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.
Many wondered whether probiotics could be therapeutic in other gastrointestinal disorders. Unfortunately, that doesn’t appear to be the case. Probiotics didn’t show a significant benefit for chronic diarrhea. Three reviews looked at how probiotics might improve Crohn’s disease, and none could find sufficient evidence to recommend their use. Four more reviews looked at ulcerative colitis, and similarly declared that we don’t have the data to show that they work. The same was true for the treatment of liver disease.
When seeking out the best probiotic for you, consider your overall health, dietary needs, antibiotic use, GI challenges, and similar concerns. Then, review our list of the ten best probiotic supplements, which offer everything from raw probiotics, which must be refrigerated, to shelf-stable, slow-release probiotics that concentrate fewer CFUs in tiny, once-daily capsules.
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.
This makes it harder for your immune system to work properly and leaves you open to feeling under the weather unnecessarily. The good news is that taking probiotics can help replenish your gut microbiome, and since 80% of your immune system is in your gut, this inevitably has a very supportive effect on your immunity. Probiotics also specifically support your mucosal immune systems, found in your ear, nose, and throat area and your lungs, helping you to maintain respiratory health.4
It has been suggested that probiotics be used to treat problems in the stomach and intestines. But only certain types of bacteria or yeast (called strains) have been shown to work in the digestive tract. It still needs to be proved which probiotics (alone or in combination) work to treat diseases. At this point, even the strains of probiotics that have been proved to work for a specific disease are not widely available.
The views expressed in this article intend to highlight alternative studies and induce conversation. They are the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of goop, and are for informational purposes only, even if and to the extent that this article features the advice of physicians and medical practitioners. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.
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.
However, these quality of life improvements are varied, and some improvements are quite mild. Sample group, types of allergies, symptoms, and results are across a broad spectrum. For example, numerous studies have shown that allergic rhinitis responses to the household dust mite decrease significantly in adults and children when probiotics were used. However, people allergic to birch pollen saw neither a decrease in general allergic responses to birch pollen or to apple food.
Fizzy, tangy, and even slightly vinegar-esque, kombucha has a cult following for a reason. The tea gets its natural carbonation from the "scoby" (that float-y thing you see in some bottled varieties), which is actually the bacteria and yeast that ferment the drink and creates the probiotics. "There's not much scientific evidence specifically on the benefits of kombucha, but it is another strategy to introduce more live, active bacteria into your lifestyle," says Palmer. Many are made with fruit juice for added flavor, so read the label to see what you're getting, she advises. Stick to store-bought kombucha; it's tough to keep the tea sanitary when you make it yourself, and homebrewed kombucha been linked to nausea and even toxicity. Also note that due to the fermentation process, kombucha contains trace amounts of alcohol, so it's best to stick to one 12-ounce bottle a day.
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.
But what if we told you that there were steps you could take that could help your thyroid function at its absolute best? Believe it or not, some strands of probiotics do just this, and the Vitamin Bounty Women’s Pro-Daily Probiotic includes these variations! Vitamin Bounty’s Pro-Daily formula may have the positive impacts on your health that you have been looking for.
For example, yogurt is made with two “starter” bacterial cultures — Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus bulgaricus — but these bacteria are often destroyed by your stomach acid and provide no beneficial effect, Dr. Cresci explains. Some companies, though, add extra bacteria into the product, so check the labeling and choose products with bacteria added to the starter cultures, she advises.
But what if investigators could design probiotics to treat specific individuals? Many researchers think personalized probiotics are the most promising path forward for patients with compromised gut microbiomes. Last year Jens Walter of the University of Alberta and his colleagues published a study that gives a glimpse of this potential future. The researchers decided to see what it would take to get the bacteria in a probiotic to successfully colonize the intestines of 23 volunteers. They chose a particular strain of Bifidobacterium longum that earlier studies had indicated could survive in the human intestine. In the study, the volunteers consumed either a drink containing 10 billion live B. longum bacteria or a placebo in the form of a glucose-based food additive (maltodextrin) each day for two weeks. Periodic fecal samples revealed higher than typical levels of B. longum in participants who did not consume the placebo.
One review of probiotics benefits for necrotizing enterocolitis was bold enough to say, “The results confirm the significant benefits of probiotic supplements in reducing death and disease in preterm neonates. The … evidence indicate that additional placebo-controlled trials are unnecessary if a suitable probiotic product is available.” Regarding sepsis in developing countries (where it is overwhelmingly more common), a 2017 randomized, controlled trial claims that a large number of these cases “could be effectively prevented” if mothers are given a synbiotic (probiotic and prebiotic together) that contains the probiotic strain L. plantarum.
