Probiotics are found in everything from chocolate and pickles to hand lotion and baby formula, and millions of people buy probiotic supplements to boost digestive health. But new research suggests they might not be as effective as we think. Through a series of experiments looking inside the human gut, researchers show that many people's digestive tracts prevent standard probiotics from successfully colonizing them. Furthermore, taking probiotics to counterbalance antibiotics could delay the return of normal gut bacteria and gut gene expression to their naïve state. The research publishes as two back-to-back papers on September 6 in the journal Cell.
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.
Others scientists are more hopeful. Finding out how exactly probiotics work in regards to allergies is an important step in that process. Some studies show that some strains of bacteria can affect how our T cells (an immune cell responsible for the big immune responses) function. Others suggest that they may reduce the production of a part of the immune system called immunoglobulin E, which is produced in excess during an allergic reaction.
Sugar is so easily accessible in Westernized cultures that it is easy to overindulge in it. But why do you crave it? There are several reasons. One, sugar usually means sucrose, which is composed of glucose and fructose. Glucose is the sugar in your blood, so consumption of sugar results in a temporary boost of energy. However, that blood-sugar spike causes insulin to be released to usher the sugar into cells for energy or fat storage, and shortly afterward your blood sugar drops. So then you feel a slump and reach for something to bring your blood sugar back up: more sugar.
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.
"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."
If you get sick often, probiotics might be the immune booster you've been looking for. The Cleveland Clinic says they've been shown to strengthen immunity by enriching and replenishing the good bacteria in the body. And when you eat foods with probiotics regularly, it's easier for your body to produce vitamins and enzymes that help keep your intestines happy.
Unfortunately, the U.S. has no federal standards for probiotic supplements. Therefore, you run the risk of purchasing a product without any guarantee that it contains its advertised probiotic strains, that the strains are alive, or that the product is free from unhealthy ingredients. Therefore, it may be best to choose a brand-name probiotic that has research backing their effectiveness. Here are some examples:
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.
AZO Complete Feminine BalanceTM is a daily probiotic supplement designed for the unique needs of women. Many everyday things can throw off your balance (stress, sex, pregnancy, aging, even medications! This product supports your feminine health and maintain a healthy pH so that you can own your day! It contains INTELLIFLORATM: a probiotic blend of four lactobacilli that are associated with vaginal health* (Lactobacillus crispatus LBV 88, Lactobacillus rhamnosus LBV 96, Lactobacillus jensenii LBV 116, and Lactobacillus gasseri LBV 150.) The INTELLIFLORATM blend has been shown in clinical studies to help restore and maintain the healthy balance of the vaginal microbiota.*
What's nice about supplement company Care/of is that it allows you to design personalized daily vitamin and supplement packs containing everything you need, including probiotics. Its vegan, gluten-free probiotic formula has one billion lactobacillus acidophilus and four billion bifidobacterium lactis per dose, popular strains thought to help promote digestive and immune health.
Most of the prebiotics identified are oligosaccharides. They are resistant to the human digestive enzymes that work on all other carbohydrates. This means that they pass through the upper GI system without being digested. They then get fermented in the lower colon and produce short-chain fatty acids that will then nourish the beneficial microbiota that live there. Oligosaccharides can be synthesized or obtained from natural sources. These sources include asparagus, artichoke, bamboo shoots, banana, barley, chicory, leeks, garlic, honey, lentils, milk, mustards, onion, rye, soybean, sugar beet, sugarcane juice, tomato, wheat, and yacón. The health benefits from these oligosaccharides is a topic of ongoing research.
Then, study participants were divided into one group that consumed a standard probiotic strain available in commercial supplements and a control group that was given a placebo. After two months of treatment, the researchers found that some people were so-called “resisters” who expelled the gut microbiomes in probiotics; others were identified as “persisters” who successfully colonized the generic probiotic strains in their GI tracts.
Constipation is defined medically as fewer than three stools per week and severe constipation as less than one stool per week. Constipation usually is caused by the slow movement of stool through the colon. There are many causes of constipation including medications, poor bowel habits, low fiber diets, laxative abuse, and hormonal disorders, and diseases primarily of other parts of the body that also affect the colon.
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 (First published: September 6, 2018) DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2018.08.047