If you've tried a probiotic after following these steps and it doesn't seem to be working for you (or you just want some extra guidance in choosing one), head to your doctor (or a dietitian) to get a recommendation. "Have a thorough discussion with your doctor to make sure you are taking the appropriate bacterial strain for the appropriate reason," advises Dr. Ivanina. "Then, follow up after taking the probiotic to make sure it is having the intended effect."
If you’ve ever clicked on the 6:00 news or scrolled through the latest headlines on your smartphone, you probably know that supplements and vitamins are not typically backed by governmental entities like the FDA or the World Health Organization. This fact can leave supplement newbies a bit wary, which is exactly why we love the Garden of Life Dr. Formulated Once Daily Women’s Probiotic so much.
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.")
Tempeh is made with fermented soybeans or grains that have been molded into a cake-like form. The nuttier, tangier cousin to tofu can be sliced for sandwiches, tossed into stir-fries, or marinated and grilled. In addition to probiotics, tempeh contains about 15 grams of protein per half-cup and is a good source of iron. Plus, soy foods contain compounds that may help keep cholesterol in check, according to a study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Palmer likes to use tempeh in place of tofu in dishes like stir-fries, salads, and side dishes.
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.
According to Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RD, CDN, founder of Better Than Dieting and author of Read It Before You Eat It, “We have more bacterial cells in our body than actual tissue, so you want as much “good” bacteria to be on your side. But not all probiotics are alike, and how your body reacts to them will not be the same as someone else who takes them.”
An imbalance in the gut microbiota is believed to contribute to a number of health problems, particularly gastrointestinal issues, as well as immune dysfunction and infections. The bacterial balance can be disrupted by medical conditions, emotional and physical stress, and, most notably, use of antibiotics, which destroy the good bacteria along with the bad.
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.*
Probiotics also seem to ameliorate irritable bowel syndrome, a chronic disease characterized by abdominal pain, bloating, and frequent diarrhea or constipation (or a mix of the two). A 2014 review of more than 30 studies, published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology by an international team of researchers, determined that in some cases, probiotics help to relieve the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome for reasons that are not entirely clear, although it may be that they impede the growth of harmful microbes. The researchers concluded, however, that they did not have enough data to recommend any particular strains of bacteria. Microbiologists often caution that a promising study on a single strain of a particular species of bacteria should not be taken as proof that all probiotics work equally well. “Bacterial strains are so genetically different from one another, and everybody has a different gut microbiota,” Allen-Vercoe says. “There will probably never be a one-size-fits-all probiotic.”
Yes, they may help. Lebwohl says there are reputable studies that show a link between the use of probiotics and the reduction in IBS symptoms, citing this meta-analysis. It's estimated that 11 percent of the world population complains of symptoms like abdominal cramps, diarrhea, constipation, excessive gas and/or mucus in their stools. While for some the condition can be attributed to certain dietary triggers, others appear to be stress-related, which brings us to the heart of where many claims about the effectiveness of probiotics lie—in the gut-brain axis.
However, these quality of life improvements are varied, and some improvements are quite mild. Sample group, types of allergies, symptoms, and results are across a broad spectrum. For example, numerous studies have shown that allergic rhinitis responses to the household dust mite decrease significantly in adults and children when probiotics were used. However, people allergic to birch pollen saw neither a decrease in general allergic responses to birch pollen or to apple food.
If you don’t have a specific health goal in mind and want to bolster the number of good bacteria floating around your system, Perlmutter recommends starting with a minimum of eight to 10 different bacterial species. He included a core five (L. Plantarum, L. Acidophilus, L. Brevis, B. Lactis, and B. Longum) and we added five more highly researched and universally beneficial strains for a general health pick. Vita Miracle, formerly Islands Miracle, has nine of those 10, plus 30 billion CFUs per serving.
Both probiotics and prebiotics are a continuing topic of research regarding immunity. When used in conjunction, scientists refer to them collectively as synbiotics. One 2015 review on the subject stated, “We suggest that LAB and Bifidobacteria and novel strains [of probiotics] might be an additional or supplementary therapy and may have potential for preventing wide scope of immunity-related diseases due anti-inflammatory effect.”
