"There is an increasing interest in probiotic interventions," wrote the authors of one of the most recent studies, a meta-analysis of previous research in a recent issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Those researchers found that probiotics were particularly useful against a common gastrointestinal problem: antibiotic-associated diarrhea (AAD).
Probiotics are officially defined by the Joint Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations/World Health Organization Working Group as “Live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.” Basically, probiotics at this point in time are live bacteria and yeasts that provide health benefits to you if you take them in adequate quantities.
Did you know that bacteria might actually keep you healthy? It all just depends on the type of bacteria. In this case, we’re talking about the benefits of probiotics. Probiotics benefits are some of the most widely researched natural solutions to gut health. For years, scientists and physicians have observed the many benefits of probiotics for not just the gut, but for the entire body.
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.
Thankfully, most causes of constipation can be improved with dietary and lifestyle interventions. One of probiotics benefits is constipation relief. Probiotics of many kinds can help with constipation because they can keep the digestive contents moving along through different mechanisms such as short-chain fatty acid production, influences on the nerves of the digestive tract, electrolyte balance, pathogen control, and others. Think of probiotic foods and pills as an addition to other dietary and lifestyle interventions to relieve constipation and return your digestive system to its normal functions.
Historically, people had plenty of probiotics in their diets from eating fresh foods from good soil and by fermenting foods to keep them from spoiling. Over a century ago, the Russian Nobel Prize winner Elie Metchnikoff theorized that “health could be enhanced and senility delayed by manipulating the intestinal microbiome with host-friendly bacteria found in yogurt.” Metchnikoff was ahead of his time with his view of probiotics benefits, but he also was aware that most citizens had regular access to probiotic foods.
Twenty-one volunteers were given a course of antibiotics and then split into three groups. The first group were left to let the microbiome recover without any interventions, the second group were given probiotics and the third were given a fecal transplant of their own gut bacteria which was collected before the antibiotic treatment. The study found that the probiotics easily colonized the gut of the second group, but worryingly, rather than aiding the return of the normal gut microbiome, the probiotics actually significantly delayed it for months compared to both the group that had no intervention and the people who received a transplant of their own gut bacteria.
Some yogurts contain the aforementioned bacteria; however, because they are sensitive to oxygen, light, and dramatic temperature changes, make sure to look for yogurts with “live and active cultures.” Many commercial yogurts are heat-treated or pasteurized, resulting in the loss of these valuable cultures. Learn more about the smart way to shop for probiotics.
Remember, while bacteria gets a bad rap, not all bacteria is bad: As New York City-based certified dietitian-nutritionist Gina Keatley tells Allure, plenty of microorganisms, including probiotics, actually help your body function. "Probiotics may help stabilize the protective barrier in our gut so bad microorganisms don't take root, stimulate the immune response, and aid in production of vitamins, such as vitamin K," she says. Sonya Angelone, a registered dietitian and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokeswoman, adds that while we have more to learn about the role of probiotics, beneficial bacteria is understood to help crowd out harmful bacteria in our bodies. This good bacteria may also help lower cholesterol, aid in reducing colds and acute respiratory infections, and reduce the occurrence of vaginal yeast infections, she says.
This is one of the newer areas of probiotic research. Described as the “gut-brain axis,” researchers believe that the communication between the gut and the brain affects not just physical but also mental health and behavior. For example, a recent study found that probiotics can reduce anxiety, relieve stress and improve mental outlook. Another study found that the probiotics L. helveticus and Bifidobacterium longum reduced depression, anger, hostility and self-blame and improved problem-solving ability. Another study showed a difference in brain activity between women consuming yogurt and those consuming a placebo. More research needs to be done to confirm the effect of probiotics on mental and emotional health.
Myriad factors – antibiotics, diet, stress, and age, among them – affect the balance of diverse microbes present in your gut. While you can replenish your gut bacteria by eating well and incorporating natural probiotics (ex. yogurt and kefir) into a healthy diet, these processes can take weeks or months; taking a regular probiotic is an easy and effective way to ensure your gut (and immune system) stays healthy, always.
Since the bulk of your natural flora exists in your gut, it makes sense that this is the part of your body that feels it most when bacteria become imbalanced. Women, in particular, can experience all kinds of digestive problems, particularly during hormone fluctuations. These are just some of the digestive symptoms a high-quality probiotic can help reduce and even treat:

