A Seal of Approval When looking for a good probiotic, Gans advises consumers to buy from a trusted retailer and look for a seal from a third-party certifier. “Reputable probiotic supplements should list the genus, species, and strain, in addition to the number of organisms that will be alive by the use-by date and the dose on the label,” says Gans. This transparency will help consumers understand what’s in their supplement and how to best use it.
Most of the prebiotics identified are oligosaccharides. They are resistant to the human digestive enzymes that work on all other carbohydrates. This means that they pass through the upper GI system without being digested. They then get fermented in the lower colon and produce short-chain fatty acids that will then nourish the beneficial microbiota that live there. Oligosaccharides can be synthesized or obtained from natural sources. These sources include asparagus, artichoke, bamboo shoots, banana, barley, chicory, leeks, garlic, honey, lentils, milk, mustards, onion, rye, soybean, sugar beet, sugarcane juice, tomato, wheat, and yacón. The health benefits from these oligosaccharides is a topic of ongoing research.
Taking a probiotic every day is a good way to help prevent getting sick and having to go on antibiotics in the first place. Preventative measures, of course, are preferred. Another that is believed to help is upping your vitamin D intake when your immune system needs a boost. Diet is also huge in terms of preventing sickness. Studies show that you can change your microbiome within hours of adjusting your diet. If you’re not into sauerkraut, even just cutting back on sugar and eating more whole foods can make a difference.
While taking a daily probiotic supplement may seem like an easy answer to cure common gut ailments, it’s always best to try for a food first approach, since you can get probiotics from the foods you eat. Probiotics can be found in foods such as yogurt, cheese, miso, sauerkraut, and kimchi. But, adding a supplement into the mix if you haven’t achieved the desired effect through diet alone can be effective.
Remember that dietary supplements are not tested by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration like medications. And the probiotic strains in the supplements may not be specific for the condition you're looking to treat. You may want to consult with a practitioner, like a registered dietitian, who is familiar with probiotics. Always tell your physician what you are doing that may affect your health.
Stability and organism types — Some probiotic strains need to be kept cold in order to preserve their potency. This applies to their production, transport, storage and sales. Others are shelf-stable and don’t require refrigeration. Unfortunately, most refrigerated probiotics never make it past the stomach because they aren’t stable. Instead, look for a shelf-stable product that contains soil-based organisms.
Lebwohl says IBS isn’t just about intestinal distress. For many IBS sufferers, it’s about the way our brain receives messages about pain. He describes the human colon as “almost reptilian” in the way that it contracts and relaxes throughout the day, but says these contractions are usually happening way below our threshold of consciousness, so we don’t even notice. In people with IBS, the neurotransmitters in our gut (yes, we have them in there too) may be sending severe distress signals to the brain about benign contractions happening in digestive tract.
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.
“If someone has disrupted his gut microbial balance, this is where a probiotic can be of benefit,” says Gail Cresci, PhD, RD, an intestinal microbe specialist with Cleveland Clinic’s Department of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition. “But whether it’s really going to help and whether you’re taking the right one are the big questions out there.”
As the best-selling author of Happy Gut and a medical doctor who specializes in gut health and once suffered from IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), I have experienced for myself, as well as see on a daily basis, how a disrupted gut flora opens the door for unfriendly microbes to step in and take over, creating all sorts of pandemonium that causes patients to gain weight, feel sick and tired, and become more disease-prone.
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We have to give a nod to the most famous probiotic food: yogurt. Whether you love Greek or regular, low-fat or full-fat, look for the phrase "live active cultures" on the label. And although choosing a plain yogurt has less added sugar than the flavored kinds, Tallmadge gives you the okay to choose a fruit-infused flavor if that's the only way you'll eat it. Just be sure to aim for fewer than 15 grams of the sweet stuff per serving; sugar can feed the bad bugs in your gut.
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.
A diet high in vegetables, fruit, and fiber, along with probiotics for weight loss, supports a more diverse gut microbiome, which in turn helps weight loss. Instead of waiting for the next magical diet or weight-loss supplement to arrive, focus on improving your gut health with probiotic foods and drinks with live cultures, in addition to maintaining healthy lifestyle factors.
The other way that probiotics help is the impact that they have on our immune system. Some believe that this role is the most important. Our immune system is our protection against germs. When it doesn't function properly, we can suffer from allergic reactions, autoimmune disorders (for example, ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, and rheumatoid arthritis), and infections (for example, infectious diarrhea, H. pylori, skin infections, and vaginal infections). By maintaining the correct balance from birth, the hope would be to prevent these ailments. Our immune system can benefit anytime that balanced is restored, so it's never too late.
CFU: This is the number of "colony forming units" present in each dose, which are measured in the billions. And while more isn't always better, "you want at least 20 to 50 billion CFU," says Dr. Nazareth. Just for reference, a very high dose is 400 CFU, which most experts agree is not necessary unless your health care practitioner specifically recommends this for you. It's also important to check for the guaranteed CFU upon expiration, which should be listed clearly. "Some products only guarantee the CFU number at the time of manufacturing, therefore will be less potent by the time the product reaches your home," she says.
Kimchi: This fermented vegetable is made from Chinese cabbage (beachu), radish, green onion, red pepper powder, garlic, ginger, and fermented seafood (jeotgal). Many bacteria have been found to be present and can include any of the following: Leuconostoc mesenteroides and Lactobacillus plantarum, L. mesenteroides, L. citreum, L. gasicomitatum, L. brevis, L. curvatus, L. plantarum, L. sakei, L. lactis, Pediococcus pentosaceus, Weissella confusa, and W. koreensis. A recent review linked the health benefits of kimchi to anticancer, antiobesity, anticonstipation, colon health promotion, cholesterol reduction, antioxidative and antiaging properties, brain health promotion, immune promotion, and skin health promotion.
I’m 65 years of age. I have been taking acid reflux medication daily for at least 15 years and recently my doctor said my kidneys were declining. I’ve read that acid reflux medications taken over a long period of time, can cause kidney damage. By taking a probiotic, will it help reduce stomach acid, where I may be able to stop taking my acid reflux medication altogether?
As with other types of supplements, scientists are still discovering the full potential of probiotics. However, when taken regularly, it is believed that they help support digestive health by helping maintain the balance of beneficial and non-beneficial bacteria in your digestive tract. Having a natural balance of good bacteria in the digestive tract can help defend against occasional digestive issues. In addition, probiotics play an important role in supporting immune health, since 70% of the body's immune system is found in the digestive tract.∗