Most of the prebiotics identified are oligosaccharides. They are resistant to the human digestive enzymes that work on all other carbohydrates. This means that they pass through the upper GI system without being digested. They then get fermented in the lower colon and produce short-chain fatty acids that will then nourish the beneficial microbiota that live there. Oligosaccharides can be synthesized or obtained from natural sources. These sources include asparagus, artichoke, bamboo shoots, banana, barley, chicory, leeks, garlic, honey, lentils, milk, mustards, onion, rye, soybean, sugar beet, sugarcane juice, tomato, wheat, and yacón. The health benefits from these oligosaccharides is a topic of ongoing research.
However, these naturally-occurring bacteria can easily become imbalanced causing a variety of symptoms from stomach upset to feminine health problems. Probiotics can help get things back on track. Taken in supplement form, probiotics are either live or dormant strains of the same bacteria that your body wants and needs to stay healthy. Over time, these supplements can restore your body’s natural bacteria and prevent some of the most common stomach symptoms, yeast infections, and even urinary tract infections.
An imbalance between good bacteria and pathogenic bacteria, yeasts or fungi, or a change in the bacteria species that colonize the digestive tract is called dysbiosis. It can have short and long-term effects on our body functions. These disruptions can reduce the immune system’s effectiveness, create unpleasant digestive symptoms (diarrhea, constipation, gas, etc.), be a contributor to certain chronic illnesses like obesity, and participate in producing pro-inflammatory metabolites.
When it comes to feminine health, the focus is all about balance. Whether you are trying to starve off annoying yeast infections and BV or recurrent urinary tract infections, the secret to optimal health lies in balancing out the bacteria that are already in your system. That’s why these vH Probiotics with Prebiotics and Cranberry contain prebiotic compounds to promote the growth of good bacteria in the digestive and reproductive systems.
In addition to its powerful probiotic strands, the Vitamin Bounty Women’s Pro-Daily Probiotic also features a proprietary women’s health formula. This blend includes many of the minerals and plant extracts that have been found to be the most beneficial to women’s health, making it ideal for any women that have experienced feminine health problems. Specifically, this Vitamin Bounty formula includes Ashwagandha Root Powder, Cranberry Fruit Powder and Black Cohosh Root Powder.
Unlike MegaFood, the Renew Life label’s cold-storage recommendation is printed so small we nearly missed it (and it didn’t ship with a cold pack). If a probiotic requires refrigeration, be vigilant when buying it — the retailer that stores it or the company that ships it should keep it refrigerated until it gets to you. Otherwise, some of its potency might diminish in storage or transit.
Some companies have been around for years, and you may know their names. Those that have made probiotics for a while likely have tested and studied them over and over. It's smarter to choose a product from them over one from a maker you don't know. Check a third-party certifier (like ConsumerLab or the USP) to see if they have tested the product and found that it’s safe and reliable. If you're in doubt, ask your doctor.
Thankfully, most causes of constipation can be improved with dietary and lifestyle interventions. One of probiotics benefits is constipation relief. Probiotics of many kinds can help with constipation because they can keep the digestive contents moving along through different mechanisms such as short-chain fatty acid production, influences on the nerves of the digestive tract, electrolyte balance, pathogen control, and others. Think of probiotic foods and pills as an addition to other dietary and lifestyle interventions to relieve constipation and return your digestive system to its normal functions.
Make sure to keep them away from moisture and heat which can kill off some of the microbes. I recommend taking on an empty stomach, ideally right when you wake up. You should always store supplements in a cool, dark place but refrigeration is best. Most of the strains of probiotics are fragile and should be protected from heat- so refrigeration is ideal. I recommend the probiotic Gut Instinct from HUM Nutrition for transparency and high quality.
"The proprietary formula in this lotion supports a healthy microbiome of your skin promoting a more hydrated, stronger barrier function and protection from pathogens without harming the good stuff. Throw away your antibacterial soap and hand sanitizer and use this all over after your shower and after washing your hands," says Astarita, who is also a fan of the Nerium Prolistic Powder Pre & Probiotic Plus Vitamins ($45) and Be Well Probiotic Powder ($46) by Dr. Frank Lipman.
