While the logic behind probiotics might seem sound, it is clear that we have a long way to go before understanding the complexity of the microbiota and the effects—both good and bad—that probiotics might have. All individuals have a unique gut microbiome, and the effects of different bacteria on different people are likely to be highly variable; as such, probiotic use might even need to be personalised for optimal benefits. Commercially available products might not contain the correct strains or quantities of bacteria to provide benefits, and most probiotic supplements contain only single strains, vastly oversimplifying the complexity of the microbiota. While taking a supplement for improved health is certainly an attractive prospect, those looking to aid their gut microbiota might be better served by consuming a healthy, varied diet. In the meantime, rigorous clinical trials are needed to substantiate potential health benefits and to confirm whether probiotics are elixirs or just empty promises.
Many studies have been conducted about the benefits of probiotics on a large number of health issues and conditions. Here, I’ll focus on the more thoroughly researched probiotics benefits, largely by sharing the results and data of meta-analyses on the subjects. Then, I have listed several areas of emerging research on the benefits of probiotics, reflected in small or pilot studies with promising results on probiotic benefits, as well as ways probiotics can be accessed.
Historically, people had plenty of probiotics in their diets from eating fresh foods from good soil and by fermenting foods to keep them from spoiling. Over a century ago, the Russian Nobel Prize winner Elie Metchnikoff theorized that “health could be enhanced and senility delayed by manipulating the intestinal microbiome with host-friendly bacteria found in yogurt.” Metchnikoff was ahead of his time with his view of probiotics benefits, but he also was aware that most citizens had regular access to probiotic foods.
A probiotic dietary supplement can aid your health in a variety of ways. Lactobacillus species, Bifidobacteria, Saccharomyces boulardii and Bacillus coagulans are the most common beneficial bacteria used in probiotic dietary supplement products. But each type — and each strain of each type — can work in different ways. Bottom line: Not all probiotics are the same, nor do they all have the same effect in the body.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a multisymptom GI disorder with unclear etiology and pathogenesis. Changes in GI microflora in IBS patients have been reported by a number of investigators [Kassinen et al. 2007; Shanahan, 2007]. Recently, reports on variable prevalences of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) in IBS have been published [Posserud et al. 2007; Lin, 2004]. IBS symptoms such as bloating or flatulence have been attributed to possible alterations in the intestinal microflora and probiotics have been used empirically to treat these difficult symptoms [Kim et al. 2003, 2005]. Postinfectious IBS may begin after a bout of acute gastroenteritis suggesting that altered microflora or induction of an altered inflammatory or immune state in the bowel may lead to altered bowel function and IBS symptoms [Collins et al. 2009]. An increase in lymphocytes and an increase in pro-inflammatory cytokines have been described [Spiller et al. 2000].
In addition, research going back to 2009, has shown that a mix of three strains of bacteria (Bifidobacterium bifidum, Bifidobacterium lactis, and Lactococcus lactis) given to babies who have a family history of allergic disease, can help prevent the likelihood of eczema. In this study, the probiotic was given to mothers during their pregnancy and to their babies during the first 12 months of life.
Probiotics, or beneficial gut microbes, influence many functions in your body. In addition to your immune health, researchers have found they affect your body weight, energy and nutrition, and your brain, both psychologically and neurologically. Your microflora impacts the expression of your genes, too, which can have a powerful effect on your health.*
Among their numerous health benefits, research shows these friendly microorganisms help prevent bowel diseases, improve your immune system, reduce traveler’s diarrhea, help you maintain a healthy weight, heal various skin conditions, improve bloating and other uncomfortable GI symptoms, and even boost your mood, helping to reduce the effects of anxiety and depression.
"I recommend supplementing with the species lactobacillus and bifidobacterium, and there are different strains within those species that are each beneficial. Garden of Life and Align probiotics contain bacteria that help the gut microbiome and maintain digestive balance, and 1MD's Complete Probiotics Platinum is one of the best probiotics with over 50 billion live cultures that help with gut and digestive health."
Probiotic supplements come in tablet, powder, capsule, and liquid forms. They do not provide the nutritional boost that probiotic foods do, but they are another option to promote a healthy mix of gut bacteria. Different probiotics may be recommended to different individuals. Ask your doctor if probiotic supplements are recommended for you. Some people who have immune system disorders or weak immune systems should be cautious about taking probiotic supplements. Follow your healthcare provider's advice.
