On my recent trip to Japan, one thing I noticed was the inclusion of pickled vegetables in almost every traditional Japanese meal. Unfortunately, many Americans don’t consume enough of these probiotic-rich foods and drinks. Even when they do, restoring equilibrium oftentimes requires therapeutic doses of these microorganisms, because most everyone has been on several rounds of antimicrobials. That’s where a probiotic supplement comes in.
This Korean staple relies on lactic acid fermentation (also called lacto-fermentation) to turn cabbage or other vegetables into a spicy, pungent side dish that's packed with vitamin C. Order it at Korean restaurants or buy it in the refrigerated section of your grocery store (King's Kimchi is widely available at Walmart). For some guidance on making your own, turn to The Art of Fermentation ($23; amazon.com). Then, use it to spike veggie-laden rice bowls, top on soup, or serve alongside meat.
Many avenues of research have examined probiotics benefits for skin, especially in children. Meta-analyses have found that probiotic supplements are effective in the prevention of pediatric atopic dermatitis and infant eczema. The integrity of gut bacteria is also connected to the development of acne, although the way this happens is still unclear.
The right resident strains - quite a few probiotics on the market contain things like active yeasts or soil based organisms. While these ingredients may be helpful to some, if you want to optimize your gut health, you need to look for strains that are resident to the human gut like those from the Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Streptococcus families.
Bacteria in your digestive tract can be good or bad, according to the website Best Probiotic. It quotes the Royal Academy of Medicine England as blaming an imbalance between good and bad bacteria for causing 80 percent of all degenerative diseases. Probiotic supplements with "good" bacteria have become increasingly popular. They can aid the immune system, digestion and vitamin absorption, as well as prevent diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome. The website Women to Women recommends probiotics that combine saccharomyces, lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidobacteria in the billions. MayoClinic.com also recommends lactobacillus and advises looking for products that contain live, active cultures. You should always check with your doctor before adding any supplements to your diet.
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.
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.
Probiotics are bacteria that help keep the natural balance of organisms (microflora) in the intestines. The normal human digestive tract contains about 400 types of probiotic bacteria that reduce the growth of harmful bacteria and promote a healthy digestive system. The largest group of probiotic bacteria in the intestine is lactic acid bacteria, of which Lactobacillus acidophilus, found in yogurt with live cultures, is the best known. Yeast is also a probiotic substance. Probiotics are also available as natural health products.
"The name itself is derived from the Latin 'pro-' meaning 'for' and the Greek '-biotic' meaning 'life,'" explains Jeannel Astarita, skincare expert and founder of Just Ageless NYC Wellness and Medspa. "Probiotics are the helpful bacteria that live primarily in your gut and play a crucial role in your overall health by fighting pathogens and yeast that lead to a weakened immune system."
If you’re giving probiotics to a baby under two years old, you want to look for specific strains, though, that are better suited to such young microbiomes. For babies, these are the strains of Lactobacillus to look for: rhamnosus, casei, paralisei, gasseri, salvarius. And for Bifidobacterium: infantis, bifidum, longum, breve, lactis. If you’re breastfeeding, you can put probiotics on your breast, or you can heat up formula and put probiotics in it, or wet your finger and dip it in the probiotics powder and let your baby suck on your finger.
The above line of probiotics is also a favorite of Engelman. "I like Nerium International's new Prolistic Pre & Probiotic Plus Vitamins ($45) because it combines prebiotics, probiotics, and vitamins," Engelman explains. "It supports overall health while targeting digestive function. It contains two types of prebiotics and two strains of probiotics to help enhance levels of beneficial microflora and balance levels of healthy bacteria in the digestive system. Additionally, it contains B vitamins, vitamin C, and vitamin D, which work to enhance the body's immune system and support natural energy production."
If you’re most interested in taking a probiotic supplement for overall gut health, I suggest starting with 30 to 50 billion CFUs. Take probiotics on an empty stomach once or twice a day for at least three months. After that time, reassess and decide if the benefits warrant continuing a maintenance dose of the probiotic supplement. However, if you have SIBO, beware of starting a probiotic too soon after your treatment. In this case, it’s best to work with a health practitioner on which probiotic is right for each stage of the treatment.
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.
"Contrary to the current dogma that probiotics are harmless and benefit everyone, these results reveal a new potential adverse side effect of probiotic use with antibiotics that might even bring long-term consequences," Elinav says. "In contrast, replenishing the gut with one's own microbes is a personalized mother-nature-designed treatment that led to a full reversal of the antibiotics' effects."
"Probiotics are live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit." 1 In general, probiotics are similar to the beneficial bacteria that live naturally in your digestive tract. When taken daily, probiotics can help support digestive and immune health. You may think of bacteria as something harmful to your body. But it's important to have a balance of good bacteria in your digestive tract, which can be negatively impacted from factors such as diet and travel. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria your body may need to support good digestive health.∗
Yogurt: It can contain Streptococcus thermophilus, Lactobacillus bulgaricus, L. acidophilus, and Bifidobacterium bifidum. Research has shown links with yogurt to have positive effects on the gut microbiota and is associated with a reduced risk for gastrointestinal disease and improvement of lactose intolerance (especially among children), type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, allergies and respiratory diseases, as well as improved dental and bone health.