Probiotics and raw fermented foods and drinks, such as sauerkraut and kefir that contain probiotic-like microbes, are very helpful for digestion. They help to keep your gastrointestinal tract at the proper pH for optimal digestion and help to break down foods. They also regulate the motion of your intestines so that food moves through at the proper pace.
Best Probiotic says that Suprema Dophilus, manufactured and distributed by Vitabase, enjoys the highest customer rating in the market. Specially coated to help the bacteria spread through your entire digestive tract, its website claims over four billion viable cells per capsule, including five lactobacillus strains and three bifidobacteria cultures. Best Probiotic says that Suprema Dophilus also contains fructo-oligosaccarides to increase the life span of the bacteria.
The bad news about constipation is that there can be many causes, from simple causes like dehydration and lack of fiber to complicated structural causes or disease. While constipation may seem to be only a nuisance that causes uncomfortable symptoms such as abdominal bloating or pain, the truth is that constipation increases the risks of several diseases.
Back to the question of what are probiotics: There are five main types, each in its own classification called a genus. Within each genus there are multiple species, and within those species there are multiple strains. For example, Lactobacillus is a very common genus of probiotics. Within that genus are numerous species, such as rhamnosus. The genus and species of a microbe are always italicized, making it easy to know that a microbe is involved. In a species such as Lactobacillus rhamnosus (often abbreviated L. rhamnosus), there are many strains. An example of the name of a strain is L. rhamnosus GR-1.
If that's not enough, your doctor may also suggest a probiotic supplement. But don't go and grab just anything off the pharmacy shelf. Probiotic supplements are not all the same, and they often contain different strains to serve different needs, says naturopathic physician Amy Fasig. Example: What one person gets to battle strep throat is different from what would be prescribed for someone suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome, she says.
About 60 to 80 percent of our immune system lives in our gut. Imbalances in the gut’s microbiome (which is primarily made up of bacteria) lead to digestive issues, while many many other potential effects can be felt throughout the body—from feelings of fatigue to depression, thyroid dysfunction, autoimmunity, and a host of skin issues. Conditions like rosacea, psoriasis, eczema, and acne are really inflammatory conditions, and often a manifestation of something that is happening deeper within the body. When you fix the gut (which, depending on your health, might include getting rid of an infection like Candida, eating a clean diet, and taking a probiotic), skin issues often resolve as well.
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Probiotics stick around for a while, though for how long isn’t precisely clear. You have to keep taking them to continue to reap the benefits. Further, getting a wide variety of strains into your system is beneficial. “Periodically mixing up your probiotic supplement is also a good way to ensure that you get different health-building strains in your health regime,” says Dr. Cook.
The benefits of probiotics don't stop at internal health. Research from the American Academy of Dermatology found that, whether applied topically or taken orally, probiotics can potentially help patients with skin issues such as acne, rosacea, and eczema. More studies need to be done though, so talk to your dermatologist before changing your regular routine.
Even if some of the bacteria in a probiotic managed to survive and propagate in the intestine, there would likely be far too few of them to dramatically alter the overall composition of one's internal ecosystem. Whereas the human gut contains tens of trillions of bacteria, there are only between 100 million and a few hundred billion bacteria in a typical serving of yogurt or a microbe-filled pill. Last year a team of scientists at the University of Copenhagen published a review of seven randomized, placebo-controlled trials (the most scientifically rigorous types of studies researchers know how to conduct) investigating whether probiotic supplements—including biscuits, milk-based drinks and capsules—change the diversity of bacteria in fecal samples. Only one study—of 34 healthy volunteers—found a statistically significant change, and there was no indication that it provided a clinical benefit. “A probiotic is still just a drop in a bucket,” says Shira Doron, an infectious disease expert at Tufts Medical Center. “The gut always has orders of magnitude more microbes.”
A popular dish in Japan consisting of fermented soybeans, natto contains the extremely powerful probiotic bacillus subtilis, which has been proven to bolster your immune system, support cardiovascular health and enhance digestion of vitamin K2. Natto can also contain vitamin B12, which is usually lacking in vegan diets. It’s also one of the highest plant-based proteins.