What's more, people who have serious heart issues commonly have S. mutans in their heart valves—this is an undesirable type of bacteria that’s actually more often found in the mouth. If your oral microbiome is in balance, S. mutans are normally kept in control by more beneficial species, but if things get out of balance, they can reproduce and make their way into your bloodstream via openings in your gums, compromising your cardiovascular function.3

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.”
They probably are. Lebwohl says probiotics may decrease the risk of getting diarrhea during the course of taking antibiotics, and may also play a role in specifically preventing the development of the dreaded antibiotic-related super diarrhea called C. difficile or C. diff. Antibiotics can wipe out the good bacteria that keep you from getting sick if you’re exposed to C. diff, or if you already have it in your system. C. diff symptoms can range from a moderate watery diarrhea several times a day to severe infections, which can be accompanied by fever, bloody stools, rapid heart rate, and can even lead to kidney failure. 500,000 Americans were infected with C. diff in 2015 and 15,000 died from it.
Topping the probiotic market numbers at 100 Billion CFU divided between 34 probiotic strains, Garden of Life’s Ultimate Care probiotic was definitely a contender for our Best Probiotic of 2018. Free from preservatives and additives, RAW scored impressive marks across the board. Although this shortens the lifespan of the probiotics strains somewhat, buying in small quantities can easily solve this problem and – honestly – at CHR we always prefer purity to additives.

Unless you have a perfect gut and are already eating lots of fermented foods—which is rare, although you can work up to this point—it’s difficult to get all the probiotics you need from diet alone. Most of us don’t have perfect guts—everything from antibiotics to high-carbohydrate diets to being born via a C-section can compromise the balance of bacteria in our microbiome. Supplementing with a probiotic can help to restore imbalances, and it’s also just a great preventative health measure, helping to keep your microbiome in balance and your immune system healthy to ward off illnesses.
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.
Don't assume that the only way you can get your probiotic yogurt fix is through dairy. Cultured soymilk, or soy yogurt, is a non-dairy alternative that also boasts live active cultures. Most of these products are fortified with calcium and vitamin D to make them comparable to dairy yogurts. It makes a great option if you're vegan or lactose intolerant. (And if you're looking for more variety, almond milk and coconut milk yogurts are also rich in probiotics.)
Because there's a huge variety of probiotic products available on the market, many people struggle to find the right one for them. "There are many different strains of bacteria in different combinations within different probiotic supplements," explains Brooke Scheller, a clinical and functional nutritionist. "For example, a probiotic may contain a single strain of bacteria or many. It may also contain other vitamins, minerals, or other ingredients that may tout health benefits," she says. There are many different dosages, delivery systems (powder, tablets, capsules), and formulations (refrigerated vs. shelf-stable), and some probiotics also contain prebiotics, which basically act as fertilizer for the probiotics. (Related: Why Your Probiotic Needs a Prebiotic Partner)
Probiotics may also be of use in maintaining urogenital health. Like the intestinal tract, the vagina is a finely balanced ecosystem. The dominant Lactobacilli strains normally make it too acidic for harmful microorganisms to survive. But the system can be thrown out of balance by a number of factors, including antibiotics, spermicides, and birth control pills. Probiotic treatment that restores the balance of microflora may be helpful for such common female urogenital problems as bacterial vaginosis, yeast infection, and urinary tract infection.

Unless you have a perfect gut and are already eating lots of fermented foods—which is rare, although you can work up to this point—it’s difficult to get all the probiotics you need from diet alone. Most of us don’t have perfect guts—everything from antibiotics to high-carbohydrate diets to being born via a C-section can compromise the balance of bacteria in our microbiome. Supplementing with a probiotic can help to restore imbalances, and it’s also just a great preventative health measure, helping to keep your microbiome in balance and your immune system healthy to ward off illnesses.
"When certain types of probiotics are placed in contact with skin cells, they calm the parts of the cells that may want to react to the presence of bad bacteria that they see as a threat. These healthy signals produced by the probiotics stop the skin cells from sending 'attack' messages to the immune system that result in flares of acne or rosacea."
Bifidobacteria is a family of bacteria that has been studied for its ability to prevent and treat various gastrointestinal disorders, including infections, irritable bowel syndrome and constipation. In addition to making lactic acid, it also makes some important short-chain fatty acids that are then absorbed and metabolized by the body. There is also some experimental evidence that certain bifidobacteria may actually protect the host from carcinogenic activity of other intestinal flora.
Probiotic supplements and foods can play a major positive role in brain fog. Lactobacillus, in particular, can produce neurotransmitters used for brain neuron-to-neuron transmission to facilitate thinking. Probiotics can interact with the vagus nerve to the brain, with the enteric nervous system that can communicate with the brain, and with the brain via chemical messengers.

They probably are. Lebwohl says probiotics may decrease the risk of getting diarrhea during the course of taking antibiotics, and may also play a role in specifically preventing the development of the dreaded antibiotic-related super diarrhea called C. difficile or C. diff. Antibiotics can wipe out the good bacteria that keep you from getting sick if you’re exposed to C. diff, or if you already have it in your system. C. diff symptoms can range from a moderate watery diarrhea several times a day to severe infections, which can be accompanied by fever, bloody stools, rapid heart rate, and can even lead to kidney failure. 500,000 Americans were infected with C. diff in 2015 and 15,000 died from it.
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.
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.
When I polled friends and family about their personal experiences with probiotics, I got a real mixed bag of responses. Some called them a lifesaver and others felt no effects whatsoever. I put the anecdotes aside and talked to Ben Lebwohl, gastroenterologist and director of clinical research at Columbia University’s Celiac Disease Center, to get the straight poop on whether probiotics are miracle or myth.

