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.
The concept of probiotics is credited to Élie Metchnikoff, a Russian scientist born in the mid-1800s, whose work provided profound insights into immunology and microbes. He developed a theory about aging that over the years had been forgotten in mainstream medicine but is now embraced by many scientists: namely, that health is influenced by toxic bacteria in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. He is said to have noticed that people who lived to be over 100 years old in the Balkan States and Russia drank sour milk, which we now call yogurt or kefir, every day. In fact, Bulgarian yogurt cultures even today are regarded as highly therapeutic.
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After the antibiotics had cleared the way, the standard probiotics could easily colonize the gut of everyone in the second group, but to the team's surprise, this probiotic colonization prevented the host's normal microbiome and gut gene expression profile from returning to their normal state for months afterward. In contrast, the aFMT resulted in the third group's native gut microbiome and gene program returning to normal within days.
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.
"This suggests that probiotics should not be universally given as a 'one-size-fits-all' supplement," study co-senior author Eran Elinav, an immunologist at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, said in a statement. However, it may be possible to tailor probiotic treatments to the individual, based on the types of microbes already in his or her gut, as well as other factors, so that he or she gets the most benefit from probiotics, the researchers said.
The research also showed that while probiotics colonised the gastrointestinal tract of some people, the gut microbiome of others just expelled them. There was no way of telling from their stool sample which category people fell into. “Some people accept probiotics in their gut, while others just pass them from one end to the other,” says Elinav. They found that the probiotic colonisation patterns were highly dependent on the individual. That tells us that the concept that everyone can benefit from a universal probiotic bought from the supermarket is empirically wrong, he says.
Some foods are made by adding bacteria — yogurt, pickles, cottage cheese, kombucha, and sauerkraut are good examples. Those foods work to provide the same probiotic benefits as supplements. However, most foods are so processed and pasteurized that it’s unlikely you’ll see the same benefits, let alone the right strains, as you would with a supplement. Regardless, it can’t hurt to get extra probiotics through your diet.
As of now, the most comprehensive meta-study (a study of different studies) has not been able to decisively identify any particular strain of bacteria that is specifically useful to treat seasonal allergies. Some studies contradict each other on which bacteria can treat grass pollen, and other studies will find that those strains the first two studies examined weren’t nearly as effective in their own trials.
Because chronic inflammation is at the root of many diseases and health conditions, the fact that probiotics exert this effect in the gut, where 80 percent of the immune system lies, is crucial. The immune-boosting benefits of probiotics seem to be particularly helpful for the quality of life of seniors. Currently, research is underway to test whether probiotics can “reduce inflammation and improve gut immune health in HIV-positive individuals” who haven’t yet undergone treatment.
Most recently, two back-to-back papers were published simultaneously on September 6 in the journal Cell showing that many people can’t successfully colonize standard probiotic microbiome in their gut. The scientists also found that consuming generic probiotic strains after taking antibiotics often delayed gut bacteria and gene expression from returning to their natural "naïve" state.
The bottom line: Stick to trusted whole food sources of probiotics if you don’t know a probiotic supplement brand you trust. “Kimchi, pickled beets, Greek yogurt and sauerkraut are great sources of probiotics. If you don’t like them, throw them into a food you do like, like a smoothie, and add your favorite fruit to help mask the flavor,” Taub-Dix says.
Fizzy, tangy, and even slightly vinegar-esque, kombucha has a cult following for a reason. The tea gets its natural carbonation from the "scoby" (that float-y thing you see in some bottled varieties), which is actually the bacteria and yeast that ferment the drink and creates the probiotics. "There's not much scientific evidence specifically on the benefits of kombucha, but it is another strategy to introduce more live, active bacteria into your lifestyle," says Palmer. Many are made with fruit juice for added flavor, so read the label to see what you're getting, she advises. Stick to store-bought kombucha; it's tough to keep the tea sanitary when you make it yourself, and homebrewed kombucha been linked to nausea and even toxicity. Also note that due to the fermentation process, kombucha contains trace amounts of alcohol, so it's best to stick to one 12-ounce bottle a day.
Garden of Life RAW Probiotics are some of the most popular out there – and for good reason. Let’s start with the basics: You’ll get 85 billion CFUs and 31 to 33 probiotic strains out of your daily, whole-food, gluten-free, soy-free probiotic, which helps support the immune system, a healthy thyroid, nutrient absorption, digestive function, and a healthy microbial balance.
Hi Joan, it’s possible, but not ideal because most pill form probiotic supplements are designed to be protected from stomach acid until the capsule reaches the intestines. It’s impossible to say how many probiotic microorganisms would survive by taking them this way, but certainly less than if you swallow the pills. I would recommend trying a probiotic gummy product or some other probiotic that comes in something other than pill form rather than opening up the capsules.
Those who took probiotics did replenish gut microbiome more successfully than the “watch-and-wait” group. That said, there was also an unexpected backlash to probiotic use. The researchers were alarmingly surprised to discover that successful microbiome colonization via probiotics actually prevented the host's pre-antibiotic microbiome and gut gene expression profile from returning to its natural state for months after the treatment. But there is good news: Using aFMT resulted in the third group's native gut microbiome and gene expression profiles returning to normal within days after they stopped taking antibiotics.
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Jigsaw Essential Blend Probiotics uses five of the most researched (and effective) live strains to promote a healthy digestive system, restore flora after antibiotics use, and help with optimal vitamin absorption. Jigsaw products are also third-party certified, so you can rest assured that each batch is safe and pure. The bottom line? If you’re looking for a vegan-friendly formula — the capsules are made from HPMC (Hypromellose - Hydroxypropyl Methylcellulose), gelling agent (Gellan gum), and water — with a high CFU count, this product is for you. There are 90 capsules per bottle.
As a world-renowned neurologist and nutritionist, Dr. David Perlmutter has become somewhat of a household name when it comes to the linkage between what we eat and how we feel. He is known as “The Empowering Neurologist” and has been featured on the Doctor Oz Show, CNN, and NPR as well as in prominent publications like The New York Times, Forbes, Time Magazine, and the Wall Street Journal. If that wasn’t enough to spark your interest, Dr. Perlmutter is also the award-winning author of the Grain Brain Whole Life Plan, Brain Maker, and Grain Brain, all of which have become international bestsellers.
Scientists are investigating probiotics, and their combined effects, by trying to classify the probiotic benefits of ingesting specific probiotic strains and understanding their role in the digestive tract. At present, the methodological and ethical limitations of human studies still make it difficult to fully understand the mechanisms of action of probiotics, but some explanations are available. Nevertheless, benefits linked to the consumption of probiotic strains have already been suggested (e.g. helping to support the immune system, help support digestive health), and others are still being investigated.
Probiotics have direct and indirect effects on your immune system. They can help tip an imbalance in an immune response, such as in seasonal allergies, to a more balanced state. Probiotics benefits have direct and indirect effects on your nervous and endocrine systems, too, and are part of your enteric nervous system. They can influence every system in your body. The amount of probiotic pills and supplements shown to be beneficial in research for various conditions differs based on the population and condition studied, so no blanket recommendations can be made.
Women’s health expert Dr. Amy Myers is a goop-trusted authority on subjects from autoimmunity and Candida to thyroid dysfunction; and she’ll be speaking IRL at our first wellness summit on June 10. Here, Myers helps us evaluate the increasing buzz around probiotics, and outlines the ins and outs of selecting a particular supplement (whether hers or other brands). Plus, we’ve rounded up our probiotic essentials, from inner beauty powders to favorite fermentation recipes, in one guide: