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.
Probiotics have become buzzy in recent years: Celebrities including Lauren Conrad and Anna Paquin have been spotted carrying bottles of kombucha, a probiotic-containing fermented tea, and the probiotics market has been growing rapidly as more people pursue better health by taking probiotic supplements. Prebiotics are attracting notice too, but you may still be unsure of what exactly prebiotics and probiotics are. Here's what you need to know about them to decide whether taking supplements is right for you.
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.
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.
Selecting a multi-strain probiotic is also consistent with the theory that filling your gut with enough good bacteria outcompetes any bad bacteria for the same space and resources. In your gut, the more diversified the good bacteria, the harder it is for the baddies to gain a foothold. With all this in mind, we only looked at supplements containing multiple strains of bacteria.
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.
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.
Once GI experts realized there is more to the lower gut than first assumed, the push to understand the diverse roles these bacteria play became urgent. Many mysteries still need solving, but clinical evidence increasingly indicates that people in good health should optimize lower gut bacteria. You can accomplish this by eating prebiotics to encourage the growth of your existing gut microbes, and probiotics to add to the ones that are already there.
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.”
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.
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.
Many women are prone to yeast infections during or after antibiotic use. If you are one of these unlucky few, try taking a probiotic like the vH Probiotics with Prebiotics and Cranberry immediately before taking your antibiotics. (You may want to check with your doctor first though). These cultures may help with stomach upset and can also prevent a dreaded yeast infection!
Next time you pack your travel beauty bag, slip a shelf-stable probiotic in there to preempt bathroom emergencies, Fasig says. Look for one that contains Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus sporogenes, Bifidophilus bifidum, and Sacchromyces boulardii strains ($20, amazon.com), which Fasig says can improve your intestinal health to fix issues with constipation or diarrhea.
With Prebiotin, you can easily add prebiotic fiber to your diet without worrying about eating huge amounts of troublesome foods or hunting down hard-to-find ingredients. You also won’t have to worry about loading up on high-calorie foods that can negatively affect any effort to lose weight. Combining Prebiotin prebiotic fiber with a diet enriched with probiotic foods can only help your effort to positively influence the bacterial balance in your lower gut.
You dread stepping on the scale and avoid looking at your profile in the mirror because you know you gained weight and need to lose some. You tried every diet on the market to no avail. Your frustration level is high, but you do not need to give up hope. The first thing to do is to love yourself regardless of your weight so that your emotions and stress levels do not sabotage your efforts. You can love yourself while working toward self-improvement.
Yes. Probiotics are incredibly important and effective. We know there are more bacteria in us and on us than our own human cells. The body is almost like a puppet—it is bacteria that really runs the show: They turn on enzymes, turn off genes, and dictate much of our health. We need them to break down nutrients, like copper and magnesium, so we can better absorb them. Interestingly, studies show that conditions like anxiety, depression, and weight gain can be transferred via fecal transplants (with mice), suggesting the broad impact bacteria has on health.
Women’s health expert Dr. Amy Myers is a goop-trusted authority on subjects from autoimmunity and Candida to thyroid dysfunction; and she’ll be speaking IRL at our first wellness summit on June 10. Here, Myers helps us evaluate the increasing buzz around probiotics, and outlines the ins and outs of selecting a particular supplement (whether hers or other brands). Plus, we’ve rounded up our probiotic essentials, from inner beauty powders to favorite fermentation recipes, in one guide: