Women’s health expert Dr. Amy Myers is a goop-trusted authority on subjects from autoimmunity and Candida to thyroid dysfunction; and she’ll be speaking IRL at our first wellness summit on June 10. Here, Myers helps us evaluate the increasing buzz around probiotics, and outlines the ins and outs of selecting a particular supplement (whether hers or other brands). Plus, we’ve rounded up our probiotic essentials, from inner beauty powders to favorite fermentation recipes, in one guide:
There are many health benefits of probiotics, but there are also a few cautions to heed as well. First, if you are immune compromised (catheters, cancer treatments, HIV, trauma, and so on), please consult your physician to check if there are any contraindications for using probiotics. Second, if you never used probiotics or a particular type of probiotic before, and/or never ate much raw food or indulged in fermented probiotic-rich foods and drinks (such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, or kombucha), please proceed slowly with probiotic supplements and use. Although probiotics are tiny organisms, they can have very potent effects on your body.
Lactobacillus predominantly live in your small bowel (the portion of your gut that follows the stomach). Probiotics containing Lactobacillus sp. help to repopulate the small intestine with friendly organisms that aid in supporting digestion and immune function. The most beneficial are L. acidophilus, L. plantarum, and L. paracasei. One study found Lactobacillus acidophilus could reduce gut inflammation. L. rhamnosus helps increase GABA expression (an inhibitory neurotransmitter that helps you feel relaxed) in the brain, resulting in lower anxiety and depression-related behavior. Another found that a combination of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria (which we'll talk about next) improved symptoms of bloating in patients with functional bowel disorders, and yet another found that when people took the Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG strain, it significantly reduced the risk for antibiotic-associated diarrhea.
Previous studies have been contradictory, with some yielding more positive results about the benefits of probiotics, but most of them looked at probiotics in stool samples, not directly in the gut itself. In the new research, the scientists used more invasive methods to take samples of gut bacteria directly from different areas of the digestive system.
Probiotics produce enzymes that help break down chemicals the average human gut has a hard time with, like the oligosaccharides in legumes. That results in less gastrointestinal distress and better absorption of nutrients. Probiotics also elicit an immune response that helps your body deal with harmful pathogens and other GI problems. The hard research, especially on recommended CFU dosages, is minimal, but it’s expanding as interest in the product does.
Probiotics: Health benefits, facts, and research Every human on the planet has microbes living in their body. While bacteria get a bad reputation, many can promote good health. Probiotics are a type of 'good bacteria' that provide health benefits for the host. The health benefits of probiotics include treatment of diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome. Read now
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!
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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 .
In October 2013, the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) organized a meeting of clinical and scientific experts on probiotics (with specialties in gastroenterology, pediatrics, family medicine, gut microbiota, microbiology of probiotic bacteria, microbial genetics, immunology, and food science) to reexamine the concept of probiotics. They define probiotics as "live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host." They also differentiated between products containing probiotics and those containing live or active cultures and established the following criteria:
If you are seeking non-dairy yogurt options, there are several that contain live probiotic cultures. Yogurts made from rice, soy and coconut milk are available on the market and also contain added probiotics that can provide the same benefits. Other alternative sources of probiotics include eating fermented foods like Brewer’s yeast, miso, sauerkraut, or micro algae. Whatever the source, always look for “live and active cultures” on the label.
Like other top probiotics available today, LEAN’s 50-Billion Probiotic is packaged in a handy, delayed-release capsule, designed to protect non-acid-resistant bacteria until they reach deep into your GI tract, where they’re most needed. The result is maximum effectiveness – better gut health, an immune boost, and relief of common digestive problems.
Supplements: dietary probiotic supplements -- which are available in capsules, tablets, powders and liquid extracts -- each contain a specific type of probiotic. These products are available at health food and natural food stores, vitamin shops, and other stores. As an example, one commonly used supplement is acidophilus, which is available from several supplement manufacturers.
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.”
Candida yeast species, on the other hand, can cause numerous infections in and on you. Although they are usually present in controlled amounts, Candida overcomes your usual defenses and establishes itself when conditions are favorable, such as when you take antibiotics and many beneficial bacteria, which normally would control Candida, are killed. Unlike the Saccharomyces yeasts, which are not invasive, Candida species form hyphae, finger-like projections that penetrate tissues, causing deep infections that are difficult to eliminate. Candida is also able to weaken your immune defenses.
Nearly 75% of all women will have at least one yeast infection during their lifetime, and over 50% of women are likely to experience the inexplicable pain of a urinary tract infection as well. With the recurrence of urinary tract infections and yeast infections on the rise, women all around the world began searching for a more effective and natural solution to antibiotics.
"I recommend supplementing with the species lactobacillus and bifidobacterium, and there are different strains within those species that are each beneficial. Garden of Life and Align probiotics contain bacteria that help the gut microbiome and maintain digestive balance, and 1MD's Complete Probiotics Platinum is one of the best probiotics with over 50 billion live cultures that help with gut and digestive health."