Then, study participants were divided into one group that consumed a standard probiotic strain available in commercial supplements and a control group that was given a placebo. After two months of treatment, the researchers found that some people were so-called “resisters” who expelled the gut microbiomes in probiotics; others were identified as “persisters” who successfully colonized the generic probiotic strains in their GI tracts.
Dermatologist Dendy Engelman, MD, also points out the key role probiotics play in gut health and your body's immune system. "Probiotics are live microorganisms that may be able to help prevent and treat some illnesses," explains Engelman. "Probiotics can create 'holes' in bad bacteria and kill them. Similar to the way antibiotics work in the treatment of acne and rosacea, probiotics can help fight harmful bugs from triggering inflammation. In patients with acne and rosacea, living microorganisms on the skin are recognized as foreign by the body's immune system. The immune system springs into action to counter this potential threat resulting in the inflammation, redness, or bumps common in these skin conditions."
While the logic behind probiotics might seem sound, it is clear that we have a long way to go before understanding the complexity of the microbiota and the effects—both good and bad—that probiotics might have. All individuals have a unique gut microbiome, and the effects of different bacteria on different people are likely to be highly variable; as such, probiotic use might even need to be personalised for optimal benefits. Commercially available products might not contain the correct strains or quantities of bacteria to provide benefits, and most probiotic supplements contain only single strains, vastly oversimplifying the complexity of the microbiota. While taking a supplement for improved health is certainly an attractive prospect, those looking to aid their gut microbiota might be better served by consuming a healthy, varied diet. In the meantime, rigorous clinical trials are needed to substantiate potential health benefits and to confirm whether probiotics are elixirs or just empty promises.
As you age, your body needs different supplements and vitamins to stay healthy. Renew Life 50+ Ultimate Flora Probiotic is a smart choice for adults over 50 because it is specifically formulated with seniors in mind. It has 30 billion live cultures and 12 strains of probiotics, including Bifidobacteria, which is a probiotic that decreases in your body as you age. Seniors develop less of the “good” bacteria as they age, and Ultimate Flora has three times the average live cultures in each dose to help replenish and protect gut and immune health. This 60-day supply should be refrigerated to maintain the live cultures.
Although most studies have shown few, if any, negative side effects, it is important to keep in mind that research on probiotics is still in a preliminary phase. There may be some risk for people who have certain health conditions. As with any supplement, it is essential that before you begin to take a probiotic supplement, that you speak with your physician first to help to ensure that you will not be putting your health at risk.
Vitamin Bounty’s probiotic contains a variety of well-studied strains and a competitive 25 Billion CFU. It also contains a natural prebiotic resistant starch, rice flour, to fuel the strains this probiotic supplies. Over 95% of Pro 25’s strains were still active and viable, the second highest observed strain viability out of all probiotics reviewed-to-date!
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."
In the first study, 25 human volunteers underwent upper endoscopies and colonoscopies to sample their baseline microbiome in regions of the gut. 15 of those volunteers were then divided into two groups. The first group consumed generic probiotic strains, while the second was administered a placebo. Both groups then underwent a second round of upper endoscopies and colonoscopies to assess their internal response before being followed for another 2 months.
I’m 65 years of age. I have been taking acid reflux medication daily for at least 15 years and recently my doctor said my kidneys were declining. I’ve read that acid reflux medications taken over a long period of time, can cause kidney damage. By taking a probiotic, will it help reduce stomach acid, where I may be able to stop taking my acid reflux medication altogether?
Probiotics are found in everything from chocolate and pickles to hand lotion and baby formula, and millions of people buy probiotic supplements to boost digestive health. But new research suggests they might not be as effective as we think. Through a series of experiments looking inside the human gut, researchers show that many people's digestive tracts prevent standard probiotics from successfully colonizing them. Furthermore, taking probiotics to counterbalance antibiotics could delay the return of normal gut bacteria and gut gene expression to their naïve state. The research publishes as two back-to-back papers on September 6 in the journal Cell.
Bottom line: Probiotics are a promising field of research and may one day be used to treat or help prevent many disorders. But there’s not enough solid evidence to recommend their widespread use. Vague claims that probiotics "support good digestive health" are meaningless. Larger, longer and better studies are needed to test specific strains for specific conditions and to determine the proper doses and regimens.
If you decide to use a probiotic supplement and get clearance from your doctor for doing so, be sure to read the label carefully. You want to be sure that the supplement contains live strains of the bacteria or yeast, and that the life of these strains is guaranteed at the time of use, and not at the time of manufacture. Other points of comparison are the number of bacteria strains and the number of colony-forming units, although this does not necessarily guarantee results.