and endocrine cells below it; and the beneficial microbes. At least 70 percent of your immune system is in your GI tract! This is why taking probiotics benefits the immune system greatly.
We have to give a nod to the most famous probiotic food: yogurt. Whether you love Greek or regular, low-fat or full-fat, look for the phrase "live active cultures" on the label. And although choosing a plain yogurt has less added sugar than the flavored kinds, Tallmadge gives you the okay to choose a fruit-infused flavor if that's the only way you'll eat it. Just be sure to aim for fewer than 15 grams of the sweet stuff per serving; sugar can feed the bad bugs in your gut.
Scientists are investigating probiotics, and their combined effects, by trying to classify the probiotic benefits of ingesting specific probiotic strains and understanding their role in the digestive tract. At present, the methodological and ethical limitations of human studies still make it difficult to fully understand the mechanisms of action of probiotics, but some explanations are available. Nevertheless, benefits linked to the consumption of probiotic strains have already been suggested (e.g. helping to support the immune system, help support digestive health), and others are still being investigated.
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.
In addition to the prophylactic effect of stocking your gut with good bacteria, there are some probiotic strains that have also shown promise in treating symptoms of autoimmune disorders, including L. Paracasei and L. Acidophilus. Others, like B. Lactis, could help prevent respiratory infections. Renew Life Flora Extra Care has all three targeted bacteria strains at 30 billion CFUs per serving.
Of course, your gut microbiome can only do this when it’s healthy and in balance, which is where probiotics come in. Since so many factors can deplete your beneficial bacteria—including everything from exposure to antibiotics in food or medication to spending too much time inside—supplementing with a premium probiotic is almost always necessary to maintain balance.
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.
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.
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
In the past, probiotics have been proposed as part of a weight loss diet. However, a 2015 meta-analysis looked at available randomized, controlled trials investigating this effect and determined that the studies did not seem to support this hypothesis, as body weight and BMI were not consistently reduced. The researchers did point out the need for better designed trials, because they were not convinced the results were based on well-designed science.
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.
4. Ohnmacht C, Park JH, Cording S, Wing JB, Atarashi K, Obata Y, Gaboriau-Routhiau V, Marques R, Dulauroy S, Fedoseeva M, Busslinger M, Cerf-Bensussan N, Boneca IG, Voehringer D, Hase K, Honda K, Sakaguchi S, Eberl G. The microbiota regulates type 2 immunity through RORγt+ T cells. Science. 2015 Jul 9. pii: aac4263. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 26160380.
I’ve been taking probiotics for past couple of months. I must say I feel so much better like it’s been years since I felt this good. My head isn’t in a fog–my brain feels crisp & clear and less depression. My skin isn’t dry its actually getting soft & shiny again. Even my face looks younger. My hair also. I actually have energy. I’m 53 female with a few illnesses. I can feel my insides like alive again. I’ve had a bad rash from taking too many antibiotics for the past 8 yrs FINALLY it is clearing up all from probiotics. It’s amazing what a difference the probiotics are making in my life. I am truly amazed. They are life changing for me. I know it might sound crazy but I can’t believe the difference. I hope this helps someone out there like me who thought there’s no hope to feel better.
The classic examples of probiotics are yogurt and kefir, which are great for a lot of people, though not if you have a dairy sensitivity. There a lot of yogurt and kefir alternatives, from water kefir and almond yogurt, to coconut yogurt, coconut kefir, and so on. Look at ingredients when you’re shopping for food like yogurt—you want to avoid sugar-filled products. I like plain coconut yogurt with fruit and little stevia on it.
All probiotic strains are manufactured through fermentation, and are then freeze-dried before blending with fructooligosaccharides (FOS). The result is a shelf-stable (two years at room temperature), nitrogen-filled probiotic of human origin: a probiotic that easily adapts to your body, and is both acid- and bile-resistant to survive the acidic environment of the human stomach. In other words, a probiotic that fulfills its promises.
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.
Hi Julia. I am 71 (male) and have had digestive issues for most of my life and no specific diagnosis. I eat fairly well, am not overweight, get gassy from many different foods and beverages. I have been using Culturelle for 9 months and feel the benefit from taking it is small. Your review leads me to believe there may be better choices. They certainly are not cheap but I will gladly pay for them if they give me results. I am probably going to try BlueBiotics unless you have other suggestions. My main question is since I live in Minnesota I will receive shipments in the summer with temps of up to + 100F and winters down to – 15F. Will this cause a decrease in product viability for this or other brands you recommended? Thank you for your help.
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.
The research also showed that while probiotics colonised the gastrointestinal tract of some people, the gut microbiome of others just expelled them. There was no way of telling from their stool sample which category people fell into. “Some people accept probiotics in their gut, while others just pass them from one end to the other,” says Elinav. They found that the probiotic colonisation patterns were highly dependent on the individual. That tells us that the concept that everyone can benefit from a universal probiotic bought from the supermarket is empirically wrong, he says.
Probiotics have been shown to help reduce duration of pediatric acute diarrhea, decrease symptoms associated with taking antibiotics, manage symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, reduce crying time in infants with colic and reduce relapses of ulcerative colitis. Certain probiotics may also inhibit the growth of Helicobacter pylori, bacteria that colonize the stomach and can cause ulcers and stomach cancer.
Our gut is home to over 500 bacterial species. These “visitors” form a bioreactor, which facilitates digestion, provides nutrients, and helps form the immune system. Some important nutrients made by this bioreactor include several B vitamins, vitamin K, folate, and some short-chain fatty acids. Up to 10% of an individual’s daily energy needs can be derived from the byproducts of the good bacteria in your gut.
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)
But before you start reaching for the calcium supplements, there may be a more effective way to support your bone health. Like many other parts of the body, the health of your bones is closely tied to the health of your gut, especially your intestines. Temporary intestinal inflammation can trigger an immune response in which your body releases interleukins, proteins that have an immune function but also absorb bone tissue. If the temporary inflammation remains unaddressed, these molecules can take a toll on your bones, eventually weakening them.14
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.