Unfortunately, many commercial brands don’t measure up. They are unstable in stomach acid. Quality control measures aren’t intact, including ensuring supplements have been handled correctly and maintain their freshness. Moisture slipping into probiotic supplements can reduce their efficacy. Companies that use bioshield capsules produce higher quality probiotic supplements that are able to endure the stomach acid, releasing their contents within the small intestine, where a more alkaline environment ensures the survival of the bacteria.
A large analysis reviewed available research and determined that probiotics help lower blood pressure by improving lipid profiles, reducing insulin resistance, regulating renin levels (a protein and enzyme secreted by the kidneys to lower blood pressure) and activating antioxidants. Researchers consider them valuable prospects in the treatment of high blood pressure because their side effects are generally minimal or nonexistent. (82, 83)
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.
"Probiotics help with constipation, diarrhea, colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, abdominal pain, Crohn's disease, and flatulence," says Shapiro. "Probiotics work to increase the number of immunoglobulin cells and cytokine-producing cells in the intestine. They improve the healthy bacteria population in the GI tract by repopulating the gut to help with digestion."
However, these naturally-occurring bacteria can easily become imbalanced causing a variety of symptoms from stomach upset to feminine health problems. Probiotics can help get things back on track. Taken in supplement form, probiotics are either live or dormant strains of the same bacteria that your body wants and needs to stay healthy. Over time, these supplements can restore your body’s natural bacteria and prevent some of the most common stomach symptoms, yeast infections, and even urinary tract infections.
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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.
Cynthia is the assistant editor and frequent contributor. She’s originally from California, but has lived in many countries including South Korea, China and Germany. She currently lives with her husband in Minnesota. Cynthia is passionate about helping families find the best advice for family life and safety. Cynthia also has experience in early childhood education and holds a TEFL-C certificate from Teachers College, Columbia University. She has been writing about family-focused topics, advice and trends since 2014.
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.
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.
In a separate study involving 21 healthy volunteers, also published today in Cell, the same group of researchers found that taking probiotics after treatment with broad spectrum antibiotics may actually delay the return of people's normal gut microbiome. This goes against the idea that probiotics can help "repopulate" people's gut bacteria after antibiotics wipe them out.
It’s important to note that there are different types of strains of probiotics. The probiotics benefits of one probiotic strain may be completely different from the health benefits seen from another probiotic. If you want to use probiotics to address a specific health concern, it’s vital to select the right probiotic for the right condition — or you can consume a wide range of probiotics in your food to be covered.
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.
If that’s the case, I recommend steering clear. They either don’t want you to know that they’re using a poorly-researched strain of probiotics or they’re simply ignorant to the fact that the strain of probiotic really matters and determines the benefit that you’ll receive as the consumer. I usually want to give these companies the benefit of the doubt, but honestly, if you’re making a probiotic supplement you should know this stuff is important.
Make sure to keep them away from moisture and heat which can kill off some of the microbes. I recommend taking on an empty stomach, ideally right when you wake up. You should always store supplements in a cool, dark place but refrigeration is best. Most of the strains of probiotics are fragile and should be protected from heat- so refrigeration is ideal. I recommend the probiotic Gut Instinct from HUM Nutrition for transparency and high quality.
What exactly do probiotics do? They are believed to protect us in two ways. The first is the role that they play in our digestive tract. We know that our digestive tract needs a healthy balance between the good and bad bacteria, so what gets in the way of this? It looks like our lifestyle is both the problem and the solution. Poor food choices, emotional stress, lack of sleep, antibiotic overuse, other drugs, and environmental influences can all shift the balance in favor of the bad bacteria.