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.
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.
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When shopping for a probiotic, the first things to look at are CFUs count and probiotic strains. CFUs is the acronym for colony forming units, and is the measure of how many probiotic bacteria are capable of dividing to form colonies. In other words, the higher the CFUs, the higher the number of active, live good bacteria. Generally speaking, the higher the CFUs, the better, although there are exceptions.
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.
Unless you have a perfect gut and are already eating lots of fermented foods—which is rare, although you can work up to this point—it’s difficult to get all the probiotics you need from diet alone. Most of us don’t have perfect guts—everything from antibiotics to high-carbohydrate diets to being born via a C-section can compromise the balance of bacteria in our microbiome. Supplementing with a probiotic can help to restore imbalances, and it’s also just a great preventative health measure, helping to keep your microbiome in balance and your immune system healthy to ward off illnesses.
"Probiotics help with constipation, diarrhea, colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, abdominal pain, Crohn's disease, and flatulence," says Shapiro. "Probiotics work to increase the number of immunoglobulin cells and cytokine-producing cells in the intestine. They improve the healthy bacteria population in the GI tract by repopulating the gut to help with digestion."
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:
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!
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.
When it comes to probiotics and supplements, fresher is always better! That’s why the Garden of Life Raw Probiotics for Women feature completely raw, live probiotics just as nature intended. This raw formula helps to promote bowel regularity, digestive function, and healthy nutrient absorption all while supporting recurrent constipation, colon irregularities, and vaginal health problems.
Fermenting a cucumber into a pickle amps up a cuke's powers, infusing the crunchy veggie with probiotics. Like sauerkraut, not all pickles offer the good bacteria, though. Look for those made with brine (salt and water) rather than vinegar. These brands will list "live cultures" on the label (like Bubbies). You can also use water, salt, and spices to naturally culture pickles and other veggies—like beets, green beans, and carrots—at home with delicious results. One warning: remember that pickles are salty—one dill can easily offer up more than 10% of your sodium needs in a day.
Probiotic supplements and foods can play a major positive role in brain fog. Lactobacillus, in particular, can produce neurotransmitters used for brain neuron-to-neuron transmission to facilitate thinking. Probiotics can interact with the vagus nerve to the brain, with the enteric nervous system that can communicate with the brain, and with the brain via chemical messengers.
Probiotics and raw fermented foods and drinks, such as sauerkraut and kefir that contain probiotic-like microbes, are very helpful for digestion. They help to keep your gastrointestinal tract at the proper pH for optimal digestion and help to break down foods. They also regulate the motion of your intestines so that food moves through at the proper pace.
We also found strains linked to five other health benefits like weight loss and lowering cholesterol. We feature options for those cases below, but they aren’t top picks because those use cases aren’t as heavily researched as immune health or IBS relief. Still, chances are any probiotic supplement is going to make some improvement to your digestive health, so don’t be afraid to experiment.
Survival past stomach acids - probiotic powder in capsule form is ill prepared when it comes to protecting the delicate bacteria from being pulverized by the harsh environment of the stomach acids. Worse, most of the organisms tend to die off before they reach their intended destination due to moisture that gets trapped between the capsule shell and the powder.
Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) is a bacteria that causes chronic inflammation (gastritis) of the inner lining of the stomach, and also is the most common cause of ulcers worldwide. About 50% of people in the world carries or is infected with H. pylori. Common symptoms of H. pylori infection are occasional abdominal discomfort, bloating, belching or burping, and nausea and vomiting. H. pylori infection is difficult to erdicate, and treatment is with two or more antibiotics.
But before you start reaching for the calcium supplements, there may be a more effective way to support your bone health. Like many other parts of the body, the health of your bones is closely tied to the health of your gut, especially your intestines. Temporary intestinal inflammation can trigger an immune response in which your body releases interleukins, proteins that have an immune function but also absorb bone tissue. If the temporary inflammation remains unaddressed, these molecules can take a toll on your bones, eventually weakening them.14
The U.S. Clinical Guide to Probiotic Products1, Canadian Guide to Probiotic Supplements2 and the WGO Global Guidelines for Probiotics and Prebiotics3 provide suggested effective amounts of specific strains for treating certain health conditions, such as constipation or IBS. All 37 products listed the species of bacteria they contained, but only 14 listed amounts of individual strains. We found that 9 of those 14 products provided beneficial bacteria at effective levels. The Center for Responsible Nutrition recommends4 the industry move toward specifying strains as a best-practice because whether a product works and for what purpose depends on its strains.
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.
Prebiotics and supplementary ingredients — For probiotic bacteria to grow, they also need prebiotics. High-quality probiotic supplements have both prebiotics and other ingredients designed to support digestion and immunity. Examples of these ingredients are (preferably fermented) flaxseed, chia seed, cañihua seed, astragalus, ashwagandha, hemp seed, pumpkin seed, milk thistle, peas, ginger, mung bean and turmeric.
Got your gut on your mind? Then you’re probably up on the health benefits of probiotics. From boosting immunity to improving digestion, probiotics have been touted as the “superhero” of the gut bacteria underworld. And yet, there’s a lot we still don’t know about probiotics because the research is just heating up. To date, most studies that have been done on probiotics are on the Lactobaccilus, Bifidobacterium and Streptococcus thermophilus strains. Meanwhile, there are, oh, upwards of 100 trillion gut-friendly bacteria out there — some of which are popping up in trendy new waters, chocolates, nut butters and more. Here’s what you need to know before giving your gut the royal treatment.
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!
There are many health benefits of probiotics, but there are also a few cautions to heed as well. First, if you are immune compromised (catheters, cancer treatments, HIV, trauma, and so on), please consult your physician to check if there are any contraindications for using probiotics. Second, if you never used probiotics or a particular type of probiotic before, and/or never ate much raw food or indulged in fermented probiotic-rich foods and drinks (such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, or kombucha), please proceed slowly with probiotic supplements and use. Although probiotics are tiny organisms, they can have very potent effects on your body.
“I’d probably stay away from store brands and pay a little extra for the name brand that’s been studied,” Dr. Cresci adds. “Ideally, look for a product that’s been tested for whatever you’re looking to address. It might say it helps with IBS, but you wouldn’t take that same product if you were taking antibiotics. You would want a product that helps with immunity. That’s where a lot of people get confused.”
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!
Back to the question of what are probiotics: There are five main types, each in its own classification called a genus. Within each genus there are multiple species, and within those species there are multiple strains. For example, Lactobacillus is a very common genus of probiotics. Within that genus are numerous species, such as rhamnosus. The genus and species of a microbe are always italicized, making it easy to know that a microbe is involved. In a species such as Lactobacillus rhamnosus (often abbreviated L. rhamnosus), there are many strains. An example of the name of a strain is L. rhamnosus GR-1.
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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.*