That's because issues that can be treated with probiotics stem from specific imbalances in the amount of certain bacterial strains, according to Elena Ivanina, M.D., a gastroenterologist at Lenox Hill Hospital. "Therefore, if someone decides to supplement a particular strain of Lactobacillus, but they already have enough of that strain in their gut and their disease does not stem from a lack of Lactobacillus, then they will not have a response." Makes sense, right?


Self-dosing with bacteria isn't as outlandish as it might seem. An estimated 100 trillion microorganisms representing more than 500 different species inhabit every normal, healthy bowel. These microorganisms (or microflora) generally don't make us sick; most are helpful. Gut-dwelling bacteria keep pathogens (harmful microorganisms) in check, aid digestion and nutrient absorption, and contribute to immune function.

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!)


The U.S. Clinical Guide to Probiotic Products1, Canadian Guide to Probiotic Supplements2 and the WGO Global Guidelines for Probiotics and Prebiotics3 provide suggested effective amounts of specific strains for treating certain health conditions, such as constipation or IBS. All 37 products listed the species of bacteria they contained, but only 14 listed amounts of individual strains. We found that 9 of those 14 products provided beneficial bacteria at effective levels. The Center for Responsible Nutrition recommends4 the industry move toward specifying strains as a best-practice because whether a product works and for what purpose depends on its strains.

Third-party testing: Lastly, it's important to remember that probiotics are an unregulated supplement. "Find out whether there is third-party data verifying the potency, purity, and effectiveness of the product," suggests Dena Norton, a registered dietitian and holistic nutrition coach. "Remember that dietary supplements aren't regulated, so you can't necessarily just trust the claims on the label." Check out AEProbio, a site that has compiled research on specific brands of probiotics available in the U.S., recommends Scarlata, and an NSF seal is always a good marker to look for.
Next time you pack your travel beauty bag, slip a shelf-stable probiotic in there to preempt bathroom emergencies, Fasig says. Look for one that contains Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus sporogenes, Bifidophilus bifidum, and Sacchromyces boulardii strains ($20, amazon.com), which Fasig says can improve your intestinal health to fix issues with constipation or diarrhea.
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.
​​​​​​Lactobacilli dominate a healthy vaginal microbiota. Menstrual cycles, sexual activity, diet, certain medications, hygiene, and other factors can occasionally disrupt the vaginal microbiome. AZO Feminine Balance Daily Probiotic has been clinically demonstrated to contribute to the colonization of these important lactobacilli in the vagina.* The result: restoring the natural balance of good bacteria and yeast to maintain vaginal health.*
If this ratio gets out of balance, the condition is known as dysbiosis, which means there’s an imbalance of too much of a certain type of fungus, yeast or bacteria that affects the body in a negative way. By consuming certain types of probiotics foods and dietary supplements (often in capsule form), you can help bring these ratios back into balance.
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.
More and more evidence shows that the gut microbiota may play an important role in the development of obesity, obesity-associated inflammation and insulin resistance. Obesity and Type 2 diabetes are associated with changes in gut microbiota. Several studies describe differences between the microbiota of lean individuals and those who are obese. The potential for using probiotics in weight management and obesity and diabetes prevention is exciting.
The authors discuss the need for “pscyhobiotics” (probiotics that impact brain function) in handling the development of these conditions. This anti-inflammatory quality is what seems to interest researchers most. While no studies have been conducted in humans, early research suggests that, in animals, probiotic supplements may help alleviate symptoms of anxiety by reducing inflammation along this gut-brain connection.

Every day, we’re exposed to toxins and inflammation-causing molecules from food and the environment that negatively impact digestion through pathways, such as leaky gut, known in the medical field as intestinal hyperpermeability. In leaky gut, the tight junctions that are supposed to keep disease-contributing compounds from leaving the digestive system are disrupted, allowing a lot of things through into the bloodstream that don’t belong there.

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.
×