Yes, they may help. Lebwohl says there are reputable studies that show a link between the use of probiotics and the reduction in IBS symptoms, citing this meta-analysis. It's estimated that 11 percent of the world population complains of symptoms like abdominal cramps, diarrhea, constipation, excessive gas and/or mucus in their stools. While for some the condition can be attributed to certain dietary triggers, others appear to be stress-related, which brings us to the heart of where many claims about the effectiveness of probiotics lie—in the gut-brain axis.
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.
Made by fermenting the juice of young coconuts with kefir grains, this dairy-free option for kefir has some of the same probiotics as traditional dairy kefir but is typically not as high in probiotics. Still, it has several strains that are great for your health. Coconut kefir has a great flavor, and you can add a bit of stevia, water and lime juice to it to make a great-tasting drink.
“If someone has disrupted his gut microbial balance, this is where a probiotic can be of benefit,” says Gail Cresci, PhD, RD, an intestinal microbe specialist with Cleveland Clinic’s Department of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition. “But whether it’s really going to help and whether you’re taking the right one are the big questions out there.”
"In fact," she continues, "80% of immune system cells are found in the gut. In addition to the well-known GI benefits of minimizing bloat, gas, constipation, and diarrhea, probiotics aid in digestion by extracting nutrients, helping your body absorb minerals, produce vitamins, and make brain chemicals, including over 30 neurotransmitters along with mood-enhancing serotonin. A healthy person has over 100 trillion microbes, generally a five to one ratio of helpful to harmful."
The second type of probiotics are soil-based organisms (SBO), which tend to be more resistant to acid in the gut. Here’s the thinking behind soil-based probiotics: Many people (particularly in the paleo community) believe that widespread gut and health issues today are the result of life in a too-clean society. In the past, when more people worked in the dirt, played in the dirt, there was less obsessing over cleanliness and antibacterial products, we got more natural exposure to probiotics. The benefit of soil-based probiotics is that they come from the earth, and the bacteria (which are still living) have their own natural, protective capsule surrounding them. I recommend soil-based probiotics to patients with autoimmunity, in addition to the classic form. They are particularly helpful for people with SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth)—with SIBO, you also have an overgrowth of good bacteria; and in this case, the classic form of probiotic is not what you need to fight the infection.
Additionally, it's a good idea to take note of the number of colony-forming units (CFUs) that are in the supplement you're considering, Angelone says. CFU count tells you the number of viable, active bacteria present in a tablet, she explains, and one billion (yes, seriously) is a typical dose. However, if you're struggling with a specific health condition, you may need more than that, Warren says. Your doctor can help you decide whether that's the case and may be able to steer you toward a good supplement to get you started. Here are a few to consider if you decide that probiotics are right for you.
What about prebiotics vs probiotics? Prebiotics are the food fibers that go through the gut unchanged and are then used by good colon bacteria as a food source for their own growth. Everyone already has most of these good bacteria present, but often in small quantities. Prebiotics are used to stimulate their growth. Simply stated, you already grow your own probiotics within your colon. You do not rely on them to make the passage through the stomach acid — acid that can destroy many probiotic bacteria. That’s why taking a probiotic supplement or adding probiotic foods to your diet does not always help your digestive system. You can eat as many probiotic bacteria as you want, but if they don’t survive the trip to the colon, your effort will be fruitless.
AZO Complete Feminine BalanceTM is a daily probiotic supplement designed for the unique needs of women. Researchers that formulated the blend started by selecting species that are dominant in the healthy vaginal microbiota. Then they further refined the formula by selecting strains of probiotics that flourish in the vagina. The blend is clinically proven to help protect vaginal/feminine health.*