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.
Some probiotics are suggested as a possible treatment for various forms of gastroenteritis, and a Cochrane Collaboration meta-analysis on the use of probiotics to treat acute infectious diarrhea based on a comprehensive review of medical literature through 2010 (35 relevant studies, >4500 participants) reported that use of any of the various tested probiotic formulations appeared to reduce the duration of diarrhea by a mean of 25 hours (vs. control groups, 95% confidence interval, 16–34 hours), also noting, however, that "the differences between the studies may be related to other unmeasured and unexplored environmental and host factors" and that further research was needed to confirm reported benefits.
The best probiotic manufacturers will list their potency (in CFUs) at the time of expiration, ensuring you get the dosage you’re paying for. Dr. David Perlmutter, board-certified neurologist, American College of Nutrition Fellow, and author of The New York Times bestsellers "Brain Maker" and "Grain Brain" puts it this way: “Avoid products that indicate a specific number of bacteria ‘at the time of manufacture,’ and instead look for products that, like other supplements, have a shelf life.” Each of our top picks clearly shows a specific “best by” or “expires on” date on its bottle.
In a clinical setting however, some probiotics have been found to be useful in treating specific medical conditions, such as antibiotic-associated diarrhea in children and Clostridium difficile infection in adults. One concern is that probiotics taken by mouth can be destroyed by the acidic conditions of the stomach. As of 2010, a number of microencapsulation techniques were being developed to address this problem.
Probiotics may produce their effects with viable as well as nonviable bacteria, suggesting that metabolic or secreted factors or structural or cellular components may mediate their immunomodulatory activities [Borchers et al. 2009]. Furthermore, several experiments indicate that the ability to induce secretion of various cytokines is mediated by and large by cell wall components [Borchers et al. 2009].
A 2014 review by Cochrane—an independent network of experts who serve as rigorous arbiters of medical research—found that probiotics may be particularly useful in a hospital's neonatal intensive care unit. The addition of beneficial bacteria to a nutritional regimen seems to significantly reduce the likelihood of developing necrotizing enterocolitis, which is a devastating, poorly understood and often fatal gut disease that primarily afflicts preterm infants—especially the smallest and most premature among them. Researchers think that many cases of the disease begin with an opportunistic bacterial infection in the not yet fully developed intestine of an infant. As the illness progresses, gut tissue becomes increasingly inflamed and often starts to die, which can, in turn, rupture the intestine and flood the abdominal cavity with pathogenic microbes that proliferate to dangerous levels. Researchers estimate that 12 percent of preterm infants weighing less than 3.3 pounds will develop necrotizing enterocolitis and that 30 percent of them will not survive. Standard treatment involves a combination of antibiotics, feeding via intravenous tubes, and surgery to remove diseased and dead tissue. Probiotics probably prevent the disorder by boosting the numbers of beneficial bacteria, which may deter the harmful ones.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) calls probiotics “live microorganisms (in most cases, bacteria) that are similar to beneficial microorganisms found in the human gut.” The NCCIH makes the point that we often think of bacteria as harmful “germs” — however, probiotic bacteria actually helps the body function properly.
Rachel Allen is a writer at Hyperbiotics who's absolutely obsessed with learning about how our bodies work. She's fascinated by the latest research on bacteria and the role they play in health, and loves to help others learn about how probiotics can help the body get back in balance. For more ideas on how you can benefit from the power of probiotics and live healthier days, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter. To learn more about how a healthy microbiome can enrich your life, subscribe to our newsletter.
“Each capsule has 10 billion active cultures of L. GG, a probiotic that helps curb gas, bloating, and upset stomach,” says Niket Sonpal, MD, a gastroenterologist and adjunct professor of clinical medicine at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine, in New York City. “The supplement also works to boost your immune system. Each capsule has the probiotic equivalent of 10 cups of yogurt and is dairy free.”
The bacteria in your gut—both visitors and residents—need to eat too. Enter prebiotics, nondigestible carbs that feed friendly bacteria and help them multiply. They may even be helpful on their own, at recalibrating microbiota that have been thrown out of whack by stress; a recent study found mice who ate prebiotics slept better after a stressful experience. Hutkins advises taking them daily in the form of food, not pills, because it's difficult to get the needed amount from a supplement. Prebiotics are found in wholegrain oatmeal, bananas, onions, garlic, and asparagus.
There are numerous types of probiotics and each has different characteristics. They may be combined with others or appear on their own in powder, tablet or liquid dietary supplements. At the moment, foods that naturally contain probiotics are not eaten regularly in the UK and supplements are becoming more popular. The most common probiotics include lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidobacterium. These differ as they are made up of different types or strains of bacteria, and are recommended for different clinical conditions. Lactobacillus acidophilus have been clinically shown to lower the incidence of antibiotic-associated diarrhoea and can also result in a shorter length of stay in hospital for some. In order to experience this benefit, a vast quantity of food containing probiotics would need to be consumed. It is therefore easier and more effective to take a recommended probiotic supplement.
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.