The good news keeps stacking up for probiotics, the good-for-you bacteria that keep your GI system functioning in tip-top shape. "Research is finding that a healthy microbiome may play a role in reducing inflammation, a risk factor involved in illnesses ranging from colds to cancer, heart disease, arthritis, and cognitive decline," says Katherine Tallmadge, RD, author of Diet Simple. In addition, the bacteria may help burn body fat and reduce insulin resistance, she says. So to stay slim and healthy, consider adding more probiotic foods to your diet. Start with these truly yummy 13.

One review of probiotics benefits for necrotizing enterocolitis was bold enough to say, “The results confirm the significant benefits of probiotic supplements in reducing death and disease in preterm neonates. The … evidence indicate that additional placebo-controlled trials are unnecessary if a suitable probiotic product is available.” Regarding sepsis in developing countries (where it is overwhelmingly more common), a 2017 randomized, controlled trial claims that a large number of these cases “could be effectively prevented” if mothers are given a synbiotic (probiotic and prebiotic together) that contains the probiotic strain L. plantarum.


Until recently, testing of probiotics by ConsumerLab.com found that some products had far lower amounts of live organisms than claimed on the labels. But in 2018, it found that 17 out of 18 products tested contained the amounts listed; none exceeded limits for heavy metal contaminants. In contrast, in 2016, a study in Pediatric Research found that only one out of 16 Bifidobacterium longum supplements tested contained the species named on the label.
The gut microbiota has been implicated in diseases ranging from obesity to Parkinson's disease and depression. Little wonder then that commercial probiotics have gained widespread popularity and are now estimated to command a US$37 billion market worldwide. But with research into the microbiome still in its infancy, increasing evidence suggests that both commercial and clinical use of probiotics is outpacing the science.

Bifidobacteria is a family of bacteria that has been studied for its ability to prevent and treat various gastrointestinal disorders, including infections, irritable bowel syndrome and constipation. In addition to making lactic acid, it also makes some important short-chain fatty acids that are then absorbed and metabolized by the body. There is also some experimental evidence that certain bifidobacteria may actually protect the host from carcinogenic activity of other intestinal flora.
Topping the probiotic market numbers at 100 Billion CFU divided between 34 probiotic strains, Garden of Life’s Ultimate Care probiotic was definitely a contender for our Best Probiotic of 2018. Free from preservatives and additives, RAW scored impressive marks across the board. Although this shortens the lifespan of the probiotics strains somewhat, buying in small quantities can easily solve this problem and – honestly – at CHR we always prefer purity to additives.
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.

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.”


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.
Popular probiotic foods include yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, and kombucha. While delicious, these foods don’t claim specific amounts of whatever microorganisms they may contain. By contrast, Probiotic All-Flora is optimally formulated with the right amounts of the right strains to deliver researched benefits. The label lists out the DNA-tested flora that make up that ideal 10 billion CFU in just one capsule daily. So probiotic supplements actually have more reliable strain benefits than probiotic foods.
Since the bulk of your natural flora exists in your gut, it makes sense that this is the part of your body that feels it most when bacteria become imbalanced. Women, in particular, can experience all kinds of digestive problems, particularly during hormone fluctuations. These are just some of the digestive symptoms a high-quality probiotic can help reduce and even treat:
A slightly more surprising result, however, seems to be the way that probiotics may impact some of the symptoms of autism. Autism and gut health have been discussed for some time, as patients with the disorder typically suffer from a large number of digestive issues. However, based on animal studies, it seems possible that altering the quality of gut bacteria might benefit not only the digestive system, but the abnormal behaviors in autism, too. In 2016, a case study of a boy with severe autism was reported. While being treated with probiotics for digestive problems, the patient spontaneously improved on the ADOS scale, a diagnostic rating system for people with autism. The score dropped from 20 down three points to a stable 17, and according to the report, ADOS scores do not “fluctuate spontaneously along time” and are “absolutely stable.”
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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.)
There are both probiotics and prebiotics in fermented foods. I differ from a lot of doctors in that I recommend that patients with infections like Candida and SIBO don’t eat prebiotics until they’ve cleared up the infection—because the prebiotics can feed those infections, too. I find that it’s better to get rid of those infections first, and then add in prebiotics to your diet after. [See here for more from Dr. Myers on treating yeast infections.]
Probiotics have been shown to help reduce duration of pediatric acute diarrhea, decrease symptoms associated with taking antibiotics, manage symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, reduce crying time in infants with colic and reduce relapses of ulcerative colitis. Certain probiotics may also inhibit the growth of Helicobacter pylori, bacteria that colonize the stomach and can cause ulcers and stomach cancer.

That said, supplements with higher numbers of CFUs are sometimes used to treat conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), allergies, and respiratory illness. While probiotics have generally been found to be safe for most people with normal immune systems, too much can cause gas and upset stomach. We narrowed our search to supplements with dosages between 1 billion and 100 billion CFUs. 

Although some probiotics have shown promise in research studies, strong scientific evidence to support specific uses of probiotics for most health conditions is lacking. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any probiotics for preventing or treating any health problem. Some experts have cautioned that the rapid growth in marketing and use of probiotics may have outpaced scientific research for many of their proposed uses and benefits.
Notably, after someone was tagged a “persister” or “resister” clear patterns emerged on how probiotics would impact his or her indigenous microbiome and gut bacteria profile. "Although all of our probiotic-consuming volunteers showed probiotics in their stool, only some of them showed them in their gut, which is where they need to be," Eran Segal said in a statement. "If some people resist and only some people permit them, the benefits of the standard probiotics we all take can't be as universal as we once thought. These results highlight the role of the gut microbiome in driving very specific clinical differences between people."
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