The root of the word probiotic comes from the Greek word pro, meaning "promoting," and biotic, meaning "life." The discovery of probiotics came about in the early 20th century, when Elie Metchnikoff, known as the "father of probiotics," had observed that rural dwellers in Bulgaria lived to very old ages despite extreme poverty and harsh climate. He theorized that health could be enhanced and senility delayed by manipulating the intestinal microbiome with host-friendly bacteria found in sour milk. Since then, research has continued to support his findings along with suggesting even more benefits.
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.
After further analyzing the data, the researchers found that they could predict whether the probiotics would take hold in people's guts by examining their microbiome and gene expression in the gut taken at the start of the study. However, this prediction method needs to be confirmed in future studies. The researchers called for further research to better understand why some people resist colonization by probiotics, as that future research may enable researchers to counteract the resistance.
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Large bodies of evidence suggest that probiotics are effective against several forms of diarrhea, including antibiotic-associated diarrhea, acute diarrhea, traveler’s diarrhea, infectious diarrhea and other associated diarrhea symptoms. They also help with constipation relief. Probiotics have also been found in meta-analyses to reduce the pain and severity of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms, aid in the eradication of H. pylori and treat pouchitis, a condition that occurs after the surgical removal of the large intestine and rectum.
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.
Evidence from clinical trials is mixed and often of low quality, but findings from meta-analyses suggest that probiotics can provide benefits in the treatment of some conditions, such as infectious and antibiotic-associated diarrhoea. As such, taking probiotics after antibiotic treatment is an increasingly common practice. However, two studies recently reported in Cell question whether taking highly concentrated supplements of so-called good bacteria aids the recovery of normal gut flora.
Probiotics' side effects, if they occur, tend to be mild and digestive (such as gas or bloating). More serious effects have been seen in some people. Probiotics might theoretically cause infections that need to be treated with antibiotics, especially in people with underlying health conditions. They could also cause unhealthy metabolic activities, too much stimulation of the immune system, or gene transfer (insertion of genetic material into a cell).
Because chronic inflammation is at the root of many diseases and health conditions, the fact that probiotics exert this effect in the gut, where 80 percent of the immune system lies, is crucial. The immune-boosting benefits of probiotics seem to be particularly helpful for the quality of life of seniors. Currently, research is underway to test whether probiotics can “reduce inflammation and improve gut immune health in HIV-positive individuals” who haven’t yet undergone treatment.
What are the benefits of taking probiotics? Bacteria have a reputation for causing disease, so the idea of tossing down a few billion a day for your health might seem — literally and figuratively — hard to swallow. But a growing body of scientific evidence suggests that you can treat and even prevent some illnesses with foods and supplements containing certain kinds of live bacteria. Northern Europeans consume a lot of these beneficial microorganisms, called probiotics (from pro and biota, meaning "for life"), because of their tradition of eating foods fermented with bacteria, such as yogurt. Probiotic-laced beverages are also big business in Japan.
“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.”
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.
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: