But what if investigators could design probiotics to treat specific individuals? Many researchers think personalized probiotics are the most promising path forward for patients with compromised gut microbiomes. Last year Jens Walter of the University of Alberta and his colleagues published a study that gives a glimpse of this potential future. The researchers decided to see what it would take to get the bacteria in a probiotic to successfully colonize the intestines of 23 volunteers. They chose a particular strain of Bifidobacterium longum that earlier studies had indicated could survive in the human intestine. In the study, the volunteers consumed either a drink containing 10 billion live B. longum bacteria or a placebo in the form of a glucose-based food additive (maltodextrin) each day for two weeks. Periodic fecal samples revealed higher than typical levels of B. longum in participants who did not consume the placebo.
Since the bulk of your natural flora exists in your gut, it makes sense that this is the part of your body that feels it most when bacteria become imbalanced. Women, in particular, can experience all kinds of digestive problems, particularly during hormone fluctuations. These are just some of the digestive symptoms a high-quality probiotic can help reduce and even treat:
The U.S. Clinical Guide to Probiotic Products1, Canadian Guide to Probiotic Supplements2 and the WGO Global Guidelines for Probiotics and Prebiotics3 provide suggested effective amounts of specific strains for treating certain health conditions, such as constipation or IBS. All 37 products listed the species of bacteria they contained, but only 14 listed amounts of individual strains. We found that 9 of those 14 products provided beneficial bacteria at effective levels. The Center for Responsible Nutrition recommends4 the industry move toward specifying strains as a best-practice because whether a product works and for what purpose depends on its strains.
Oral health. An increasing number of probiotic lozenges and gums are promoted for oral health—to reduce periodontal disease, throat infections, and bad breath, for example. There’s preliminary evidence that certain strains may have some benefits, but commercial products may not have the same strains and formulations as those tested in published studies.
A popular dish in Japan consisting of fermented soybeans, natto contains the extremely powerful probiotic bacillus subtilis, which has been proven to bolster your immune system, support cardiovascular health and enhance digestion of vitamin K2. Natto can also contain vitamin B12, which is usually lacking in vegan diets. It’s also one of the highest plant-based proteins.
But sometimes you need a little help from outside sources in order to secure those benefits, which is why a lot of experts recommend getting an extra hit of probiotics through food. Fermented options — think keffir, sauerkraut, and kimchi — are a great place to start, says the International Scientific Association of Probiotics and Prebiotics, as are these other surprising foods with probiotics.
Uncontrolled changes in blood sugar levels or a decreased ability to regulate insulin can have serious effects on your overall health, and since far more men than women are at risk for these changes, these issues are well worth paying attention to.5 Research indicates that regularly taking probiotic supplements containing Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium can help your body maintain blood sugar levels already within a normal range, whether you're simply at risk for insulin-related challenges or you're already experiencing them.
Following a healthy and active lifestyle and eating a balanced diet are the best ways to foster a bountiful gut flora. Taking care of your gut flora can help with things like irritable bowel syndrome and chronic constipation, among other things. Even if you’re not sold on pursuing probiotics for your allergies, they’re good to consider if you’re experiencing any gastrointestinal issues.