Abdominal pain can have many causes that range from mild to severe. Some of these causes include bloating, gas, colitis, endometriosis, food poisoning, GERD, IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), ovarian cysts, abdominal adhesions, diverticulitis, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, gallbladder disease, liver disease, and cancers. Signs and symptoms of the more serious causes include dehydration, bloody or black tarry stools, severe abdominal pain, pain with no urination or painful urination. Treatment for abdominal pain depends upon the cause.
Digestive problems. The best evidence for probiotics is for reducing diarrhea, especially following antibiotic use. A 2010 review from the Cochrane Collaboration concluded that probiotics shorten episodes of acute infectious diarrhea. And in 2011, a Health Canada monograph stated that products containing certain probiotics (such as Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG) help manage acute infectious diarrhea and antibiotic-associated diarrhea. A 2012 research review in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that probiotics reduced the risk of antibiotic-associated diarrhea by 42 percent—but many of the studies had flaws, so these findings should be interpreted with caution. A 2013 Cochrane review of 23 trials also concluded that probiotics may be effective for preventing antibiotic-related diarrhea. However, two large, well-designed studies, in the Lancet in 2013 and the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2014, found that probiotics were no better than a placebo in preventing diarrhea in older people taking antibiotics. A review of 19 studies, published in Gastroenterology in 2017, found that probiotics reduce the risk of Clostridium difficile-related diarrhea in hospital patients, especially when the supplements were started during the first two days of antibiotic treatment.
Probiotics seem to be all the rage these days. With many purported benefits and a relatively low risk of side effects, manufacturers are taking advantage of booming business opportunities. Rather than leave your health in the hands of big business, it is important that you be as educated as possible about the best types of probiotics so you can choose what is right for you and your family.
Prebiotics are non-digestible food components that promote the growth of healthful bacteria in your gut. In essence, they are "good" bacteria promoters. In addition to improving digestive health, prebiotics can also enhance calcium absorption. Prebiotics are components of nondigestible fibers and are found in many plant foods. Rich sources of prebiotics include garlic, onion, leeks, asparagus, dandelion greens, and sunchokes. Prebiotics and probiotics work synergistically to optimize gut health. Hench, meals or products that combine these together have a symbiotic effect.
Very few studies have actually documented survival of an administered probiotic as it transits the gut, by means of fecal recovery studies. One probiotic may not necessarily be translatable to other probiotic(s): for example, different Bifidobacterium species have different tolerances to acid and growth requirements and will have different fecal recovery rates [Matto et al. 2004; Takahashi et al. 2004].
While more research is necessary to fully understand the benefits of different probiotic strains, we do know that not all probiotics are created equal. The Lactobacilli, for instance, live in our digestive, urinary, and genital systems and can be found in some fermented foods like yogurt. Bifidobacteria normally live in the intestines as lactic acid bacteria, and are also found in fermented foods. According to nutrition expert Alex Caspero, RD, “For certain conditions, you want to ensure you’re taking the strand that is most likely to benefit you.” Here’s a simple breakdown to help you determine the best probiotic for you.
Premature babies are at risk for this serious disease. Tissue in the intestines starts to die. The intestines get inflamed and a hole can form. Recent studies show that using Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG with the supplement bovine lactoferrin can help keep it under control. Bifidobacterium infantis combined with Lactobacillus acidophilus may also help stave off this problem in sick newborns.
The National Institute of Health (NIH) is sponsoring the Human Microbiome Project (HMP), which is developing research resources to enable the study of the microbial communities that live in and on our bodies and the roles they play in human health and disease. The NIH has funded many more medical studies using HMP data and techniques, including the role of the gut microbiome in Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, and esophageal cancer; skin microbiome in psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, and immunodeficiency; urogenital microbiome in reproductive and sexual history and circumcision; and a number of childhood disorders, including pediatric abdominal pain, intestinal inflammation, and necrotizing enterocolitis, a severe condition in premature infants in which the intestine tissue dies due to lack of oxygen.
If you want more specific instructions, when you fill your plate with food, imagine that it's divided into quarters. Fill one-quarter of your plate with protein and healthy, omega-3-rich fats (like wild-caught fatty fish, grass-fed meats, humanely raised and antibiotic-free chicken, and avocado), and fill the other three-quarters with raw, baked, or steamed greens and veggies. This simple rule will ensure that you get the right balance of proteins, fats, and carbs without the stress of having to weigh your food or count calories. Now you can simply enjoy the act of eating.
