If you get sick often, probiotics might be the immune booster you've been looking for. The Cleveland Clinic says they've been shown to strengthen immunity by enriching and replenishing the good bacteria in the body. And when you eat foods with probiotics regularly, it's easier for your body to produce vitamins and enzymes that help keep your intestines happy.
Better Health Review named Dr. Ohhira’s Probiotics 12 Plus on its list of the top probiotic supplements on the market. It contains less than a billion active probiotic cells per dosage, but it adds vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients for optimal health. It claims to be 100 percent vegetarian. Better Health Review gives Dr. Ohhira’s Probiotics 12 Plus a rating of 3.5 on a scale of 5.
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.
Proponents claim that probiotics (meaning “for life,” as opposed to antibiotics) confer health benefits primarily by rebalancing the normal microflora in the large intestine (colon). There are many general types of bacteria used as probiotics (two common ones are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium), and many different species as well as strains within species. They have different physiological effects—and thus possibly different health benefits (as well as possible risks). Some yeasts, such as Saccharmyces, can also act as probiotics.
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.
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.
Some people prefer probiotic supplements over foods, but Dr. Cresci notes that probiotic foods are a better choice. In particular, fermented foods — like yogurt, kefir (a yogurt-like beverage), kombucha (fermented black tea), sauerkraut (refrigerated, not shelf-stable), kimchi (made from fermented cabbage) and tempeh and miso (made from fermented soybeans) — provide a nourishing environment in which healthful bacteria thrive and release an important byproduct: short-chain fatty acids.
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 with other types of supplements, scientists are still discovering the full potential of probiotics. However, when taken regularly, it is believed that they help support digestive health by helping maintain the balance of beneficial and non-beneficial bacteria in your digestive tract. Having a natural balance of good bacteria in the digestive tract can help defend against occasional digestive issues. In addition, probiotics play an important role in supporting immune health, since 70% of the body's immune system is found in the digestive tract.∗