Very few women know that one of the leading causes of infertility, difficulties getting pregnant, and even painful periods stem from thyroid dysfunction. That’s why infertility specialists, obstetricians, and gynecologists alike often order thyroid testing at the first sign of trouble. Poor thyroid function is also linked to joint pain, unplanned weight-loss or obesity and heart problems and thinning skin among many other signs and symptoms.
Proponents claim that probiotics (meaning “for life,” as opposed to antibiotics) confer health benefits primarily by rebalancing the normal microflora in the large intestine (colon). There are many general types of bacteria used as probiotics (two common ones are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium), and many different species as well as strains within species. They have different physiological effects—and thus possibly different health benefits (as well as possible risks). Some yeasts, such as Saccharmyces, can also act as probiotics.
"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."
Although people often think of bacteria and other microorganisms as harmful “germs,” many microorganisms help our bodies function properly. For example, bacteria that are normally present in our intestines help digest food, destroy disease-causing microorganisms, and produce vitamins. Large numbers of microorganisms live on and in our bodies. Many of the microorganisms in probiotic products are the same as or similar to microorganisms that naturally live in our bodies.
Prebiotics and supplementary ingredients — For probiotic bacteria to grow, they also need prebiotics. High-quality probiotic supplements have both prebiotics and other ingredients designed to support digestion and immunity. Examples of these ingredients are (preferably fermented) flaxseed, chia seed, cañihua seed, astragalus, ashwagandha, hemp seed, pumpkin seed, milk thistle, peas, ginger, mung bean and turmeric.
The good news keeps stacking up for probiotics, the good-for-you bacteria that keep your GI system functioning in tip-top shape. "Research is finding that a healthy microbiome may play a role in reducing inflammation, a risk factor involved in illnesses ranging from colds to cancer, heart disease, arthritis, and cognitive decline," says Katherine Tallmadge, RD, author of Diet Simple. In addition, the bacteria may help burn body fat and reduce insulin resistance, she says. So to stay slim and healthy, consider adding more probiotic foods to your diet. Start with these truly yummy 13.
It’s great to get some healthy sour foods. I often add one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to a drink, twice a day. Before breakfast and lunch or breakfast and dinner, add one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in your meal, and then start consuming more fermented vegetables like sauerkraut and kimchi, or drinking kvass. Is apple cider vinegar a probiotic itself? No, but apple cider vinegar probiotic content makes it an excellent source of probiotics benefits.
The idea that consuming probiotics can boost the ability of already well-functioning native bacteria to promote general health is dubious for a couple of reasons. Manufacturers of probiotics often select specific bacterial strains for their products because they know how to grow them in large numbers, not because they are adapted to the human gut or known to improve health. The particular strains of Bifidobacterium or Lactobacillus that are typically found in many yogurts and pills may not be the same kind that can survive the highly acidic environment of the human stomach and from there colonize the gut.
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.
That’s why adding probiotics and prebiotics to your diet provide the best possible outcome from a bacterial perspective. It isn’t always easy to eat naturally prebiotic-enriched foods, however, because they are often distasteful to eat in quantity. Would you enjoy eating several cups of raw onion or garlic every day? Probably not. Other foods that contain prebiotic fiber, such as bread and bananas, are high in calories. Consuming hundreds of calories of these foods every day is counterproductive if you’re trying to lose weight.
Using probiotics benefits and balances immune function, influences hormone levels, aids in digestion and nutrient absorption, produces some vitamins, and balances blood sugar insulin responses. By preventing and reducing leaky gut and controlling levels of pathogens, probiotics reduce harmful bacterial by-products that can enter the brain and contribute to brain fog.
Most probiotics designed for women are designed to target feminine health conditions like yeast infections and urinary tract infections OR overall digestive health. While this may not be a concern for some women, the fact is that most of us can benefit from probiotics that keep our reproductive systems in check while also promoting overall digestive and immune health. That’s why we love the Culturelle Women’s Healthy Balance Probiotic: this women’s probiotic was specially designed to maintain feminine health without sacrificing the digestive and immune support of traditional probiotics!
The scientists discovered that the probiotics successfully colonized the GI tracts of some people, called the "persisters," while the gut microbiomes of "resisters" expelled them. Moreover, the persister and resister patterns would determine whether probiotics, in a given person, would impact their indigenous microbiome and human gene expression. The researchers could predict whether a person would be a persister or resister just by examining their baseline microbiome and gut gene expression profile.
There are two main types of probiotics; the first is the live cultures I describe above, like the strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. You might have heard some naysaying about this kind of probiotic—the typical argument against them is that the classic form of live cultures is destroyed by the acidic environment in the stomach. To get around this, quality probiotics are made with an acid-resistant capsule so that they don’t get immediately broken down. (Which means you don’t have to take the probiotics with food, although I normally do. I’ll sometimes break the capsule and mix it into a smoothie, or use the powder form. You might lose a bit of potency but it’s not significant.)
Whether a brand of probiotics works really depends on its quality and your body's own gut. Everyone has a different set of gut flora so try several to see what works for you. Using a brand of at least 40 billion CFU is best. There seems to be some debate as to whether one should use refrigerated or unrefrigerated probiotics. I went with the side that claims unrefrigerated are sturdier and less prone to die off.
BlueBiotics is a good product to start with and then evaluate from there. The cold is actually good for probiotics as freezing them extends the life of the cultures. Companies who freeze dry their probiotics (which if I’m not mistaken, each of these companies do), but having them shipped in very high temperatures can and does kill probiotic microorganisms so it’s definitely a concern. Ideally, it’s better to stock up during the winter so that you don’t have your product stuck in the back of a hot truck before it gets to you.
Experts agree that this is the most important factor to consider in choosing a probiotic. "You should absolutely choose a probiotic based on what you are looking to address," says Chang. "Because strain specificity will impact outcomes, it is important to consider that one strain that works for one condition will not necessarily be effective for other conditions."
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.