Probiotics have gained a lot of attention in the last decade for all good reasons! Probiotics are good bacteria found in food and supplements; their job is to keep you healthy. Everything, from your digestive health to immune function, depends on how many of these good bacteria are in your body. If you are thinking consuming good bacteria is a modern-day science discovery, think again! There is no better proof of its benefits than the practice of consuming probiotic-rich foods across many cultures.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that live in your body, primarily present in your gut. However, good bacteria also reside in other places in your body, such as the mouth, urinary tract, saliva, and skin. The main goal of beneficial bacteria is to keep your immune and your digestive system healthy. Emerging research continue to show that probiotics are beneficial for number of conditions and its popularity is ever increasing. The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics defines probiotics as, “live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health beneﬁt on the host.”
The term "prebiotics," although closely related is not the same. The difference between prebiotic and probiotic is that prebiotic is food for good bacteria, and probiotics are beneficial bacteria. Both prebiotics and probiotics are essential for well-being.
Here's an evidence-based look at what probiotics can do for your health!
Health Benefits of Probiotics
Promotes digestive health: Taking foods rich in probiotics and using probiotic supplements is found to be helpful in people with chronic digestive issues. Research suggests that taking probiotics helps reduce the adverse effects of diarrhea, including antibiotic-resistance diarrhea, and infectious diarrhea. Studies show that probiotics could ease the pain and severity of inflammatory conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and aid in the eradication of H.pylori.
Helps fight antibiotic resistance: Probiotic use has been found to reduce the risk of certain infectious diseases like respiratory tract infection and certain types of diarrhea. This could potentially reduce the need for antibiotics for secondary infections. One of the mechanisms by which probiotics may reduce antibiotic resistance is stabilizing healthy gut bacteria in the intestine. Many practitioners consider probiotic supplements as a reliable and safe way to reduce the risk of infections and cut down on antibiotics.
May boost mental health: The positive effects of probiotics extend beyond gut health; recent studies suggest that they may also help improve mood, lower stress, anxiety and alleviate depression. A study published in the Journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience found that Alzheimer's patients who took probiotics for 12 weeks scored better on a test to measure cognitive impairment. In this study, subjects consumed 4 probiotic bacteria species -Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, Bifidobacterium bifidum, and Lactobacillus fermentum with milk.
Enhances immunity: Probiotics help balance the bacterial population in your gut by controlling the growth of harmful bacteria. Specific probiotic strains have been shown to boost the activity of immune cells like the IgA-producing cells (first-line of defense against infection), T-lymphocytes (promotes acquired immunity), and natural killer cells. One of the ways probiotics boost immunity is by inhibiting the growth of harmful bacteria. Probiotics compete for nutrients for growth that would otherwise be used by harmful bacteria. Research shows that probiotics, specifically, Lactobacillus rhamnosus strain and L. plantarum showed the ability to inhibit attachment of enteropathogenic E.coli in the digestive tract.
Helps lower blood pressure: Probiotics may help lower blood pressure by reducing cholesterol and other lipids levels. Research also suggests that probiotics aid in stabilizing blood sugar levels and regulating renin levels (an enzyme secreted by the kidneys to lower blood pressure). This was a review of a large analysis of available research on probiotics. Researchers suggest that when people with high blood pressure issues consume multiple probiotic strains for at least eight weeks, the positive effects were more pronounced. The supplements must supply at least 100 billion colony forming units (CFU) for the beneficial effect.
Aids in lowering high blood cholesterol: Research suggests that probiotics can help decrease cholesterol levels through a series of mechanisms such as absorption of excess cholesterol, binding cholesterol, and inhibiting cholesterol absorption in the body.
Now that you know probiotics confer a myriad of health benefits, here is another crucial detail about taking probiotics – the timing!
What is the best time to take probiotics?
You should follow the recommendations in the supplement label for timing your probiotics for the best results. Studies show that probiotic strains like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium survive best when taken around mealtime. Also, probiotics thrive well with low-fat milk or oatmeal. One study found that they survive in higher counts when presented and oatmeal preparation in milk compared to apple juice or water. More specifically, Lactobacillus strains thrive better alongside a carb-rich meal as they rely on glucose in an acidic environment.
