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.
How is it that probiotics are such a ubiquitous trend in the wellness scene but subject to tons of misinformation all the same? Consider the myth, for example, that the only appeal of replenishing your good bacteria is smoother digestion. On the contrary, the benefits of probiotics abound: from a boosted mood and better skin to a healthier immune system.
Yeast Infections and Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) – If you’ve ever experienced the discomfort of a yeast infection or BV, then you are probably aware that an overgrowth of bacteria causes these unfortunate episodes. While your reproductive system is supposed to foster a healthy environment for yeast, sometimes these levels can increase causing the pain and discomfort of a yeast infection or bacterial infection. By taking a probiotic that contains prebiotics and feminine health probiotics, you can treat and prevent recurrent symptoms!
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."
Every day, we’re exposed to toxins and inflammation-causing molecules from food and the environment that negatively impact digestion through pathways, such as leaky gut, known in the medical field as intestinal hyperpermeability. In leaky gut, the tight junctions that are supposed to keep disease-contributing compounds from leaving the digestive system are disrupted, allowing a lot of things through into the bloodstream that don’t belong there.
Some companies have been around for years, and you may know their names. Those that have made probiotics for a while likely have tested and studied them over and over. It's smarter to choose a product from them over one from a maker you don't know. Check a third-party certifier (like ConsumerLab or the USP) to see if they have tested the product and found that it’s safe and reliable. If you're in doubt, ask your doctor.
That’s why adding probiotics and prebiotics to your diet provide the best possible outcome from a bacterial perspective. It isn’t always easy to eat naturally prebiotic-enriched foods, however, because they are often distasteful to eat in quantity. Would you enjoy eating several cups of raw onion or garlic every day? Probably not. Other foods that contain prebiotic fiber, such as bread and bananas, are high in calories. Consuming hundreds of calories of these foods every day is counterproductive if you’re trying to lose weight.
In a separate study involving 21 healthy volunteers, also published today in Cell, the same group of researchers found that taking probiotics after treatment with broad spectrum antibiotics may actually delay the return of people's normal gut microbiome. This goes against the idea that probiotics can help "repopulate" people's gut bacteria after antibiotics wipe them out.
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.
Jotham Suez, Niv Zmora, Gili Zilberman-Schapira, Uria Mor, Mally Dori-Bachash, Stavros Bashiardes, Maya Zur, Dana Regev-Lehavi, Rotem Ben-Zeev Brik, Sara Federici, Max Horn, Yotam Cohen, Andreas E. Moor, David Zeevi, Tal Korem, Eran Kotler, Alon Harmelin, Shalev Itzkovitz, Nitsan Maharshak, Oren Shibolet, Meirav Pevsner-Fischer, Hagit Shapiro, Itai Sharon, Zamir Halpern, Eran Segal, Eran Elinav. Post-Antibiotic Gut Mucosal Microbiome Reconstitution Is Impaired by Probiotics and Improved by Autologous FMT. Cell, 2018; 174 (6): 1406 DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2018.08.047
Tempeh is made with fermented soybeans or grains that have been molded into a cake-like form. The nuttier, tangier cousin to tofu can be sliced for sandwiches, tossed into stir-fries, or marinated and grilled. In addition to probiotics, tempeh contains about 15 grams of protein per half-cup and is a good source of iron. Plus, soy foods contain compounds that may help keep cholesterol in check, according to a study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Palmer likes to use tempeh in place of tofu in dishes like stir-fries, salads, and side dishes.
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.
An imbalance between good bacteria and pathogenic bacteria, yeasts or fungi, or a change in the bacteria species that colonize the digestive tract is called dysbiosis. It can have short and long-term effects on our body functions. These disruptions can reduce the immune system’s effectiveness, create unpleasant digestive symptoms (diarrhea, constipation, gas, etc.), be a contributor to certain chronic illnesses like obesity, and participate in producing pro-inflammatory metabolites.
There is one Voluntary Certification Program by which a supplement manufacturer can choose to be evaluated. ConsumerLab.com (CL) is the leading provider of independent test results and information to help consumers and health-care professionals identify the best quality health and nutrition products. Products that have passed their testing for identity, strength, purity, and disintegration can print the CL Seal of Approval on their product. This is one step toward being confident that one is getting the amount and type of probiotic promised by the manufacturer.
