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.
Have you ever baked bread and had to proof the yeast? Proofing the yeast allows it to become active in the conditions it prefers the most: warm and moist with access to sugar. Baker’s and brewer’s yeast are both forms of Saccharomyces yeasts, as is Saccharomyces boulardii, but these yeasts are usually helpful to you and noninfectious, except in immunocompromised people or people with yeast allergies.
Many women eat yogurt or insert it into the vagina to treat recurring yeast infections, a "folk" remedy for which medical science offers limited support. Oral and vaginal administration of Lactobacilli may help in the treatment of bacterial vaginosis, although there isn't enough evidence yet to recommend it over conventional approaches. (Vaginosis must be treated because it creates a risk for pregnancy-related complications and pelvic inflammatory disease.) Probiotic treatment of urinary tract infections is under study.
While taking a daily probiotic supplement may seem like an easy answer to cure common gut ailments, it’s always best to try for a food first approach, since you can get probiotics from the foods you eat. Probiotics can be found in foods such as yogurt, cheese, miso, sauerkraut, and kimchi. But, adding a supplement into the mix if you haven’t achieved the desired effect through diet alone can be effective.
The idea that consuming probiotics can boost the ability of already well-functioning native bacteria to promote general health is dubious for a couple of reasons. Manufacturers of probiotics often select specific bacterial strains for their products because they know how to grow them in large numbers, not because they are adapted to the human gut or known to improve health. The particular strains of Bifidobacterium or Lactobacillus that are typically found in many yogurts and pills may not be the same kind that can survive the highly acidic environment of the human stomach and from there colonize the gut.
While more research is necessary to truly understand the widespread benefits of different probiotic strains, we do know that not all probiotics are created equal. The Lactobacilli, for instance, live in our digestive, urinary and genital systems and can be found in some fermented foods like yogurt. Bifidobacteria normally live in the intestines as lactic acid bacteria, and are also found in fermented foods. According to nutrition expert Alex Caspero, RD, “For certain conditions, you want to ensure you are taking the strand that is most likely to benefit you.” Here is a simple breakdown to help you determine the best probiotic for you.
This mildly sour, chewy bread is made with a lactic acid starter that contains strains of lactobacillus, a friendly type of bacteria that adds good microbes into the bakery staple. Sourdough may be the healthiest bread choice if diabetes is a concern for you: one 2008 study found that people with pre-diabetes who ate sourdough bread had less of a blood sugar spike compared to when they ate bread made with baker's yeast. (Experts also say fiber-rich whole grain bread can also reduce a post-meal blood sugar spike.) The researchers credit the lactic acid for the favorable effect.
Using probiotics benefits and balances immune function, influences hormone levels, aids in digestion and nutrient absorption, produces some vitamins, and balances blood sugar insulin responses. By preventing and reducing leaky gut and controlling levels of pathogens, probiotics reduce harmful bacterial by-products that can enter the brain and contribute to brain fog.
Bacteria die out over time. Some supplements list the potency when they were manufactured (before they rode in a truck, sat on the shelf at the grocery store, or hung out in the kitchen cupboard for a few months). In this case, there could be dramatically fewer viable bacteria by the time you consume them than when they were first encapsulated, and good bacteria are no good to you dead.
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).
Quick note about some formulations with multiple strains (including this one): Take a look at the label below and you’ll see that the supplement contains a mix of strains, but the label just says there is a total of 20 billion CFUs (how they measure the amount of bacteria). This does not tell us how much of each particular strain there is, and we want to know that there are at least 1 billion CFUs per strain to get a beneficial effect.
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.
Unless you have a perfect gut and are already eating lots of fermented foods—which is rare, although you can work up to this point—it’s difficult to get all the probiotics you need from diet alone. Most of us don’t have perfect guts—everything from antibiotics to high-carbohydrate diets to being born via a C-section can compromise the balance of bacteria in our microbiome. Supplementing with a probiotic can help to restore imbalances, and it’s also just a great preventative health measure, helping to keep your microbiome in balance and your immune system healthy to ward off illnesses.
As with other types of supplements, scientists are still discovering the full potential of probiotics. However, when taken regularly, it is believed that they help support digestive health by helping maintain the balance of beneficial and non-beneficial bacteria in your digestive tract. Having a natural balance of good bacteria in the digestive tract can help defend against occasional digestive issues. In addition, probiotics play an important role in supporting immune health, since 70% of the body's immune system is found in the digestive tract.∗