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.
Cynthia is the assistant editor and frequent contributor. She’s originally from California, but has lived in many countries including South Korea, China and Germany. She currently lives with her husband in Minnesota. Cynthia is passionate about helping families find the best advice for family life and safety. Cynthia also has experience in early childhood education and holds a TEFL-C certificate from Teachers College, Columbia University. She has been writing about family-focused topics, advice and trends since 2014.
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!
Digestive tract conditions. Probiotic supplements may be useful in treating and preventing inflammatory conditions, such as pouchitis (which affects people who have their colons removed), inflammatory bowel diseases (such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease), and chronic stomach inflammation and ulcers caused by Helicobacter pylori bacterium. They may also be helpful in treating constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, acid reflux, spastic colon; shortening the duration of infectious diarrhea; and reducing the recurrence of bladder and colorectal cancer. Some studies suggest that yogurt is helpful in preventing diarrhea - a common side effect of treatment with antibiotics. It has also been shown to prevent or treat urinary tract infections and vaginal yeast infections in women.
Stability and organism types — Some probiotic strains need to be kept cold in order to preserve their potency. This applies to their production, transport, storage and sales. Others are shelf-stable and don’t require refrigeration. Unfortunately, most refrigerated probiotics never make it past the stomach because they aren’t stable. Instead, look for a shelf-stable product that contains soil-based organisms.
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!
What's more, there's still a lot more to learn about the microbiome and probiotics, in general. "Truth be told, the research area of probiotics and health is still pretty much in its infancy," says registered dietitian Kate Scarlata. Research is growing in the area of gut microbiome daily—but it is much more complicated than first thought." With all these options and major gaps in the available information, where are you supposed to start? Here, gut experts narrow it down to three simple tips for picking the right probiotic for you.
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)
Probiotics help tip the balance back in favor of the good bacteria. In doing so, they may provide some relief if you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ulcerative colitis, acute infectious diarrhea, and diarrhea associated with antibiotic use or Clostridium difficile (C.diff) infection. They also can boost your immunity, fight inflammation and potentially have beneficial effects on cholesterol.
After the antibiotics had cleared the way, the standard probiotics could easily colonize the gut of everyone in the second group, but to the team's surprise, this probiotic colonization prevented the host's normal microbiome and gut gene expression profile from returning to their normal state for months afterward. In contrast, the aFMT resulted in the third group's native gut microbiome and gene program returning to normal within days.
Consuming probiotics regularly will reduce the risk of this. "The concept is that if we have an unhealthy, unbalanced gut environment, toxins can be released into the bloodstream and cause inflammation throughout the body," Engelman adds. "This shift in gut flora and the subsequent inflammation can cause a flare-up in the skin of those who are predisposed to acne, eczema, or rosacea."
That's because issues that can be treated with probiotics stem from specific imbalances in the amount of certain bacterial strains, according to Elena Ivanina, M.D., a gastroenterologist at Lenox Hill Hospital. "Therefore, if someone decides to supplement a particular strain of Lactobacillus, but they already have enough of that strain in their gut and their disease does not stem from a lack of Lactobacillus, then they will not have a response." Makes sense, right?
The reason constipation is linked to disease is that it allows undigested food and bodily wastes to sit in the colon, putrefy, and dry out. As feces dry out, water from the feces is reabsorbed back into the body, and along with it toxins. Additionally, microbes that like those conditions can multiply, releasing their toxic products that are then absorbed into your bloodstream.
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.
The benefit of taking a probiotic supplement is that a supplement contains very specific bacteria known to have a beneficial effect on human health, and a positive impact on our gut microbiome. Taking a probiotic supplement has the added benefit of providing a specific and concentrated dosage of healthy bacteria, so you know you are getting a therapeutic, research-proven dosage every time.
If you don’t have a specific health goal in mind and want to bolster the number of good bacteria floating around your system, Perlmutter recommends starting with a minimum of eight to 10 different bacterial species. He included a core five (L. Plantarum, L. Acidophilus, L. Brevis, B. Lactis, and B. Longum) and we added five more highly researched and universally beneficial strains for a general health pick. Vita Miracle, formerly Islands Miracle, has nine of those 10, plus 30 billion CFUs per serving.
