Probiotics: Health benefits, facts, and research Every human on the planet has microbes living in their body. While bacteria get a bad reputation, many can promote good health. Probiotics are a type of 'good bacteria' that provide health benefits for the host. The health benefits of probiotics include treatment of diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome. Read now
On my recent trip to Japan, one thing I noticed was the inclusion of pickled vegetables in almost every traditional Japanese meal. Unfortunately, many Americans don’t consume enough of these probiotic-rich foods and drinks. Even when they do, restoring equilibrium oftentimes requires therapeutic doses of these microorganisms, because most everyone has been on several rounds of antimicrobials. That’s where a probiotic supplement comes in.
Candida albicans is the most common species that causes yeast infections, but there are others. It is a normal inhabitant of the gastrointestinal tract and is often found in the female vaginal tract. Candida infections on the skin cause red, itchy rashes that often weep moisture, and in the vagina there is often a cottage-cheese-like discharge in addition to the skin symptoms.
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.
Fermenting a cucumber into a pickle amps up a cuke's powers, infusing the crunchy veggie with probiotics. Like sauerkraut, not all pickles offer the good bacteria, though. Look for those made with brine (salt and water) rather than vinegar. These brands will list "live cultures" on the label (like Bubbies). You can also use water, salt, and spices to naturally culture pickles and other veggies—like beets, green beans, and carrots—at home with delicious results. One warning: remember that pickles are salty—one dill can easily offer up more than 10% of your sodium needs in a day.
Look for the probiotic yeast Saccharomyces boulardii (S. Boulardii)—you can take it as a separate supplement or find it in multi-strain probotics. Studies show that it is effective at preventing antibiotic-induced diarrhea and Clostridium diffcicile (C. difficile) infection, which a course of antibiotics can cause. Saccharomyces boulardii increases your secretory IgA—in other words, it strengthens the immune system in the gut. (Some people say that Saccharomyces boulardii is also the panacea for Candida—it’s a yeast that fights yeast—but while it’s helpful for some, other people do not tolerate it well, so I recommend trying it as an individual supplement first to see how you respond.)
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Digestive tract conditions. Probiotic supplements may be useful in treating and preventing inflammatory conditions, such as pouchitis (which affects people who have their colons removed), inflammatory bowel diseases (such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease), and chronic stomach inflammation and ulcers caused by Helicobacter pylori bacterium. They may also be helpful in treating constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, acid reflux, spastic colon; shortening the duration of infectious diarrhea; and reducing the recurrence of bladder and colorectal cancer. Some studies suggest that yogurt is helpful in preventing diarrhea - a common side effect of treatment with antibiotics. It has also been shown to prevent or treat urinary tract infections and vaginal yeast infections in women.
The benefit of taking a probiotic supplement is that a supplement contains very specific bacteria known to have a beneficial effect on human health, and a positive impact on our gut microbiome. Taking a probiotic supplement has the added benefit of providing a specific and concentrated dosage of healthy bacteria, so you know you are getting a therapeutic, research-proven dosage every time.
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.
In the new study, the researchers analyzed information from 15 healthy volunteers who took either a probiotic product containing 11 strains of bacteria, or a placebo, for four weeks. The participants also underwent colonoscopies and upper endoscopies before they took the probiotics or the placebo, and again after the four-week treatment period. (An upper endoscopy looks at the upper part of the digestive tract.) During these procedures, the researchers took samples from inside participants' guts.
When it comes to feminine health, the focus is all about balance. Whether you are trying to starve off annoying yeast infections and BV or recurrent urinary tract infections, the secret to optimal health lies in balancing out the bacteria that are already in your system. That’s why these vH Probiotics with Prebiotics and Cranberry contain prebiotic compounds to promote the growth of good bacteria in the digestive and reproductive systems.
For the generally healthy person, you can make a very good case to trust your own body to select and grow the best bacteria that are already in everyone. The foods you eat greatly influence your bacterial mix. Although probiotics offer many positive health benefits, there is no guarantee that they can make the trip from your mouth to your lower gut intact. Although adding more prebiotic fiber to your diet cannot guarantee safe passage of probiotics, it can influence the healthy bacteria that already live in your system. If probiotics help you, eating prebiotic foods or supplements will cause those healthy bacteria to flourish.
