The large intestine is home to hundreds of trillions of bacteria. Fortunately, most are neutral or even beneficial, performing many vital body functions. For example, they help keep “bad” bacteria at bay, play a role in immunity, help us digest food and absorb nutrients and may even have anticancer effects. But will consuming them as probiotics in foods or capsules make a notable difference to your health—especially if you are already healthy? Here’s a look at the evidence.
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.
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:
The bad news about constipation is that there can be many causes, from simple causes like dehydration and lack of fiber to complicated structural causes or disease. While constipation may seem to be only a nuisance that causes uncomfortable symptoms such as abdominal bloating or pain, the truth is that constipation increases the risks of several diseases.
To factor strain-specific benefits into our efficacy score, we referenced the information in these guides. Products were rewarded for containing strains on these lists. Additionally, measured levels of each strain were compared to what is thought to be effective based on these guides, and scores were scaled accordingly. In cases where products did not list strain-specific amounts, or their listed strains were not included in these guides, total measured CFUs were compared to a general effectiveness threshold of 1 billion CFUs cited by research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition11.
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.
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.
I didn’t know there was much of a difference between probiotics until I did some research. After realizing the ones I had been getting were probably not doing anything for me, I wanted to invest in a better option. This brand checked all the boxes and was still really affordable! I’ve been taking them for about a week now and I can tell a difference! The first few days I didn’t feel too great but realized it was because this probiotic was actually doing something for me and rebalancing my gut. Now I feel less bloated and all around healthier. I will definitely be getting more! 

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.

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.
"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.
You also want to look at the guarantee fine print: If the CFU number is guaranteed at time of manufacturing, but not at the time of expiration, you could be taking a less potent dose of probiotics than you think because potency fades over time. I made this mistake when I was traveling once and went to the grocery store to pick up probiotics. On the bottle label it said guaranteed at 20 billion CFU at the time of manufacturing. This doesn’t tell you the CFU for when I was actually taking the probiotics. For instance, our probiotics are manufactured at 60 billion and 200 billion CFU, and guaranteed at 30 billion and 100 billion CFU, respectively, at time of expiration.
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.
“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.”
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.
If you are seeking non-dairy yogurt options, there are several that contain live probiotic cultures. Yogurts made from rice, soy and coconut milk are available on the market and also contain added probiotics that can provide the same benefits. Other alternative sources of probiotics include eating fermented foods like Brewer’s yeast, miso, sauerkraut, or micro algae. Whatever the source, always look for “live and active cultures” on the label.
The second piece of research investigated whether patients should take probiotics to help the recovery of the natural gut bacteria after treatment with antibiotics. The evidence supporting this is not entirely clear and the FDA does not officially recommend it, but there are some reputable sources which discuss their use, such as this blog from Harvard Medical School. Research has suggested that up to 60% of healthcare professionals in the U.S. recommend taking probiotics, but is this justified and could it even be harmful?
Sick of fighting off cold after cold? The Align Daily Immune Support Probiotic Supplement is a great way to give your immune system a boost while protecting your gut bacteria. Align is one of the most popular probiotic brands out there and is trusted by both doctors and nutritionists. The Daily Immune Support has Bifidobacterium lactis BB-12, a probiotic strain thought to be most beneficial to your immune health. It’s a lactic acid bacteria that can also help to fight lactose intolerance. This probiotic contains five billion CFUs (generally, most adults should take at least one billion CFUs in a probiotic) and is meant to be taken once a day.
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 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.
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.
"Many chronic health problems and inflammatory diseases are caused by a damaged microbiome where the good bacteria is overrun by the harmful bacteria and can't reinforce the gut walls, which results in increased intestinal permeability where bacteria and toxins leak through the intestines into the bloodstream triggering a system-wide immune response of inflammation that is a part of our body's natural healing cycle."
Depression often goes hand in hand with anxiety. Both conditions can have origins in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which typical antidepressants and benzodiazepine medications do not address. Since there is a connection between the health of the GI tract and the health of the nervous system/brain, directly through the vagus nerve and also via indirect chemical effects, improving the former can positively affect the latter.
You know antibiotics can help fight off bacterial infections, but overusing them can actually deplete the good bacteria in your body, reports Harvard Medical School. (That's why doctors recommend you don't take antibiotics unless you really need them.) If you must go on meds, talk with your doctor about taking probiotics afterward, as the NCCIH says they can help recover beneficial microorganisms afterward and help keep the ratio of good to bad bacteria in balance.
In the second study, the researchers questioned whether patients should be taking probiotics to counter the effects of antibiotics, as they are often told to do in order to repopulate the gut microbiota after it's cleared by antibiotic treatment. To look at this, 21 volunteers were given a course of antibiotics and then randomly assigned to one of three groups. The first was a "watch-and-wait" group that let their microbiome recover on its own. The second group was administered the same generic probiotics used in the first study. The third group was treated with an autologous fecal microbiome transplant (aFMT) made up of their own bacteria that had been collected before giving them the antibiotic.
Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CDN, founder and director of Real Nutrition based in NYC, discusses the effect probiotics have on immune system issues. "Probiotics compete with pathogenic microorganisms and produce chemicals that inactivate or kill pathogens," says Shapiro. "They help prevent immune-mediated diseases by improving the gut mucosal immune system. Overall, probiotics protect the body from infections and allow the body to maintain homeostasis."

This story has played out before, most notably with vitamin supplements, which decades of research have revealed to be completely unnecessary for most adults and, in some cases, dangerous, correlating with higher rates of lung, breast and prostate cancers. But that has not stopped marketers from pushing another nutritional craze. According to a National Institutes of Health survey, the number of adults in the U.S. taking probiotics or their cousins, prebiotics (typically nondigestible fibers that favor the development of gut bacteria), more than quadrupled between 2007 and 2012, from 865,000 people to nearly four million. San Francisco–based business consulting firm Grand View Research estimates that the global probiotics market exceeded $35 billion in 2015 and predicts that it will reach $66 billion by 2024.
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.

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.


Some yogurts contain the aforementioned bacteria; however, because they are sensitive to oxygen, light, and dramatic temperature changes, make sure to look for yogurts with “live and active cultures.” Many commercial yogurts are heat-treated or pasteurized, resulting in the loss of these valuable cultures. Learn more about the smart way to shop for probiotics.
We have to give a nod to the most famous probiotic food: yogurt. Whether you love Greek or regular, low-fat or full-fat, look for the phrase "live active cultures" on the label. And although choosing a plain yogurt has less added sugar than the flavored kinds, Tallmadge gives you the okay to choose a fruit-infused flavor if that's the only way you'll eat it. Just be sure to aim for fewer than 15 grams of the sweet stuff per serving; sugar can feed the bad bugs in your gut.

Overall, Garden of Life Primal Defense Ultra is one of my favorite probiotics! It uses a wide variety of potent probiotic strains that may help with daily digestion and specific stomach ailments. So it’s very flexible as far as probiotics are concerned. After personally testing out the product, my overall health felt improved, I wasn’t bloated, and I was digesting my food much better than normal.  Read the full review here… or click here to go buy it now!

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