If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. Taub-Dix recommends to err on the side of caution when purchasing probiotic food products that tout over-the-top claims. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate probiotics as its own food group. Instead, they’re regulated based on the form they take on: dairy products, dietary supplements and powders, or medical foods.
The popular frenzy surrounding probiotics is fueled in large part by surging scientific and public interest in the human microbiome: the overlapping ecosystems of bacteria and other microorganisms found throughout the body. The human gastrointestinal system contains about 39 trillion bacteria, according to the latest estimate, most of which reside in the large intestine. In the past 15 years researchers have established that many of these commensal microbes are essential for health. Collectively, they crowd out harmful microbial invaders, break down fibrous foods into more digestible components and produce vitamins such as K and B12.
We love that RAW offers proprietary blends for various needs, including specialty formulas for women and men. Both support the standard systems (immune, digestive, etc.), and the women’s probiotic tacks on extras, including L. reuteri and L. rhamnosus, to support vaginal health. The men’s blend adds L .fermentum, to boost immunity during exercise and other physical exertion.
Coming in at a close second, our runner-up as the best probiotic for women is the Culturelle Women’s Healthy Balance Probiotic. As the #1 recommended brand by pharmacists, it is easy to see why so many women are turning to Culturelle for their digestive health. Featuring the LGG culture and a laundry list of other healthy bacteria, this probiotic offers a wonderful balance between digestive and feminine health. The Culturelle Women’s Healthy Balance Probiotic is also taken in an easy, chewable tablet and can even be taken during pregnancy, making it one of the most versatile formulas we reviewed!
Let’s start at the very beginning: probiotics are bacteria. We know what you’re thinking, bacteria cause infections and are just generally kind of gross. Well, in some aspects, you’re absolutely right. But when it comes to your digestive and feminine health, some bacteria are teeny tiny miracle workers that can make all the difference in the way you feel!
Of course, your gut microbiome can only do this when it’s healthy and in balance, which is where probiotics come in. Since so many factors can deplete your beneficial bacteria—including everything from exposure to antibiotics in food or medication to spending too much time inside—supplementing with a premium probiotic is almost always necessary to maintain balance.
In these cases, IBS is essentially just TMI. “For the colon to be functioning properly, it needs to be contracting and relaxing in a way that is conducive to regular bowel movements that occur at predictable times and don’t occur too frequently or too rarely," Lebwohl says. "And the bowel needs to be giving infrequent feedback to the brain. People should not be getting updates from their bowel in terms of cramps or the feeling of having to have a bowel movement too often. Yet, people with IBS get very frequent unsolicited ‘progress reports’ from the bowel.”
Taking probiotics can also help keep your urinary system working properly. While you might think that yeast imbalances or urinary tract issues are primarily women's problems, both are common in men as well, especially in those whose bacterial balance is off-kilter. Taking probiotics can help address these issues by encouraging the growth of good bacteria to crowd out unwanted yeast.10
Probiotics are bacteria that help keep the natural balance of organisms (microflora) in the intestines. The normal human digestive tract contains about 400 types of probiotic bacteria that reduce the growth of harmful bacteria and promote a healthy digestive system. The largest group of probiotic bacteria in the intestine is lactic acid bacteria, of which Lactobacillus acidophilus, found in yogurt with live cultures, is the best known. Yeast is also a probiotic substance. Probiotics are also available as natural health products.
In the gastrointestinal tract L. Plantarum can help regulate immunity and control inflammation. A 2007 study found that the probiotic could suppress an inflammatory response in the gut. Perhaps most significantly, a double blind placebo-controlled study over 4 weeks concluded that L. Plantarum 299v provided effective symptom relief, especially of abdominal pain and bloating, in patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome .
A Seal of Approval When looking for a good probiotic, Gans advises consumers to buy from a trusted retailer and look for a seal from a third-party certifier. “Reputable probiotic supplements should list the genus, species, and strain, in addition to the number of organisms that will be alive by the use-by date and the dose on the label,” says Gans. This transparency will help consumers understand what’s in their supplement and how to best use it.
Even if some of the bacteria in a probiotic managed to survive and propagate in the intestine, there would likely be far too few of them to dramatically alter the overall composition of one's internal ecosystem. Whereas the human gut contains tens of trillions of bacteria, there are only between 100 million and a few hundred billion bacteria in a typical serving of yogurt or a microbe-filled pill. Last year a team of scientists at the University of Copenhagen published a review of seven randomized, placebo-controlled trials (the most scientifically rigorous types of studies researchers know how to conduct) investigating whether probiotic supplements—including biscuits, milk-based drinks and capsules—change the diversity of bacteria in fecal samples. Only one study—of 34 healthy volunteers—found a statistically significant change, and there was no indication that it provided a clinical benefit. “A probiotic is still just a drop in a bucket,” says Shira Doron, an infectious disease expert at Tufts Medical Center. “The gut always has orders of magnitude more microbes.”