Yogurt: It can contain Streptococcus thermophilus, Lactobacillus bulgaricus, L. acidophilus, and Bifidobacterium bifidum. Research has shown links with yogurt to have positive effects on the gut microbiota and is associated with a reduced risk for gastrointestinal disease and improvement of lactose intolerance (especially among children), type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, allergies and respiratory diseases, as well as improved dental and bone health.
Many studies have shown that probiotics reduce diarrhea associated with taking antibiotics in both adults and children. In fact, it is common for physicians and pharmacists to recommend eating a probiotic-fortified yogurt every day during a course of antibiotics to prevent diarrhea. More research is needed to determine which probiotics are associated with the greatest effect for specific antibiotics.
The scientists discovered that the probiotics successfully colonized the GI tracts of some people, called the "persisters," while the gut microbiomes of "resisters" expelled them. Moreover, the persister and resister patterns would determine whether probiotics, in a given person, would impact their indigenous microbiome and human gene expression. The researchers could predict whether a person would be a persister or resister just by examining their baseline microbiome and gut gene expression profile.
While one 2009 study did show some evidence for reducing cold and flu symptoms in children ages three to five and a 2015 analysis showed probiotics to be better than placebo in preventing acute upper respiratory infections, neither were enough to convince the National Institutes of Health of the efficacy of probiotics for colds and flu. The NIH confirms, “the evidence is weak and the results have limitations.”
The right resident strains - quite a few probiotics on the market contain things like active yeasts or soil based organisms. While these ingredients may be helpful to some, if you want to optimize your gut health, you need to look for strains that are resident to the human gut like those from the Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Streptococcus families.
We also found strains linked to five other health benefits like weight loss and lowering cholesterol. We feature options for those cases below, but they aren’t top picks because those use cases aren’t as heavily researched as immune health or IBS relief. Still, chances are any probiotic supplement is going to make some improvement to your digestive health, so don’t be afraid to experiment.
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.
Jotham Suez, Niv Zmora, Gili Zilberman-Schapira, Uria Mor, Mally Dori-Bachash, Stavros Bashiardes, Maya Zur, Dana Regev-Lehavi, Rotem Ben-Zeev Brik, Sara Federici, Max Horn, Yotam Cohen, Andreas E. Moor, David Zeevi, Tal Korem, Eran Kotler, Alon Harmelin, Shalev Itzkovitz, Nitsan Maharshak, Oren Shibolet, Meirav Pevsner-Fischer, Hagit Shapiro, Itai Sharon, Zamir Halpern, Eran Segal, Eran Elinav. "Post-Antibiotic Gut Mucosal Microbiome Reconstitution Is Impaired by Probiotics and Improved by Autologous FMT." Cell (First published: September 6, 2018) DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2018.08.047
In addition to the prophylactic effect of stocking your gut with good bacteria, there are some probiotic strains that have also shown promise in treating symptoms of autoimmune disorders, including L. Paracasei and L. Acidophilus. Others, like B. Lactis, could help prevent respiratory infections. Renew Life Flora Extra Care has all three targeted bacteria strains at 30 billion CFUs per serving.
Sick of fighting off cold after cold? The Align Daily Immune Support Probiotic Supplement is a great way to give your immune system a boost while protecting your gut bacteria. Align is one of the most popular probiotic brands out there and is trusted by both doctors and nutritionists. The Daily Immune Support has Bifidobacterium lactis BB-12, a probiotic strain thought to be most beneficial to your immune health. It’s a lactic acid bacteria that can also help to fight lactose intolerance. This probiotic contains five billion CFUs (generally, most adults should take at least one billion CFUs in a probiotic) and is meant to be taken once a day.
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.
Probiotics are clearly incredibly supportive, but they can't do their work alone. To make sure that you're getting the most out of your microbes, it's important that you give them the support they need to work. You've got lots of options for supporting your gut health, from dietary changes to probiotic supplementation, but make sure you're at least covering the following bases.