Clinically shown to work in 7 days§, AZO Complete Feminine BalanceTM works differently because it contains the power of INTELLIFLORA,TM the only clinically proven blend with the 4 vaginal lactobacilli species most commonly found in healthy women.* Specially designed to restore the vagina’s microflora, it’s a safe and beneficial probiotic for women’s health—including pregnant women.*§ Add it to your daily regimen for help with protection and ongoing vaginal health support.*
We found the most evidence linking strains to antibiotic recovery, immune health, and IBS/IBD relief. We made checklists of the most researched strains that treat those issues (10 strains known to boost general health, six for immune health, seven for antibiotic recovery, and seven for IBS/IBD relief) and dug into ingredient lists to find the supplements containing the highest number of effective strains for each use case.
Many women are prone to yeast infections during or after antibiotic use. If you are one of these unlucky few, try taking a probiotic like the vH Probiotics with Prebiotics and Cranberry immediately before taking your antibiotics. (You may want to check with your doctor first though). These cultures may help with stomach upset and can also prevent a dreaded yeast infection!
The idea that bacteria are beneficial can be tough to understand. We take antibiotics to kill harmful bacterial infections and use antibacterial soaps and lotions more than ever. The wrong bacteria in the wrong place can cause problems, but the right bacteria in the right place can have benefits. This is where probiotics come in. Probiotics are live microorganisms that may be able to help prevent and treat some illnesses. Promoting a healthy digestive tract and a healthy immune system are their most widely studied benefits at this time. These are also commonly known as friendly, good, or healthy bacteria. Probiotics can be supplied through foods, beverages, and dietary supplements.
"The skin and the gut go hand in hand," explains Shapiro. "Since probiotics help improve the gut microbiome and aid in reducing inflammation, skin conditions will also improve. When eating a healthy, whole food diet as well, skin conditions get better over time. When the gut is not intact, other parts of the body also start to break down and become toxic. With probiotics, your gut becomes healthier and therefore, your skin problems start to disappear. "
We are clearly getting to the strain level by going beyond “Saccharomyces boulardii” and to “Saccharomyces boulardii CNCM I-745”. They did a great job by actually putting it on the label so you don’t even have to contact the company to see exactly what strain you’re getting. (P.S. this is a well-researched strain that I highly recommend, especially for preventing antibiotic-associated diarrhea.)
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:
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:
About 60 to 80 percent of our immune system lives in our gut. Imbalances in the gut’s microbiome (which is primarily made up of bacteria) lead to digestive issues, while many many other potential effects can be felt throughout the body—from feelings of fatigue to depression, thyroid dysfunction, autoimmunity, and a host of skin issues. Conditions like rosacea, psoriasis, eczema, and acne are really inflammatory conditions, and often a manifestation of something that is happening deeper within the body. When you fix the gut (which, depending on your health, might include getting rid of an infection like Candida, eating a clean diet, and taking a probiotic), skin issues often resolve as well.
Most bacteria are included through the fermentation process. Fermentation helps extend the shelf life of perishable foods. It is a slow decomposition process of organic substances induced by microorganisms or enzymes that essentially convert carbohydrates to alcohols or organic acids. The lactic acid supplies the bacteria that then add the health benefits to the food. You can purchase foods that are fermented or ferment them yourself.
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.
Eating foods rich in good bacteria and using probiotic supplements may help provide protection from inflammatory bowel diseases, including ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. The evidence is stronger, however, for an improvement in ulcerative colitis, while Crohn’s disease may not benefit as greatly. In addition, there is ongoing research studying the role of probiotics in gluten issues, including celiac disease.
My husband is battling lung cancer and Sarcoma and has a lot of gut issues such as nausea and vomiting which have caused him to lose a significant amount of weight. To help with the N/V a probiotic was recommend. I’d like to try him on the BlueBiotics Ultimate Care but am concerned that by doing so it will cause him to lose even more weight which he has no extra weight to spare. What are your thoughts on this?
The other way that probiotics help is the impact that they have on our immune system. Some believe that this role is the most important. Our immune system is our protection against germs. When it doesn't function properly, we can suffer from allergic reactions, autoimmune disorders (for example, ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, and rheumatoid arthritis), and infections (for example, infectious diarrhea, H. pylori, skin infections, and vaginal infections). By maintaining the correct balance from birth, the hope would be to prevent these ailments. Our immune system can benefit anytime that balanced is restored, so it's never too late.
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.
Prebiotics and supplementary ingredients — For probiotic bacteria to grow, they also need prebiotics. High-quality probiotic supplements have both prebiotics and other ingredients designed to support digestion and immunity. Examples of these ingredients are (preferably fermented) flaxseed, chia seed, cañihua seed, astragalus, ashwagandha, hemp seed, pumpkin seed, milk thistle, peas, ginger, mung bean and turmeric.