According to a 2014 meta-analysis, probiotics benefit diabetics by improving insulin sensitivity and decreasing the autoimmune response found in diabetes. The authors suggest that the results were significant enough to conduct large, randomized, controlled trials (the “gold standard” of scientific studies) to find if probiotics may actually be used to prevent or manage diabetes symptoms. Combining probiotics with prebiotics may also help manage blood sugar, particularly when blood sugar levels are already elevated. (87)
Many studies have been conducted about the benefits of probiotics on a large number of health issues and conditions. Here, I’ll focus on the more thoroughly researched probiotics benefits, largely by sharing the results and data of meta-analyses on the subjects. Then, I have listed several areas of emerging research on the benefits of probiotics, reflected in small or pilot studies with promising results on probiotic benefits, as well as ways probiotics can be accessed.
I’ve been taking probiotics for past couple of months. I must say I feel so much better like it’s been years since I felt this good. My head isn’t in a fog–my brain feels crisp & clear and less depression. My skin isn’t dry its actually getting soft & shiny again. Even my face looks younger. My hair also. I actually have energy. I’m 53 female with a few illnesses. I can feel my insides like alive again. I’ve had a bad rash from taking too many antibiotics for the past 8 yrs FINALLY it is clearing up all from probiotics. It’s amazing what a difference the probiotics are making in my life. I am truly amazed. They are life changing for me. I know it might sound crazy but I can’t believe the difference. I hope this helps someone out there like me who thought there’s no hope to feel better.
Experts agree that this is the most important factor to consider in choosing a probiotic. "You should absolutely choose a probiotic based on what you are looking to address," says Chang. "Because strain specificity will impact outcomes, it is important to consider that one strain that works for one condition will not necessarily be effective for other conditions."
The first major finding was that many people were essentially resistant to any effect from probiotics and their gut microbiome did not change after taking them. Of 19 people in the study taking probiotics consisting of 11 of the most commonly found strains, only 8 had any notable colonization of their gut with the bacteria in the probiotics, with 3 people considered to have significant colonization and 5 people with "mild" colonization.
This story has played out before, most notably with vitamin supplements, which decades of research have revealed to be completely unnecessary for most adults and, in some cases, dangerous, correlating with higher rates of lung, breast and prostate cancers. But that has not stopped marketers from pushing another nutritional craze. According to a National Institutes of Health survey, the number of adults in the U.S. taking probiotics or their cousins, prebiotics (typically nondigestible fibers that favor the development of gut bacteria), more than quadrupled between 2007 and 2012, from 865,000 people to nearly four million. San Francisco–based business consulting firm Grand View Research estimates that the global probiotics market exceeded $35 billion in 2015 and predicts that it will reach $66 billion by 2024.
In the new study, the researchers analyzed information from 15 healthy volunteers who took either a probiotic product containing 11 strains of bacteria, or a placebo, for four weeks. The participants also underwent colonoscopies and upper endoscopies before they took the probiotics or the placebo, and again after the four-week treatment period. (An upper endoscopy looks at the upper part of the digestive tract.) During these procedures, the researchers took samples from inside participants' guts.
Kefir: This could be the most ideal probiotic dairy product because it contains both bacteria and yeast working together to provide the numerous health benefits. In a recent eight-week study, people with diabetes were given kefir milk containing Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus acidophilus, and bifidobacteria vs. conventional fermented milk. The hemoglobin A1C levels were significantly lower in the group consuming the kefir.
Gas (intestinal gas) means different things to different people. Everyone has gas and eliminates it by belching, burping, or farting (flatulence). Bloating or abdominal distension is a subjective feeling that the stomach is larger or fuller than normal. Belching or burping occurs when gas is expelled from the stomach out through the mouth. Flatulence or farting occurs when intestinal gas is passed from the anus.
The bottom line: Stick to trusted whole food sources of probiotics if you don’t know a probiotic supplement brand you trust. “Kimchi, pickled beets, Greek yogurt and sauerkraut are great sources of probiotics. If you don’t like them, throw them into a food you do like, like a smoothie, and add your favorite fruit to help mask the flavor,” Taub-Dix says.
By eating probiotic-rich foods and maintaining good intestinal flora, a person can also help to maintain a healthy immune system. And that has real world effects: for example, in one small study of students, those who were given a fermented dairy drink (instead of milk) displayed increased production from lymphocytes -- a marker of immune response.
Quick note about some formulations with multiple strains (including this one): Take a look at the label below and you’ll see that the supplement contains a mix of strains, but the label just says there is a total of 20 billion CFUs (how they measure the amount of bacteria). This does not tell us how much of each particular strain there is, and we want to know that there are at least 1 billion CFUs per strain to get a beneficial effect.
"I usually recommend Garden of Life, BioK or Megafoods brand," says Shapiro. "I also recommend starting with about 30 billion CFU and making sure your supplement has at least 12 different strains. And if you don't eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains that provide fiber for the probiotics to live off of, make sure you're the one you are taking contains prebiotics as well.
The idea that consuming probiotics can boost the ability of already well-functioning native bacteria to promote general health is dubious for a couple of reasons. Manufacturers of probiotics often select specific bacterial strains for their products because they know how to grow them in large numbers, not because they are adapted to the human gut or known to improve health. The particular strains of Bifidobacterium or Lactobacillus that are typically found in many yogurts and pills may not be the same kind that can survive the highly acidic environment of the human stomach and from there colonize the gut.