More and more evidence shows that the gut microbiota may play an important role in the development of obesity, obesity-associated inflammation and insulin resistance. Obesity and Type 2 diabetes are associated with changes in gut microbiota. Several studies describe differences between the microbiota of lean individuals and those who are obese. The potential for using probiotics in weight management and obesity and diabetes prevention is exciting.
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.”
It’s important to note that there are different types of strains of probiotics. The probiotics benefits of one probiotic strain may be completely different from the health benefits seen from another probiotic. If you want to use probiotics to address a specific health concern, it’s vital to select the right probiotic for the right condition — or you can consume a wide range of probiotics in your food to be covered.
Since the bulk of your natural flora exists in your gut, it makes sense that this is the part of your body that feels it most when bacteria become imbalanced. Women, in particular, can experience all kinds of digestive problems, particularly during hormone fluctuations. These are just some of the digestive symptoms a high-quality probiotic can help reduce and even treat:
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.
The best case for probiotic therapy has been in the treatment of diarrhea. Controlled trials have shown that Lactobacillus GG can shorten the course of infectious diarrhea in infants and children (but not adults). Although studies are limited and data are inconsistent, two large reviews, taken together, suggest that probiotics reduce antibiotic-associated diarrhea by 60%, when compared with a placebo.
Kimchi: This fermented vegetable is made from Chinese cabbage (beachu), radish, green onion, red pepper powder, garlic, ginger, and fermented seafood (jeotgal). Many bacteria have been found to be present and can include any of the following: Leuconostoc mesenteroides and Lactobacillus plantarum, L. mesenteroides, L. citreum, L. gasicomitatum, L. brevis, L. curvatus, L. plantarum, L. sakei, L. lactis, Pediococcus pentosaceus, Weissella confusa, and W. koreensis. A recent review linked the health benefits of kimchi to anticancer, antiobesity, anticonstipation, colon health promotion, cholesterol reduction, antioxidative and antiaging properties, brain health promotion, immune promotion, and skin health promotion.
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.
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.
On my recent trip to Japan, one thing I noticed was the inclusion of pickled vegetables in almost every traditional Japanese meal. Unfortunately, many Americans don’t consume enough of these probiotic-rich foods and drinks. Even when they do, restoring equilibrium oftentimes requires therapeutic doses of these microorganisms, because most everyone has been on several rounds of antimicrobials. That’s where a probiotic supplement comes in.
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!
You may have heard that taking vitamin C or zinc is helpful, preventively or during sickness. This is because vitamin C and zinc improve the functioning of cells of your innate immunity, your first line of defense against pathogens like the flu. They also are involved in the generation of and protection against the inflammatory response caused by the battle with the flu.
A 2014 review by Cochrane—an independent network of experts who serve as rigorous arbiters of medical research—found that probiotics may be particularly useful in a hospital's neonatal intensive care unit. The addition of beneficial bacteria to a nutritional regimen seems to significantly reduce the likelihood of developing necrotizing enterocolitis, which is a devastating, poorly understood and often fatal gut disease that primarily afflicts preterm infants—especially the smallest and most premature among them. Researchers think that many cases of the disease begin with an opportunistic bacterial infection in the not yet fully developed intestine of an infant. As the illness progresses, gut tissue becomes increasingly inflamed and often starts to die, which can, in turn, rupture the intestine and flood the abdominal cavity with pathogenic microbes that proliferate to dangerous levels. Researchers estimate that 12 percent of preterm infants weighing less than 3.3 pounds will develop necrotizing enterocolitis and that 30 percent of them will not survive. Standard treatment involves a combination of antibiotics, feeding via intravenous tubes, and surgery to remove diseased and dead tissue. Probiotics probably prevent the disorder by boosting the numbers of beneficial bacteria, which may deter the harmful ones.
Following a healthy and active lifestyle and eating a balanced diet are the best ways to foster a bountiful gut flora. Taking care of your gut flora can help with things like irritable bowel syndrome and chronic constipation, among other things. Even if you’re not sold on pursuing probiotics for your allergies, they’re good to consider if you’re experiencing any gastrointestinal issues.