If you’re new to Bio-K+, know that each bottle contains 50 billion live and active probiotic bacteria. Probiotics are good for a wide variety of digestive issues, so it’s best to customize your dosage based on what your specific needs are. If you are looking to take a preventative dosage to support the health of your microbiome, start with a ¼ bottle per day. If you suffer from digestive health issues or regularly take antacids, start with a ½ bottle of Bio-K+ per day. If you have more serious gastrointestinal issues or have had to take antibiotics, Bio-K+ probiotics are great for getting your system back on track. Start with a full bottle per day and see how you feel (we’ve had amazing results from our fans!)
In a food allergy, there is an immediate immune reaction to the offensive food. Classic allergic symptoms such as tingling lips, burning/tightness in the mouth/throat, gastrointestinal upset, difficulty breathing, rashes, hives, and even anaphylaxis may be present. Although any food can cause an allergic reaction, the most common offenders are peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, fish, shellfish, eggs, soy, and wheat.
Given that you can get probiotics from the food you eat, you don't necessarily need to take a supplement, and Keatley says she prefers food sources of probiotics to supplements. However, she adds that "There are times when you really need a boost." One example might be during or after a course of antibiotics, as long as you have your doctor's OK, since antibiotics kill both good and bad bacteria: "Seeding your gut with good bacteria can lay the groundwork for a faster recovery and less constipation and diarrhea," Keatley points out. Angelone echoes Keatley's emphasis on food sources of probiotics, but also says that supplements can also play a useful role in "maintaining a healthy gut bacteria colony."
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Probiotics for allergies are fast becoming a preferred treatment method because they are understood to be much safer than traditional allergic rhinitis medication. A nasal spray for allergies is often a ‘go to’ treatment, for example, but allergy nose spray medications often contain corticosteroids, like Beclometasone dipropionate, which could affect bone metabolism, blood cells, and the pituitary gland.
If you’re looking for a great probiotic you can take every day to target everything from gut to skin health, the Culturelle Daily Probiotic is our top choice. Each capsule has 10 billion active cultures of 100 percent Lactobacillus GG, a probiotic that helps curb gas, bloating, and upset stomach, and works to boost your immune system. Each capsule has the probiotic equivalent of 10 cups of yogurt and is dairy-free, sugar-free, and gluten-free. This container comes with 30 pills to be taken just once a day (most recommend taking it at night, especially when you’re just starting on probiotics).
Yes, they may help. Lebwohl says there are reputable studies that show a link between the use of probiotics and the reduction in IBS symptoms, citing this meta-analysis. It's estimated that 11 percent of the world population complains of symptoms like abdominal cramps, diarrhea, constipation, excessive gas and/or mucus in their stools. While for some the condition can be attributed to certain dietary triggers, others appear to be stress-related, which brings us to the heart of where many claims about the effectiveness of probiotics lie—in the gut-brain axis.
DNA Shift is a once-daily, powerful probiotic delivering 50 billion CFUs and 11 probiotic strains. It’s perfect for both men and women who want to improve their gut and brain health. With long-term use, you may even see improved mood and energy levels. This probiotic can help relieve the following: symptoms of gas and bloating, constipation indigestion, irregularity, leaky gut, and diarrhea induced by antibiotics.
"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," says Segal. "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."
The term "prebiotics" is often thrown around when probiotics are mentioned, and they're related to probiotics in a sense. According to Angelone, prebiotics are complex sugars that we don't digest but that are used as fuel by bacteria — including probiotics — that's already in your gut. Registered dietitian-nutritionist Beth Warren, founder of Beth Warren Nutrition and author of Living a Real Life with Real Food, explains that you can think of prebiotics as food for probiotics. You can get prebiotics from foods including asparagus, bananas, garlic, and onions, she says.
Another study by Elinav and his colleagues suggests that not everyone’s gut reacts the same way to probiotic pills. They studied samples of microbiomes from antibiotic users before and after they took supplements for four weeks. The good bacteria were found in the digestive tracts of some people. But in others, the bacteria were present only in stool samples, not in their digestive tracts, where they’re thought to be needed to improve health.
Unlike MegaFood, the Renew Life label’s cold-storage recommendation is printed so small we nearly missed it (and it didn’t ship with a cold pack). If a probiotic requires refrigeration, be vigilant when buying it — the retailer that stores it or the company that ships it should keep it refrigerated until it gets to you. Otherwise, some of its potency might diminish in storage or transit.
Cleaning up your diet to remove things that bother you and to add nutrients you and your microbiota need, physical activity to reduce stress and increase feel-good neurotransmitters, mindfulness to discover how your thoughts affect your feelings, and daily consumption of probiotic pills and foods are easy ways to improve your mental health outlook.