“I’d probably stay away from store brands and pay a little extra for the name brand that’s been studied,” Dr. Cresci adds. “Ideally, look for a product that’s been tested for whatever you’re looking to address. It might say it helps with IBS, but you wouldn’t take that same product if you were taking antibiotics. You would want a product that helps with immunity. That’s where a lot of people get confused.”
In the past five years, for example, several combined analyses of dozens of studies have concluded that probiotics may help prevent some common side effects of treatment with antibiotics. Whenever physicians prescribe these medications, they know they stand a good chance of annihilating entire communities of beneficial bacteria in the intestine, along with whatever problem-causing microbes they are trying to dispel. Normally the body just needs to grab a few bacteria from the environment to reestablish a healthy microbiome. But sometimes the emptied niches get filled up with harmful bacteria that secrete toxins, causing inflammation in the intestine and triggering diarrhea. Adding yogurt or other probiotics—especially the kinds that contain Lactobacillus—during and after a course of antibiotics seems to decrease the chances of subsequently developing these opportunistic infections.
Here’s a quick timeline of the latest probiotic research that is setting off alarm bells for scientists around the globe: On June 19, a study was published linking probiotic use to brain fogginess and extreme belly bloating in some people. Another study, published on August 31, reported that consuming probiotics after taking antibiotics was linked to more severe intestinal infections in mice exposed to Cryptosporidium. (For more see, "In a Brain Fog? Probiotics Could Be the Culprit" and "Unexpected Findings Cause Scientists to Rethink Probiotics.")
Some companies have been around for years, and you may know their names. Those that have made probiotics for a while likely have tested and studied them over and over. It's smarter to choose a product from them over one from a maker you don't know. Check a third-party certifier (like ConsumerLab or the USP) to see if they have tested the product and found that it’s safe and reliable. If you're in doubt, ask your doctor.
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.
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!
Many women are prone to yeast infections during or after antibiotic use. If you are one of these unlucky few, try taking a probiotic like the vH Probiotics with Prebiotics and Cranberry immediately before taking your antibiotics. (You may want to check with your doctor first though). These cultures may help with stomach upset and can also prevent a dreaded yeast infection!
Unfortunately, the U.S. has no federal standards for probiotic supplements. Therefore, you run the risk of purchasing a product without any guarantee that it contains its advertised probiotic strains, that the strains are alive, or that the product is free from unhealthy ingredients. Therefore, it may be best to choose a brand-name probiotic that has research backing their effectiveness. Here are some examples:
Keep in mind that when supplements contain a specific number of organisms, this number may not be what is actually within each capsule at the time of purchase. Probiotics are living organisms and can die out easily. Especially if that supplement sits on your drugstore or warehouse shelf for months or longer, the number of organisms you get may be far less than what the bottle claims. Hardier strains have a longer shelf life. Capsule strength decays faster if the probiotic has been sitting around at elevated temperatures during transport to the store. Companies actually have to produce probiotics with a much higher CFU (colony-forming units; see below) count in each capsule in order to guarantee the label potency by the expiration date.
Walk into any grocery store, and you will likely find more than a few “probiotic” products brimming with so-called beneficial bacteria that are supposed to treat everything from constipation to obesity to depression. In addition to foods traditionally prepared with live bacterial cultures (such as yogurt and other fermented dairy products), consumers can now purchase probiotic capsules and pills, fruit juices, cereals, sausages, cookies, candy, granola bars and pet food. Indeed, the popularity of probiotics has grown so much in recent years that manufacturers have even added the microorganisms to cosmetics and mattresses.
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.
If you’re looking for a great probiotic you can take every day to target everything from gut to skin health, the Culturelle Daily Probiotic is our top choice. Each capsule has 10 billion active cultures of 100 percent Lactobacillus GG, a probiotic that helps curb gas, bloating, and upset stomach, and works to boost your immune system. Each capsule has the probiotic equivalent of 10 cups of yogurt and is dairy-free, sugar-free, and gluten-free. This container comes with 30 pills to be taken just once a day (most recommend taking it at night, especially when you’re just starting on probiotics).
Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) is a bacteria that causes chronic inflammation (gastritis) of the inner lining of the stomach, and also is the most common cause of ulcers worldwide. About 50% of people in the world carries or is infected with H. pylori. Common symptoms of H. pylori infection are occasional abdominal discomfort, bloating, belching or burping, and nausea and vomiting. H. pylori infection is difficult to erdicate, and treatment is with two or more antibiotics.
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.