How to choose a quality probiotic supplement?
Check the CFU: Always choose a probiotic supplement that lists its CFU (colony forming unit) because this is important to boost the population of good bacteria in the gut. Ensure the supplement offers at least 1-2 billion CFU per day; higher doses have been found to produce the best results.
Diversity of strains: The more diverse the bacterial strains in your supplement, the better are the beneficial effects since your gut is home to various species of bacteria. A probiotic supplement that provides only one species of a probiotic strain is considered inferior.
Delivery: Choose a probiotic supplement that offers a formulation that is resistant to harsh, acidic stomach conditions. This ensures the active bacteria are delivered intact to the gut lining, where it proliferates.
Quality: Always go for high-quality supplements which are thoroughly tested and use only well-researched probiotic strains in their formulation. This ensures correct dosage, safety, and efficacy.
Are there any Probiotics side effects you should be aware of?
Probiotics are generally regarded as safe and do not cause any side effects. However, if you have a sensitive digestive tract, some supplements can lead to discomfort. Also, not all probiotics may be suitable for everyone. If you feel bloated, constipated, or experience diarrhea after taking a particular probiotic supplement, it indicates it is not ideal for you. Hence finding the right fit becomes vital; it is crucial to stick to probiotic supplements from reputed manufacturers that offer well-researched strains.
Here are our recommendations for high-quality probiotics:
Multi-Probiotic 40 Billion by Douglas Laboratories: If you are looking for a probiotic with prebiotics, this formula is apt for you. Douglas Labs Multi-Probiotic offers 40 billion CFU (colony forming units) with 16 probiotic strains and prebiotic FOS. The high potency probiotic strains include Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Streptococcus cultures, including the clinically researched Bifidobacterium lactis HN019 that supports enhanced gastrointestinal and immune function in aging adults. The formula is acid and bile-resistant, meaning the probiotic bacteria survive the stomach's harsh acidic environment to reach the gut lining for beneficial effects. The recommendation is to start at 1 capsule or 1/4 tsp powder daily and gradually increase over time to 2 capsules per day.
Probiotic 50B by Pure Encapsulations: The supplement offers 50 billion CFU in acid-resistant capsules with pH-targeted release. This means that the beneficial bacteria in the formulation survive the harsh digestive environment of the stomach and bile to safely reach the gut lining. Once the capsules reach a conducive pH location, it releases the probiotic bacteria to begin their work. The supplement offers Lactobacillus acidophilus, L. rhamnosus, L. plantarum, Bifidobacterium longum and Bifidobacterium lactis which promotes a healthy gut, better immune response, and inflammatory balance. The formulation is ideal for anyone with stomach sensitivity. It is hypoallergenic, gluten, dairy, and soy-free, and non-GMO.
Pure Encapsulations Probiotic G.I.: This formulation offers 10 billion CFU of beneficial bacteria per capsule to boost the health and balance of your digestive system. The list of beneficial bacteria includes Lactobacillus acidophilus, L.salivarius, L.casei, Bifidobacterium bifidum, Bifidobacterium lactis, and Streptococcus thermophilus. The product is non-GMO, suitable for vegans because it is dairy-free. It is also gluten-free and soy-free and is ideal for those with a sensitive gastrointestinal system. The recommendation is to take 1 capsule, 1-2 times daily, with or between meals or as directed by your doctor.
Probiotic Synergy by Designs for Health: The supplement offers 5 billion colony-forming units in one capsule. The formula includes 8 species of probiotics which provides a broader spectrum of benefits. The recommendation is to take one capsule(sphere) along with meals for maximum benefits. The formulation has a proprietary blend designed to offer support for proper flora in the gastrointestinal tract. Probiotic Synergy's patented delivery and shelf stability technology ensure maximum potency and viability.
A healthy gut microbiome is a key to boost immunity; taking probiotic-rich foods and supplements is an effective way to improve the count of good bacteria in your gut.
 Wilson KH, Perini F: Role of competition for nutrients in suppression of Clostridium difficile by the colonic microflora. Infect Immun 1988; 56: 2610–2614.