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.
What's more, people who have serious heart issues commonly have S. mutans in their heart valves—this is an undesirable type of bacteria that’s actually more often found in the mouth. If your oral microbiome is in balance, S. mutans are normally kept in control by more beneficial species, but if things get out of balance, they can reproduce and make their way into your bloodstream via openings in your gums, compromising your cardiovascular function.3
It seems like one minute you have diarrhea (D) and the next minute you are constipated (C). Abdominal pain, cramping, and bloating come and go. You are tired of running to the bathroom frequently, or spending a long time in the bathroom waiting for something to happen. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a diagnosis of exclusion. Infections and other causes of your IBS-C dominant or IBS-D dominant symptoms have to be ruled out, but in many cases the diagnosis of IBS doesn’t really provide answers. You may be on a low FODMAP (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols) diet, which helps, but is restrictive.
Lebwohl says IBS isn’t just about intestinal distress. For many IBS sufferers, it’s about the way our brain receives messages about pain. He describes the human colon as “almost reptilian” in the way that it contracts and relaxes throughout the day, but says these contractions are usually happening way below our threshold of consciousness, so we don’t even notice. In people with IBS, the neurotransmitters in our gut (yes, we have them in there too) may be sending severe distress signals to the brain about benign contractions happening in digestive tract.
Some of their benefits are universal, no matter your age or gender: supporting gut health, healthy skin, weight management, and strong teeth. But gender-specific probiotic benefits also exist. For instance, women who take probiotic supplements may be more likely to maintain vaginal and breast health, and expecting mothers who take probiotics can get support with some of the less pleasant side effects of pregnancy.
The beneficial microbes, including probiotics, live with other microbes that are either benign, pathogenic (disease-causing), or opportunistic, meaning that they normally play nicely but can get out of control if given the opportunity. Actually, any microbe can cause you problems if it ends up in a place other than where it is supposed to be. Such a scenario can happen with intestinal permeability, commonly called leaky gut. Leaky gut happens when the layer of skin-like cells in your GI tract develops gaps in between the cells, allowing food particles, toxins, microbes, and other hazards to enter your bloodstream, if not stopped by the immune system. Since mucus, the thin layer of cells, and your immune system are your only defenses against the outside world within your digestive tract, it is very beneficial to you to have helpful microbes protecting you from potentially pathogenic microbes. These beneficial microbes can produce acids or antimicrobial products called bacteriocins, which hinder or kill pathogens. They can also stand in solidarity to prevent pathogens from taking up residence, or displace them if they do.
Quality matters for any supplement, and that goes triple for probiotics. Many commercial brands lack the technology to identify specific strains and how much of that strain each dose contains. That could mean you get an ineffective or potentially harmful dose. It's a great sign if the company is using strains that have been used specifically in clinical trials at a dose similar to or the same as that used in the study. This is one of the only ways to guarantee a probiotic's clinical effectiveness.
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.
Remember that dietary supplements are not tested by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration like medications. And the probiotic strains in the supplements may not be specific for the condition you're looking to treat. You may want to consult with a practitioner, like a registered dietitian, who is familiar with probiotics. Always tell your physician what you are doing that may affect your health.
Studies have shown some benefits linked to Lactobacillus and treating and/or preventing yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, urinary tract infection, irritable bowel syndrome, antibiotic-related diarrhea, traveler's diarrhea, diarrhea resulting from Clostridium difficile, treating lactose intolerance, skin disorders (fever blisters, eczema, acne, and canker sores), and prevention of respiratory infections.
That said, supplements with higher numbers of CFUs are sometimes used to treat conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), allergies, and respiratory illness. While probiotics have generally been found to be safe for most people with normal immune systems, too much can cause gas and upset stomach. We narrowed our search to supplements with dosages between 1 billion and 100 billion CFUs.
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: