Notably, after someone was tagged a “persister” or “resister” clear patterns emerged on how probiotics would impact his or her indigenous microbiome and gut bacteria profile. "Although all of our probiotic-consuming volunteers showed probiotics in their stool, only some of them showed them in their gut, which is where they need to be," Eran Segal said in a statement. "If some people resist and only some people permit them, the benefits of the standard probiotics we all take can't be as universal as we once thought. These results highlight the role of the gut microbiome in driving very specific clinical differences between people."
If that's not enough, your doctor may also suggest a probiotic supplement. But don't go and grab just anything off the pharmacy shelf. Probiotic supplements are not all the same, and they often contain different strains to serve different needs, says naturopathic physician Amy Fasig. Example: What one person gets to battle strep throat is different from what would be prescribed for someone suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome, she says.
Vitamin Bounty’s probiotic contains a variety of well-studied strains and a competitive 25 Billion CFU. It also contains a natural prebiotic resistant starch, rice flour, to fuel the strains this probiotic supplies. Over 95% of Pro 25’s strains were still active and viable, the second highest observed strain viability out of all probiotics reviewed-to-date!
If you go with a supplement, know that the FDA regulates these products but treats them like foods and not medications. Unlike drug manufacturers, supplement makers don’t have to show their products are safe or effective to sell them. That means that these firms are in charge of checking the safety and labeling of their products before they sell them to make sure they meet FDA rules.
The probiotic industry is booming, but the benefits of probiotic products and the quantity of viable bacteria they contain can vary. So, instead of adding bacteria from an outside source, you might be better off consuming prebiotics, like fermentable fiber, which support your own beneficial bacteria, Dr. Cresci says. Good dietary sources of prebiotics include dried beans and other legumes, garlic, asparagus, onions, leeks, certain artichokes, green bananas and wheat. Prebiotic supplements are available, as well.
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.
Although some probiotics have shown promise in research studies, strong scientific evidence to support specific uses of probiotics for most health conditions is lacking. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any probiotics for preventing or treating any health problem. Some experts have cautioned that the rapid growth in marketing and use of probiotics may have outpaced scientific research for many of their proposed uses and benefits.
We’ll start with the headliner: the BIO-tract peral, which packs the equivalent of 75 billion CFUs into one tiny, filler-free, 5-billion CFUs pearl. The trick is in protecting those 5 billion CFUs over an 8 to 10-hour period, so they bypass your acidic stomach and reach your intestinal tract, alive and well, allowing you to experience the full and multitudinous benefits of plentiful and beneficial gut bacteria.
In the United States, most probiotics are sold as dietary supplements, which do not undergo the testing and approval process that drugs do. Manufacturers are responsible for making sure they're safe before they're marketed and that any claims made on the label are true. But there's no guarantee that the types of bacteria listed on a label are effective for the condition you're taking them for. Health benefits are strain-specific, and not all strains are necessarily useful, so you may want to consult a practitioner familiar with probiotics to discuss your options. As always, let your primary care provider know what you're doing.
Even for those without an urgent problem, probiotics can help with overall digestive management. Challa argues in his book, Probiotics For Dummies, that good bacteria help "crowd out" bad bacteria. That's because the intestine is lined with adherence sites where bacteria latches on. If the sites are populated with good-for-you microbes, there's no place for a harmful bacterium to latch on.
Most probiotics are like what is already in a person's digestive system. Some probiotics have been used for a very long time throughout history, such as in fermented foods and cultured milk products. These don't appear to cause illness. But more study is needed on the safety of probiotics in young children, the elderly, and people who have weak immune systems.
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.
Called probiotics, these good bacteria help break down food, synthesize vitamins, prevent bacteria that cause illness from getting a foothold, and bolster immunity. Some studies suggest that as we get older, the number and variety of good bacteria in our bodies decline. So taking probiotic supplements to replenish them might seem like a no-brainer.
Myriad factors – antibiotics, diet, stress, and age, among them – affect the balance of diverse microbes present in your gut. While you can replenish your gut bacteria by eating well and incorporating natural probiotics (ex. yogurt and kefir) into a healthy diet, these processes can take weeks or months; taking a regular probiotic is an easy and effective way to ensure your gut (and immune system) stays healthy, always.
However, it is not just digestive woes that probiotics can help address. A clinical case series followed 300 patients who took a probiotic mixture of L. acidophilus and L. Bulgaricus. They documented that 80% of acne patients had some degree of clinical improvement, particularly effective in inflammatory acne. Later, an Italian study involving 40 patients found L. Acidophilus and B. Bifidum supplementation produced better clinical outcomes in acne as well as better tolerance and compliance with antibiotics .
Jo A. Panyko is a Master Nutrition Therapist and author of two books about probiotics. She is a professional member of the National Association of Nutrition Professionals (NANP) and works as a functional medicine nutrition therapist (nutritionist) at her company, Chrysalis Nutrition and Health. She writes about how to be healthy with probiotics on her website, powerofprobiotics.com.
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.)
Scientists are investigating probiotics, and their combined effects, by trying to classify the probiotic benefits of ingesting specific probiotic strains and understanding their role in the digestive tract. At present, the methodological and ethical limitations of human studies still make it difficult to fully understand the mechanisms of action of probiotics, but some explanations are available. Nevertheless, benefits linked to the consumption of probiotic strains have already been suggested (e.g. helping to support the immune system, help support digestive health), and others are still being investigated.
Keep in mind that when supplements contain a specific number of organisms, this number may not be what is actually within each capsule at the time of purchase. Probiotics are living organisms and can die out easily. Especially if that supplement sits on your drugstore or warehouse shelf for months or longer, the number of organisms you get may be far less than what the bottle claims. Hardier strains have a longer shelf life. Capsule strength decays faster if the probiotic has been sitting around at elevated temperatures during transport to the store. Companies actually have to produce probiotics with a much higher CFU (colony-forming units; see below) count in each capsule in order to guarantee the label potency by the expiration date.
Other foods without substantial research: miso (fermented soybean paste); tempeh; sauerkraut; aged soft cheese; sourdough bread; sour pickles; gundruk (nonsalted, fermented, and acidic vegetable product); sinki (indigenous fermented radish tap root food); khalpi (fermented cucumber); inziangsang (traditional fermented leafy vegetable product prepared from mustard leaves); soidonis (widespread fermented product prepared from the tip of mature bamboo shoots)
What exactly do probiotics do? They are believed to protect us in two ways. The first is the role that they play in our digestive tract. We know that our digestive tract needs a healthy balance between the good and bad bacteria, so what gets in the way of this? It looks like our lifestyle is both the problem and the solution. Poor food choices, emotional stress, lack of sleep, antibiotic overuse, other drugs, and environmental influences can all shift the balance in favor of the bad bacteria.