There’s good and bad bacteria in there (fascinating fact: an estimated 100 trillion bacteria live inside your digestive tract): When the good outweighs the bad, your immune health soars; when the bad overpowers good, you get sick. You have diarrhea. Your immune system tanks. Your IBS, lactose intolerance, and other gut problems are exacerbated. It throws your entire system out of whack.
Garden of Life RAW Probiotics are some of the most popular out there – and for good reason. Let’s start with the basics: You’ll get 85 billion CFUs and 31 to 33 probiotic strains out of your daily, whole-food, gluten-free, soy-free probiotic, which helps support the immune system, a healthy thyroid, nutrient absorption, digestive function, and a healthy microbial balance.
Overall, Align Probiotic is one of the better “daily” probiotics out there. It’s easy to take, comes in convenient packaging and doesn’t require refrigeration. And it has some research showing it helps with gas, bloating and constipation, especially in women with IBS. Lots of things to like about this probiotic! Read the full review here… or click here to go buy it now!
The bad news about constipation is that there can be many causes, from simple causes like dehydration and lack of fiber to complicated structural causes or disease. While constipation may seem to be only a nuisance that causes uncomfortable symptoms such as abdominal bloating or pain, the truth is that constipation increases the risks of several diseases.
Specially formulated by none other than Dr. Perlmutter himself, Garden of Life’s line of Dr. Formulated probiotics are packed with more than just healthy micro-organisms. With years of experience paving the way in nutrition and supplements, this probiotic is ideal for any woman that wants to incorporate the benefits of a probiotic into their daily life in a reliable way!
The concept of probiotics is credited to Élie Metchnikoff, a Russian scientist born in the mid-1800s, whose work provided profound insights into immunology and microbes. He developed a theory about aging that over the years had been forgotten in mainstream medicine but is now embraced by many scientists: namely, that health is influenced by toxic bacteria in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. He is said to have noticed that people who lived to be over 100 years old in the Balkan States and Russia drank sour milk, which we now call yogurt or kefir, every day. In fact, Bulgarian yogurt cultures even today are regarded as highly therapeutic.
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 have an immune system problem or another serious health condition, you may have a greater chance of issues. Some reports have linked probiotics to serious infections and other side effects. The people most likely to have trouble are those with immune system problems, people who've had surgery, and others who are critically ill. Don't take probiotics if you have any of those issues.
While one 2009 study did show some evidence for reducing cold and flu symptoms in children ages three to five and a 2015 analysis showed probiotics to be better than placebo in preventing acute upper respiratory infections, neither were enough to convince the National Institutes of Health of the efficacy of probiotics for colds and flu. The NIH confirms, “the evidence is weak and the results have limitations.”
Let’s start at the very beginning: probiotics are bacteria. We know what you’re thinking, bacteria cause infections and are just generally kind of gross. Well, in some aspects, you’re absolutely right. But when it comes to your digestive and feminine health, some bacteria are teeny tiny miracle workers that can make all the difference in the way you feel!
By eating probiotic-rich foods and maintaining good intestinal flora, a person can also help to maintain a healthy immune system. And that has real world effects: for example, in one small study of students, those who were given a fermented dairy drink (instead of milk) displayed increased production from lymphocytes -- a marker of immune response.
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.
An imbalance in the gut microbiota is believed to contribute to a number of health problems, particularly gastrointestinal issues, as well as immune dysfunction and infections. The bacterial balance can be disrupted by medical conditions, emotional and physical stress, and, most notably, use of antibiotics, which destroy the good bacteria along with the bad.
Your gut is diverse, so your probiotic should be too. Look for a supplement that contains multiple strains, sometimes listed as a proprietary blend. Inferior brands might only contain one probiotic strain such as Lactobacillus acidophilus. Aside from Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains, probiotics may contain Strep. thermophilus and Saccharomyces boulardii, among others.
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.
Unfortunately, many commercial brands don’t measure up. They are unstable in stomach acid. Quality control measures aren’t intact, including ensuring supplements have been handled correctly and maintain their freshness. Moisture slipping into probiotic supplements can reduce their efficacy. Companies that use bioshield capsules produce higher quality probiotic supplements that are able to endure the stomach acid, releasing their contents within the small intestine, where a more alkaline environment ensures the survival of the bacteria.
What's more, people who have serious heart issues commonly have S. mutans in their heart valves—this is an undesirable type of bacteria that’s actually more often found in the mouth. If your oral microbiome is in balance, S. mutans are normally kept in control by more beneficial species, but if things get out of balance, they can reproduce and make their way into your bloodstream via openings in your gums, compromising your cardiovascular function.3
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.
One overlooked mechanism that supports your innate immunity is gut health, specifically the role probiotics play. Good probiotics benefit your health by keeping your gut microbiota, inflammation, and immune system balanced preventively, as well as acutely when you are sick, so that no matter which flu strain comes along, your immune system is ready.
We started our search with the most popular products from major supplement retailers like Amazon, Drugstore.com, GNC, and Whole Foods. That gave us over 200 supplements. With so many options, we then narrowed our search to 70 probiotics whose purity, potency, and projected efficacy have been vetted by an independent lab like ConsumerLab, Labdoor or the National Science Foundation (NSF). Those labs test — among other things — supplements’ actual composition against labels, verifying ingredient lists are truthful and that contaminants aren’t present. Because supplement claims aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), we wanted to make sure someone was testing whether they worked as described.
Dr. Michelle Schoffro Cook says there’s no single best strain of bacteria, though some strains, like L. Acidophilus or B. Bacterium, have wide-reaching effects. They often act as a starting point from which to add other strains with more specific impacts. Already have probiotics on hand or want to arm yourself with raw knowledge before you shop? The table below shows the research- and expert-backed strains we looked for in each use case:
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.
Probiotics One Daily Support is easily one of our favorite probiotics right now and currently sits at #2 in our ranking of the best probiotics supplements. There’s a number of reasons why I like it so much, but the main one is I just felt SO much better while taking it! My stomach (which sometimes gives me issues due to IBS) felt great and I had a bit more energy than usual. I was also able to digest all my meals without any problems, a major plus! Further, Daily Support is very allergy-friendly, doesn’t require refrigeration and comes with a 60-day guarantee. So all-in-all, we gave Probiotics One 5 out of 5 stars and truly think it’s a REALLY great probiotic. Read the full review here… or click here to go buy it now!
Some yogurts contain the aforementioned bacteria; however, because they are sensitive to oxygen, light, and dramatic temperature changes, make sure to look for yogurts with “live and active cultures.” Many commercial yogurts are heat-treated or pasteurized, resulting in the loss of these valuable cultures. Learn more about the smart way to shop for probiotics.
Culturelle Probiotics, although very basic, is still a great probiotic supplement. The results I got from trying it were positive– I felt pretty good throughout the entire trial period. Although this product only contains one strain of probiotic, the one they chose is a solid one. The cell count is 10 billion, which is a good number for a daily probiotic. Lastly, Culturelle doesn’t contain any frequently-irritating ingredients like milk, dairy or gluten. Read the full review here… or click here to go buy it now!
Bifidobacteria is a family of bacteria that has been studied for its ability to prevent and treat various gastrointestinal disorders, including infections, irritable bowel syndrome and constipation. In addition to making lactic acid, it also makes some important short-chain fatty acids that are then absorbed and metabolized by the body. There is also some experimental evidence that certain bifidobacteria may actually protect the host from carcinogenic activity of other intestinal flora.
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.
When looking at the list of possible causes, it is no surprise that gut function plays a role in brain fog. The gastrointestinal (GI) tract is in direct and indirect communication with the brain, and microbes in the gut can affect, for better or for worse, the types of communication that occur between the GI tract and the brain. Additionally, harmful products from pathogens in the gut can travel to the liver, overloading the liver and causing toxins to be circulated to the brain and contributing to brain fog.
There have been multiple additional studies which link stress to changes in gut bacteria, so there does appear to be some sort of link. But Lebwohl says it’s not enough to recommend widespread use in clinical practice. He referred to these as “hypothesis-generating studies,” which should lead to concrete clinical trials in which the probiotics are tested against a placebo. “These are important studies,” he says. “But it’s premature to call them practice-changing studies.”
Probiotics may seem new to the food and supplement industry, but they have been with us from our first breath. During a delivery through the birth canal, a newborn picks up the bacteria Bacteroides, Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus, and Escherichia coli from his/her mother. These good bacteria are not transmitted when a Cesarean section is performed and have been shown to be the reason why some infants born by C-section have allergies, less than optimal immune systems, and lower levels of gut microflora.
Even for healthy people, there are uncertainties about the safety of probiotics. Because many research studies on probiotics haven’t looked closely at safety, there isn’t enough information right now to answer some safety questions. Most of our knowledge about safety comes from studies of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium; less is known about other probiotics. Information on the long-term safety of probiotics is limited, and safety may differ from one type of probiotic to another. For example, even though a National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH)-funded study showed that a particular kind of Lactobacillus appears safe in healthy adults age 65 and older, this does not mean that all probiotics would necessarily be safe for people in this age group.
This cabbage condiment can frequently be found atop a mighty hot dog, but its roots trace all the way back to the 4th century B.C. Cabbage was fermented to preserve the veggie, resulting in what we all know as sauerkraut. Palmer points out that modern techniques for canning sauerkraut results in a product packed in a vinegar solution without live, active bacteria in the mix. For most probiotic power, eat fresh sauerkraut (look for live cultures on the label or buy it in the refrigerated section) or make it yourself at home.
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.
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.
Lactobacillus predominantly live in your small bowel (the portion of your gut that follows the stomach). Probiotics containing Lactobacillus sp. help to repopulate the small intestine with friendly organisms that aid in supporting digestion and immune function. The most beneficial are L. acidophilus, L. plantarum, and L. paracasei. One study found Lactobacillus acidophilus could reduce gut inflammation. L. rhamnosus helps increase GABA expression (an inhibitory neurotransmitter that helps you feel relaxed) in the brain, resulting in lower anxiety and depression-related behavior. Another found that a combination of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria (which we'll talk about next) improved symptoms of bloating in patients with functional bowel disorders, and yet another found that when people took the Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG strain, it significantly reduced the risk for antibiotic-associated diarrhea.
In the past five years, for example, several combined analyses of dozens of studies have concluded that probiotics may help prevent some common side effects of treatment with antibiotics. Whenever physicians prescribe these medications, they know they stand a good chance of annihilating entire communities of beneficial bacteria in the intestine, along with whatever problem-causing microbes they are trying to dispel. Normally the body just needs to grab a few bacteria from the environment to reestablish a healthy microbiome. But sometimes the emptied niches get filled up with harmful bacteria that secrete toxins, causing inflammation in the intestine and triggering diarrhea. Adding yogurt or other probiotics—especially the kinds that contain Lactobacillus—during and after a course of antibiotics seems to decrease the chances of subsequently developing these opportunistic infections.
However, this particular probiotic does not contain any additional vitamins, minerals, or plant extracts like some of the other brands we have reviewed. The Probiotic Pearls are a great option for women looking for an introductory probiotic or one with less fuss, but likely won’t pack the same punch as probiotics that include mineral blends and added vitamins in their formulas. This probiotic was also not designed to treat or prevent urinary tract problems, and may not be as suitable as other brands for women with recurrent urinary tract infections.
Every woman’s microbiota is different and so results will vary. However clinical studies using the blend of probiotic strains in AZO Complete Feminine BalanceTM demonstrated benefits in as little as 7 days. We suggest continuing with use of the product for a minimum of 30 days. Also, keep in mind that for regular maintenance, you may not SEE results but the product is still helping to protect and maintain a healthy vaginal flora.*
To factor strain-specific benefits into our efficacy score, we referenced the information in these guides. Products were rewarded for containing strains on these lists. Additionally, measured levels of each strain were compared to what is thought to be effective based on these guides, and scores were scaled accordingly. In cases where products did not list strain-specific amounts, or their listed strains were not included in these guides, total measured CFUs were compared to a general effectiveness threshold of 1 billion CFUs cited by research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition11.