Probiotics have direct and indirect effects on your immune system. They can help tip an imbalance in an immune response, such as in seasonal allergies, to a more balanced state. Probiotics benefits have direct and indirect effects on your nervous and endocrine systems, too, and are part of your enteric nervous system. They can influence every system in your body. The amount of probiotic pills and supplements shown to be beneficial in research for various conditions differs based on the population and condition studied, so no blanket recommendations can be made.
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.
Third-party testing: Lastly, it's important to remember that probiotics are an unregulated supplement. "Find out whether there is third-party data verifying the potency, purity, and effectiveness of the product," suggests Dena Norton, a registered dietitian and holistic nutrition coach. "Remember that dietary supplements aren't regulated, so you can't necessarily just trust the claims on the label." Check out AEProbio, a site that has compiled research on specific brands of probiotics available in the U.S., recommends Scarlata, and an NSF seal is always a good marker to look for.
Dermatologist Dendy Engelman, MD, also points out the key role probiotics play in gut health and your body's immune system. "Probiotics are live microorganisms that may be able to help prevent and treat some illnesses," explains Engelman. "Probiotics can create 'holes' in bad bacteria and kill them. Similar to the way antibiotics work in the treatment of acne and rosacea, probiotics can help fight harmful bugs from triggering inflammation. In patients with acne and rosacea, living microorganisms on the skin are recognized as foreign by the body's immune system. The immune system springs into action to counter this potential threat resulting in the inflammation, redness, or bumps common in these skin conditions."
Cardiovascular health is a major concern for men in Western societies. While some of the main challenges to maintaining a healthy heart (like excessive drinking and smoking) aren’t nearly as widespread as they once were, unwanted changes in heart function are still one of the most common reasons for men to need emergency medical care.1 But taking probiotics can help you keep your heart firing on all cylinders, even as you age.
More than 80 years later, probiotics have become wildly popular and incredibly profitable. A 2012 survey by the National Institutes of Health showed that 3.9 million Americans stated they had used some form of probiotics or prebiotics (a type of dietary fiber thought to feed the friendly bacteria in your gut) in the last 30 days—3 million more people than in the previous study in 2007. Probiotics are now available for consumption in almost every imaginable form—pills, tablets, yogurts, juices, cereals, and energy bars. They have been touted as having benefits not only for digestive health, but also mood disorders, cancer, cold and flu prevention, and reproductive health issues.
The prebiotic comes before and helps the probiotic, and then the two can combine to have a synergistic effect, known as synbiotics. A prebiotic is actually a nondigestible carbohydrate that acts as food for the probiotics and bacteria in your gut. The definition of the effect of prebiotics is the selective stimulation of growth and/or activity(ies) of one or a limited number of microbial genus(era)/species in the gut microbiota that confer(s) health benefits to the host. The health benefits have been suggested to include acting as a remedy for gastrointestinal (GI) complications such as enteritis, constipation, and irritable bowel disease; prevention and treatment of various cancers; decreasing allergic inflammation; treatment of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), and fighting immune deficiency diseases. There has also been research showing that the dietary intake of particular food products with a prebiotic effect has been shown, especially in adolescents, but also tentatively in postmenopausal women, to increase calcium absorption as well as bone calcium accretion and bone mineral density. The benefits for obesity and type 2 diabetes are growing as recent data, both from experimental models and from human studies, have shown particular food products with prebiotics have influences on energy homeostasis, satiety regulation, and body weight gain.
In a food sensitivity, the immune reaction is delayed, usually several hours to days after the exposure. Food sensitivities are the most difficult to determine since there is not an immediate reaction. These kinds of issues with foods can cause a wide range of physical and mental problems. An elimination diet followed by reintroduction is one of the best ways to determine a food sensitivity.
Niv Zmora, Gili Zilberman-Schapira, Jotham Suez, Uria Mor, Mally Dori-Bachash, Stavros Bashiardes, Eran Kotler, Maya Zur, Dana Regev-Lehavi, Rotem Ben-Zeev Brik, Sara Federici, Yotam Cohen, Raquel Linevsky, Daphna Rothschild, Andreas E. Moor, Shani Ben-Moshe, Alon Harmelin, Shalev Itzkovitz, Nitsan Maharshak, Oren Shibolet, Hagit Shapiro, Meirav Pevsner-Fischer, Itai Sharon, Zamir Halpern, Eran Segal, Eran Elinav. Personalized Gut Mucosal Colonization Resistance to Empiric Probiotics Is Associated with Unique Host and Microbiome Features. Cell, 2018; 174 (6): 1388 DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2018.08.041
Probiotics stick around for a while, though for how long isn’t precisely clear. You have to keep taking them to continue to reap the benefits. Further, getting a wide variety of strains into your system is beneficial. “Periodically mixing up your probiotic supplement is also a good way to ensure that you get different health-building strains in your health regime,” says Dr. Cook.
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."