Walk into any grocery store, and you will likely find more than a few “probiotic” products brimming with so-called beneficial bacteria that are supposed to treat everything from constipation to obesity to depression. In addition to foods traditionally prepared with live bacterial cultures (such as yogurt and other fermented dairy products), consumers can now purchase probiotic capsules and pills, fruit juices, cereals, sausages, cookies, candy, granola bars and pet food. Indeed, the popularity of probiotics has grown so much in recent years that manufacturers have even added the microorganisms to cosmetics and mattresses.
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.∗
4. Ohnmacht C, Park JH, Cording S, Wing JB, Atarashi K, Obata Y, Gaboriau-Routhiau V, Marques R, Dulauroy S, Fedoseeva M, Busslinger M, Cerf-Bensussan N, Boneca IG, Voehringer D, Hase K, Honda K, Sakaguchi S, Eberl G. The microbiota regulates type 2 immunity through RORγt+ T cells. Science. 2015 Jul 9. pii: aac4263. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 26160380.
The side effects of antibiotic use are often not trivial. Many people experience discomfort and a change in bowel habits, but some experience more severe infections, such as opportunistic colonization of the gut with bacteria such as Clostridium difficile (C.diff), which affected half a million Americans in 2015 and was directly responsible for at least 15,000 deaths.
The takeaway: Certain strains were found useful in preventing diarrhea among children being prescribed antibiotics. A 2013 review showed that after antibiotic use, probiotics help prevent Clostridium difficile-associated diarrhea. A review focused on acute infectious diarrhea found a benefit, again for certain strains of bacteria at controlled doses. There’s also evidence that they may help prevent necrotizing enterocolitis (a serious gastrointestinal condition) and death in preterm infants.
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.”
To boost the immune system, B. Lactis is a promising choice. One study had participants taking either a probiotic or a placebo for 6 weeks. At the end of the period, researchers measured antibody levels and found greater increases in antibodies of the B. Lactis group than in placebo participants, concluding that this probiotic may help improve immune function . In addition, a 2009 study found that supplementation of the strain B. Lactis DN-173 led to self-reported improvements in digestive comfort .
One overlooked mechanism that supports your innate immunity is gut health, specifically the role probiotics play. Good probiotics benefit your health by keeping your gut microbiota, inflammation, and immune system balanced preventively, as well as acutely when you are sick, so that no matter which flu strain comes along, your immune system is ready.
Taking relatively high doses of these probiotic strains before, during, and after antibiotic treatment can help your microbiome get back on its feet: B. Lactis, B. Infantis, L. Acidophilus, L. Casei, L. Bulgaricus, L. Paracasei, L. Rhamnosus GG, and S. Boulardii. Our antibiotic combatant MegaFood MegaFlora has six of these strains, as well as eight others. One serving contains 20 billion CFUs to replenish the good bacteria.
Side effects: Probiotics are considered safe overall for healthy people; short-term side effects may include mild gas and bloating. But risks may be greater in immunocompromised people. And a systematic review in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2018 found that the reporting of adverse effects is often missing or inadequate. Also in 2018, an editorial in JAMA Internal Medicine by Dr. Pieter Cohen, a well-known critic of the supplements industry, called for the FDA to improve its regulatory standards for probiotics to match those of Canada and the EU.
If you don’t have a specific health goal in mind and want to bolster the number of good bacteria floating around your system, Perlmutter recommends starting with a minimum of eight to 10 different bacterial species. He included a core five (L. Plantarum, L. Acidophilus, L. Brevis, B. Lactis, and B. Longum) and we added five more highly researched and universally beneficial strains for a general health pick. Vita Miracle, formerly Islands Miracle, has nine of those 10, plus 30 billion CFUs per serving.
Dr. Tobias responded with Deep Immune Support, a shelf-stable capsule that does not require refrigeration and employs four acid-resistant probiotic strains. One such strain: DE111, a highly effective spore-forming probiotic, which complements and balances the non-spore strains most commonly found today, and also supports the proliferation of beneficial bacteria. The patented, delayed-release capsules are made in the USA and are both kosher and vegetarian.
While this feature contributes to the efficiency of the product, it is unclear whether this product is vegetarian like some of the other probiotics we reviewed. Therefore, if you have any dietary restrictions or needs, this may not be the best probiotic for you and may, in fact, cause additional stomach upset or irritation. It is however gluten-free.