Probiotics are live bacteria that are present in yogurt, other fermented foods, and in pills. They are promoted as a benefit to the human digestive system. Normally you have trillions upon trillions of bacteria within the colon. Normally we ingest bacteria every time we swallow. Many of these swallowed bacteria may be beneficial while most are simply innocuous and cause no problems. The question for everyone who takes a probiotic much beyond yogurt is whether they really are a health benefit. Here is what we know medically about probiotics.
Gut flora makes up 70 to 80 percent of the human immune system. Too much bad bacteria can inflame and destroy intestinal walls, enter the bloodstream, and trigger a multitude of health issues — constipation, depression, skin problems, autoimmune disease, and even bad breath. Adding good bacteria protects the digestive tract from the harmful bacteria in sugars, pesticides, and saturated fats.
The root of the word probiotic comes from the Greek word pro, meaning "promoting," and biotic, meaning "life." The discovery of probiotics came about in the early 20th century, when Elie Metchnikoff, known as the "father of probiotics," had observed that rural dwellers in Bulgaria lived to very old ages despite extreme poverty and harsh climate. He theorized that health could be enhanced and senility delayed by manipulating the intestinal microbiome with host-friendly bacteria found in sour milk. Since then, research has continued to support his findings along with suggesting even more benefits.
Eating more foods that are naturally rich in probiotics, like yogurt, kimchi and kefir, can help restore balance in your gut and create more “good” bacteria to fight off inflammation from “bad” bacteria. But what about food products that have probiotics infused into them? Indeed, manufacturers are banking on a new crop of gut-friendly products. From chocolates and granola bars to juices and tonics, nut butters, bottled water and even air sprays, you can’t escape the probiotic movement.
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.*
That said, supplements with higher numbers of CFUs are sometimes used to treat conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), allergies, and respiratory illness. While probiotics have generally been found to be safe for most people with normal immune systems, too much can cause gas and upset stomach. We narrowed our search to supplements with dosages between 1 billion and 100 billion CFUs.
Nevertheless, the presence of certain bacteria in the lower gut benefits overall health, not only digestion. The science on the role of the lower gut is changing every day and has advanced significantly — even over the past 10 years. Research strongly suggests that a favorable bacterial balance in the lower gut positively affects the factors influencing heart disease, immunity, bone strength, depression, and obesity and weight loss. Science has only just begun to determine the roles that bacteria play in human health, but it seems clear that healthier people have healthier bacterial balances. People with poorly balanced bacteria levels are more likely to suffer serious health problems.
You also want to look at the guarantee fine print: If the CFU number is guaranteed at time of manufacturing, but not at the time of expiration, you could be taking a less potent dose of probiotics than you think because potency fades over time. I made this mistake when I was traveling once and went to the grocery store to pick up probiotics. On the bottle label it said guaranteed at 20 billion CFU at the time of manufacturing. This doesn’t tell you the CFU for when I was actually taking the probiotics. For instance, our probiotics are manufactured at 60 billion and 200 billion CFU, and guaranteed at 30 billion and 100 billion CFU, respectively, at time of expiration.
There are a lot of factors that play a role in how well probiotics survive before it actually hits your system. How long a store keeps the product in storage before selling it, the temperature at which you store the probiotic, the foods you eat the probiotic with, or the medications you take can affect the effectiveness of the probiotic. If you’re buying a product closer to its “Sell By” date, you might not reap the full benefits because that probiotic may not be as strong.
Probiotics' side effects, if they occur, tend to be mild and digestive (such as gas or bloating). More serious effects have been seen in some people. Probiotics might theoretically cause infections that need to be treated with antibiotics, especially in people with underlying health conditions. They could also cause unhealthy metabolic activities, too much stimulation of the immune system, or gene transfer (insertion of genetic material into a cell).
"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.
Cleaning up your diet to remove things that bother you and to add nutrients you and your microbiota need, physical activity to reduce stress and increase feel-good neurotransmitters, mindfulness to discover how your thoughts affect your feelings, and daily consumption of probiotic pills and foods are easy ways to improve your mental health outlook.