The statements on this website have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. The contents of this website are not medical advice and are intended for general knowledge and informational purposes only. Probiotics support many facets of overall health when taken regularly as part of a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle.
Bottom line: Probiotics are a promising field of research and may one day be used to treat or help prevent many disorders. But there’s not enough solid evidence to recommend their widespread use. Vague claims that probiotics "support good digestive health" are meaningless. Larger, longer and better studies are needed to test specific strains for specific conditions and to determine the proper doses and regimens.
If these issues and many others are connected to gut health, then what elements are essential for digestive health? Consider this: According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, upward of 60 million to 70 million Americans are affected by digestive diseases. In addition, digestive disease and disorders cost the United States over $100 billion per year.
Following a healthy and active lifestyle and eating a balanced diet are the best ways to foster a bountiful gut flora. Taking care of your gut flora can help with things like irritable bowel syndrome and chronic constipation, among other things. Even if you’re not sold on pursuing probiotics for your allergies, they’re good to consider if you’re experiencing any gastrointestinal issues.
Animals, including humans, have microbes inside them that benefit them in multiple ways. These microbes are in a loose sense like probiotics, but the definition of probiotics was established to designate those microbes that have been isolated, studied, tested in a laboratory dish and/or clinically in animals and/ or humans, and proven to have beneficial properties. In many cases their genetic fingerprints were sequenced for identification purposes and also to check for potentially harmful genetic components. The official term “probiotics” established specific criteria for scientific studies and probiotic supplements, foods, and drinks.
Some studies suggest that certain probiotic strains may also help in mild to moderate ulcerative colitis and possibly for bloating and gas in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Probiotic supplements, on the whole, “improve global symptoms, bloating, and flatulence in IBS,” by modifying the gut microbiome, according to a 2014 monograph from the American College of Gastroenterology. As IBS researchers said in a paper in Gastroenterology & Hepatology in 2015, “The concept of manipulating the microbiome is one of the most promising new ways in which to treat patients with IBS, but there is still much to learn.”
The takeaway: Certain strains were found useful in preventing diarrhea among children being prescribed antibiotics. A 2013 review showed that after antibiotic use, probiotics help prevent Clostridium difficile-associated diarrhea. A review focused on acute infectious diarrhea found a benefit, again for certain strains of bacteria at controlled doses. There’s also evidence that they may help prevent necrotizing enterocolitis (a serious gastrointestinal condition) and death in preterm infants.
What’s more, your bacterial makeup does more than just boost or bully your immune system; the existence of good and bad bacteria affect your mood and energy levels, relieve (or contribute to) a sensitive stomach (including lactose intolerance and irritable bowel syndrome/IBS), affect your mood, and even support (or hinder) a healthy body weight. (Fascinating fact: Scientists can predict weight with 90% accuracy based on your gut’s bacterial makeup, but only with 58% accuracy based on your genes. Bacteria counts!)
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.
A 2017 survey of cancer patients showed that more than 80 percent were taking some sort of dietary supplement, vitamin, mineral, or herb to treat digestive issues they were experiencing due to chemotherapy. Researchers noted that while supplements can be beneficial in some cases, they can also change the metabolism of anti-cancer drugs, or lead to life-threatening conditions like sepsis because of the patient’s compromised immune system.
Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CDN, founder and director of Real Nutrition based in NYC, discusses the effect probiotics have on immune system issues. "Probiotics compete with pathogenic microorganisms and produce chemicals that inactivate or kill pathogens," says Shapiro. "They help prevent immune-mediated diseases by improving the gut mucosal immune system. Overall, probiotics protect the body from infections and allow the body to maintain homeostasis."
You experience that afternoon slump and reach for a candy bar or a sugar-laden coffee. Or maybe you go through your day, starting with a breakfast of doughnuts or sugary cereal, and then proceed to sodas for drinks, cookies to snack on, dessert after dinner, and finally to a nighttime snack of ice cream. You know that feeling; it’s that I-have-to-have-something-sweet-and- I-have-to-have-it-NOW feeling.
Do you strain with infrequent bowel movements? Do the feces look like separate hard lumps or like bunches of hard lumps stuck together, or are they pencil-thin? You may have constipation. The Bristol stool chart (BSC) was developed by two doctors as a way to differentiate between states of constipation, normal elimination, a state of lacking fiber, and states of inflammation. Stools are supposed to be long and sausage-like, with few or no cracks in the surface.
Probiotics for allergies are fast becoming a preferred treatment method because they are understood to be much safer than traditional allergic rhinitis medication. A nasal spray for allergies is often a ‘go to’ treatment, for example, but allergy nose spray medications often contain corticosteroids, like Beclometasone dipropionate, which could affect bone metabolism, blood cells, and the pituitary gland.
Proponents claim that probiotics (meaning “for life,” as opposed to antibiotics) confer health benefits primarily by rebalancing the normal microflora in the large intestine (colon). There are many general types of bacteria used as probiotics (two common ones are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium), and many different species as well as strains within species. They have different physiological effects—and thus possibly different health benefits (as well as possible risks). Some yeasts, such as Saccharmyces, can also act as probiotics.
But what if investigators could design probiotics to treat specific individuals? Many researchers think personalized probiotics are the most promising path forward for patients with compromised gut microbiomes. Last year Jens Walter of the University of Alberta and his colleagues published a study that gives a glimpse of this potential future. The researchers decided to see what it would take to get the bacteria in a probiotic to successfully colonize the intestines of 23 volunteers. They chose a particular strain of Bifidobacterium longum that earlier studies had indicated could survive in the human intestine. In the study, the volunteers consumed either a drink containing 10 billion live B. longum bacteria or a placebo in the form of a glucose-based food additive (maltodextrin) each day for two weeks. Periodic fecal samples revealed higher than typical levels of B. longum in participants who did not consume the placebo.
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.
Taking relatively high doses of these probiotic strains before, during, and after antibiotic treatment can help your microbiome get back on its feet: B. Lactis, B. Infantis, L. Acidophilus, L. Casei, L. Bulgaricus, L. Paracasei, L. Rhamnosus GG, and S. Boulardii. Our antibiotic combatant MegaFood MegaFlora has six of these strains, as well as eight others. One serving contains 20 billion CFUs to replenish the good bacteria.
If you have a tendency to forget to take your probiotics (which, let’s be honest, we all have), try storing them in a place that you look at directly each and every day. We recommend somewhere like your bathroom sink near your toothbrush or even on your kitchen counter, so you never miss a dosage! This one can be taken with or without food, and it doesn’t have to be stored in the fridge – perfect!
Sugar is so easily accessible in Westernized cultures that it is easy to overindulge in it. But why do you crave it? There are several reasons. One, sugar usually means sucrose, which is composed of glucose and fructose. Glucose is the sugar in your blood, so consumption of sugar results in a temporary boost of energy. However, that blood-sugar spike causes insulin to be released to usher the sugar into cells for energy or fat storage, and shortly afterward your blood sugar drops. So then you feel a slump and reach for something to bring your blood sugar back up: more sugar.
What exactly do probiotics do? They are believed to protect us in two ways. The first is the role that they play in our digestive tract. We know that our digestive tract needs a healthy balance between the good and bad bacteria, so what gets in the way of this? It looks like our lifestyle is both the problem and the solution. Poor food choices, emotional stress, lack of sleep, antibiotic overuse, other drugs, and environmental influences can all shift the balance in favor of the bad bacteria.