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.
If you are thinking about taking a probiotic or prebiotic and are unsure where to start or what to take, ask for help from a specialist. There are so many products available on the market it can be difficult to decide which to choose. The evidence is very much linked to the supplement so whether it’s a powder, tablet or drink you’re looking for, choosing the right one should depend on the symptoms you’re experiencing.
A closer look at the science underlying microbe-based treatments, however, shows that most of the health claims for probiotics are pure hype. The majority of studies to date have failed to reveal any benefits in individuals who are already healthy. The bacteria seem to help only those people suffering from a few specific intestinal disorders. “There is no evidence to suggest that people with normal gastrointestinal tracts can benefit from taking probiotics,” says Matthew Ciorba, a gastroenterologist at Washington University in St. Louis. “If you're not in any distress, I would not recommend them.” Emma Allen-Vercoe, a microbiologist at the University of Guelph in Ontario, agrees. For the most part, she says, “the claims that are made are enormously inflated.”
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I’ve been taking a Jamieson Probiotic for weeks now for my IBS. I’m not really getting results. It has 10 billion cells and about 14 strains. I tried taking it every day but then I was crampy, bloated and almost constipated. A friend suggested taking every other day so I did that and it was just the opposite. I’ve been trying to eat a low fodmaps diet as well. Can you tell me how long its supposed to take to work and also if I should possibly try something else? This probiotic was inexpensive so I’m wondering if you get what you pay for.
What's nice about supplement company Care/of is that it allows you to design personalized daily vitamin and supplement packs containing everything you need, including probiotics. Its vegan, gluten-free probiotic formula has one billion lactobacillus acidophilus and four billion bifidobacterium lactis per dose, popular strains thought to help promote digestive and immune health.
Diarrhea is a change is the frequency and looseness of bowel movements. Symptoms associated with diarrhea are cramping, abdominal pain, and the sensation of rectal urgency. Causes of diarrhea include viral, bacterial, or parasite infection, gastroenteritis, food poisoning, and drugs. Absorbents and anti-motility medications are used to treat diarrhea.
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.
Dr. Vincent M. Pedre, medical director of Pedre Integrative Health and president of Dr. Pedre Wellness, is a board-certified internist in private practice in New York City since 2004. His philosophy and practices are a blend of both Western and Eastern medical traditions. He is a clinical instructor in medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and is certified in yoga and medical acupuncture. His unique methodology is best described as integrative or defined by a functional, systems-based approach to health. With his holistic understanding of both sides of the equation, he can help each patient choose the best course of action for their ailments to provide both immediate and long-term relief. His holistic approach incorporates positive, preventive health and wellness lifestyle choices. Dr. Pedre Wellness is a growing wellness platform offering health-enhancing programs along with informative social media and lifestyle products, such as dietary supplements, books, and weight-loss programs.
Tempeh is an Indonesian probiotic food that is made from fermented soybeans. It is a high protein food that has a smoky, nutty flavor and is more firm than tofu. It tastes similar to mushrooms. Tempeh comes in patty form and is used by many people as a meat substitute. Soy tempeh is rich in a probiotic microorganism called Bifidobacterium bifidum. B. bifidum is a bacterium that may be particularly beneficial for those suffering from diarrhea, abdominal pain, and constipation. B. Bifidum helps boost immunity in the gastrointestinal tract. Bifidobacterium bifidum is also normally found in the vagina. Bacillus subtilis is another probiotic strain found in tempeh. Tempeh contains less calcium than milk, but the calcium in tempeh is very bioavailable, meaning it is very easy to absorb. Some bacteria used to produce tempeh manufacture vitamin B12.
But what if investigators could design probiotics to treat specific individuals? Many researchers think personalized probiotics are the most promising path forward for patients with compromised gut microbiomes. Last year Jens Walter of the University of Alberta and his colleagues published a study that gives a glimpse of this potential future. The researchers decided to see what it would take to get the bacteria in a probiotic to successfully colonize the intestines of 23 volunteers. They chose a particular strain of Bifidobacterium longum that earlier studies had indicated could survive in the human intestine. In the study, the volunteers consumed either a drink containing 10 billion live B. longum bacteria or a placebo in the form of a glucose-based food additive (maltodextrin) each day for two weeks. Periodic fecal samples revealed higher than typical levels of B. longum in participants who did not consume the placebo.