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:
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.
Probiotics help tip the balance back in favor of the good bacteria. In doing so, they may provide some relief if you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ulcerative colitis, acute infectious diarrhea, and diarrhea associated with antibiotic use or Clostridium difficile (C.diff) infection. They also can boost your immunity, fight inflammation and potentially have beneficial effects on cholesterol.
Got your gut on your mind? Then you’re probably up on the health benefits of probiotics. From boosting immunity to improving digestion, probiotics have been touted as the “superhero” of the gut bacteria underworld. And yet, there’s a lot we still don’t know about probiotics because the research is just heating up. To date, most studies that have been done on probiotics are on the Lactobaccilus, Bifidobacterium and Streptococcus thermophilus strains. Meanwhile, there are, oh, upwards of 100 trillion gut-friendly bacteria out there — some of which are popping up in trendy new waters, chocolates, nut butters and more. Here’s what you need to know before giving your gut the royal treatment.
Probiotic supplements and foods can play a major positive role in brain fog. Lactobacillus, in particular, can produce neurotransmitters used for brain neuron-to-neuron transmission to facilitate thinking. Probiotics can interact with the vagus nerve to the brain, with the enteric nervous system that can communicate with the brain, and with the brain via chemical messengers.
Most probiotics are like what is already in a person's digestive system. Some probiotics have been used for a very long time throughout history, such as in fermented foods and cultured milk products. These don't appear to cause illness. But more study is needed on the safety of probiotics in young children, the elderly, and people who have weak immune systems.
Some foods are made by adding bacteria — yogurt, pickles, cottage cheese, kombucha, and sauerkraut are good examples. Those foods work to provide the same probiotic benefits as supplements. However, most foods are so processed and pasteurized that it’s unlikely you’ll see the same benefits, let alone the right strains, as you would with a supplement. Regardless, it can’t hurt to get extra probiotics through your diet.
Digestive problems. The best evidence for probiotics is for reducing diarrhea, especially following antibiotic use. A 2010 review from the Cochrane Collaboration concluded that probiotics shorten episodes of acute infectious diarrhea. And in 2011, a Health Canada monograph stated that products containing certain probiotics (such as Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG) help manage acute infectious diarrhea and antibiotic-associated diarrhea. A 2012 research review in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that probiotics reduced the risk of antibiotic-associated diarrhea by 42 percent—but many of the studies had flaws, so these findings should be interpreted with caution. A 2013 Cochrane review of 23 trials also concluded that probiotics may be effective for preventing antibiotic-related diarrhea. However, two large, well-designed studies, in the Lancet in 2013 and the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2014, found that probiotics were no better than a placebo in preventing diarrhea in older people taking antibiotics. A review of 19 studies, published in Gastroenterology in 2017, found that probiotics reduce the risk of Clostridium difficile-related diarrhea in hospital patients, especially when the supplements were started during the first two days of antibiotic treatment.