Some digestive disease specialists are recommending probiotic supplements for disorders that frustrate conventional medicine, such as irritable bowel syndrome. Since the mid-1990s, clinical studies suggest that probiotic therapy can help treat several gastrointestinal ills, delay the development of allergies in children, and treat and prevent vaginal and urinary infections in women.
In October 2013, the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) organized a meeting of clinical and scientific experts on probiotics (with specialties in gastroenterology, pediatrics, family medicine, gut microbiota, microbiology of probiotic bacteria, microbial genetics, immunology, and food science) to reexamine the concept of probiotics. They define probiotics as "live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host." They also differentiated between products containing probiotics and those containing live or active cultures and established the following criteria:
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To avoid those and other problems, I strongly recommend buying a professional brand from a reputable health care professional or other vendor who stands by their products and undergoes third-party testing. Some of these professional brands have created advanced technology that preserves a probiotic supplement’s survival on the shelf and in your gut.
Look for the probiotic yeast Saccharomyces boulardii (S. Boulardii)—you can take it as a separate supplement or find it in multi-strain probotics. Studies show that it is effective at preventing antibiotic-induced diarrhea and Clostridium diffcicile (C. difficile) infection, which a course of antibiotics can cause. Saccharomyces boulardii increases your secretory IgA—in other words, it strengthens the immune system in the gut. (Some people say that Saccharomyces boulardii is also the panacea for Candida—it’s a yeast that fights yeast—but while it’s helpful for some, other people do not tolerate it well, so I recommend trying it as an individual supplement first to see how you respond.)
Twenty-one volunteers were given a course of antibiotics and then split into three groups. The first group were left to let the microbiome recover without any interventions, the second group were given probiotics and the third were given a fecal transplant of their own gut bacteria which was collected before the antibiotic treatment. The study found that the probiotics easily colonized the gut of the second group, but worryingly, rather than aiding the return of the normal gut microbiome, the probiotics actually significantly delayed it for months compared to both the group that had no intervention and the people who received a transplant of their own gut bacteria.
AZO Complete Feminine BalanceTM is a daily probiotic supplement designed for the unique needs of women. Researchers that formulated the blend started by selecting species that are dominant in the healthy vaginal microbiota. Then they further refined the formula by selecting strains of probiotics that flourish in the vagina. The blend is clinically proven to help protect vaginal/feminine health.*
While more research is necessary to truly understand the widespread benefits of different probiotic strains, we do know that not all probiotics are created equal. The Lactobacilli, for instance, live in our digestive, urinary and genital systems and can be found in some fermented foods like yogurt. Bifidobacteria normally live in the intestines as lactic acid bacteria, and are also found in fermented foods. According to nutrition expert Alex Caspero, RD, “For certain conditions, you want to ensure you are taking the strand that is most likely to benefit you.” Here is a simple breakdown to help you determine the best probiotic for you.
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.
Coming in at a close second, our runner-up as the best probiotic for women is the Culturelle Women’s Healthy Balance Probiotic. As the #1 recommended brand by pharmacists, it is easy to see why so many women are turning to Culturelle for their digestive health. Featuring the LGG culture and a laundry list of other healthy bacteria, this probiotic offers a wonderful balance between digestive and feminine health. The Culturelle Women’s Healthy Balance Probiotic is also taken in an easy, chewable tablet and can even be taken during pregnancy, making it one of the most versatile formulas we reviewed!