Probiotics are friendly bacteria found in fermented foods and manufactured supplements.
Probiotics are touted for providing friendly bacteria to your gut, especially when your gut is comprised of an overgrowth of unfriendly bacteria, to prevent disease.
Good vs. Bad Bacteria in Your Gut
Our gut is a safe haven for trillions of bacteria and some research indicates that your gut is as unique as your own fingerprint.
The metropolis of bacteria in your gut metabolizes nutrients and medications, protects you from illness, produces vitamin K and may prevent and treat certain diseases.
Your gut microbiota is affected by multiple factors such as our environment, age, genetics, diet, medications, physical health, and mental health.
In lieu of these multiple factors, your gut microbiota could be infested with more “bad” bacteria than “good,” increasing negative effects on your health.
Probiotics may be a promising way to improve your health by increasing your “good” bacteria.
What are Probiotics?
Probiotics are different from prebiotics and synbiotics. Prebiotics stimulate the growth of good bacteria by providing indigestible food components to fuel the growth of “good” bacteria, and synbiotics are products that contain both pre- and probiotics.
Probiotics are found in fermented foods like sauerkraut, tempeh, miso, kombucha, and kimchi; as well as live-cultured yogurts and Kefir.
In addition to food, you can find probiotics in vitamin/pill form at your local pharmacy or as a prescription from your doctor. Probiotics are found in higher concentrations in pill-form, but the potency is questionable compared to probiotics found in food.
Be aware that vitamin labeling and content regulations may not be as strict for over-the-counter probiotic vitamins compared to prescribed probiotics.
This means that the content of the probiotic vitamin may not be exactly what it proposes on the bottle label.
Probiotics for Digestive Health
Probiotics from food and supplements may improve your digestive health.
Studies have also shown that Lactobacillus GG can shorten diarrhea in infants and children, and other strains support relief from antibiotic-associated diarrhea. Lactobacillus is typically found in sauerkraut, kimchi, Kefir, and live-cultured yogurts.
Regarding probiotic supplementation, it is recommended that you choose a probiotic pill with at least 1 billion colony forming units (CFUs) that contain the genus Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium or Saccharomyces boulardii for gut health. These genera are the most widely researched and well known for their health benefits.
The best probiotic supplements such as Vita Balance Probiotic 40-Billion can help support digestive health in men and women
Best Probiotic for Women
As a woman, consuming probiotics could be beneficial for urogenital health. Research suggests that taking probiotics alone or in conjunction with antibiotics may significantly reduce symptoms of discomfort associated with urogenital infections.
L. rhamnosus GR-1 and L. reuteri RC-14 are the most commonly researched and well known bacterial strains that show efficacy for preventing and treating urogenital infections in women. You can find the genus Lactobacillus in live-cultured yogurts and Kefir.
The top probiotic supplements for women’s health are:
- Jarrow Formulas Women’s Fem Dophilus contains L. rhamnosus GR-1 and L. reuteri RC-14. Both of these strains have been found to be beneficial for vaginal and urinary health.
- Garden of Life One Daily Women’s contains 16 different probiotic strains and 50 billion CFUs to support women’s health.
Yeast Infections and Probiotics
Probiotics have been questioned as an effective method for the prevention and treatment of yeast infections. Research has shown some benefit in the prevention of recurring yeast infections in women, but more research needs to be done.
Most studies targeting this topic are of low quality, but they do show effectiveness with probiotic supplementation as an adjuvant therapy to conventional medication in the treatment of yeast infections.
Some research also suggests that a combination of yogurt and honey directly applied to the vagina could be as clinically significant compared to conventional medicine with alleviating yeast infections in pregnant women.
Best Probiotic for Men
Gender differences in probiotic-related research are not cited as often as they should be. However, there is evidence to support probiotic use in health incidences commonly experienced by men.
Probiotics have been shown to improve lipid panels by reducing cholesterol via a number of mechanisms.
Preliminary research also suggests that probiotics could help with nutrient absorption and energy expenditure, aiding in reducing weight gain.
The best probiotic supplements for men are:
- Vitamin Bounty Pro-50 contains 13 probiotic strings and 50 billion CFUs. Most probiotic supplements have 2-5 strains, so it packs a punch. Given that there are many different strains in the human gut, the more you can get in a supplement, the better chance you have of feeling a positive effect. This supplement also contains fermented greens, which provide prebiotics to help the probiotics colonize.
- LiveWell Labs PRO45 contains 45 billion live cultures and 11 varying strains. This product contains a large amount of Bifidobacterium lactic and Lactobacillus acidophilus, which have both been found to have gastrointestinal healing properties.LiveWell is made in an NSF0 certified facility, which means its ingredients have been tested with a more intense process compared to traditional requirements for testing.
The gut microbiome has also been a topic of conversation for the treatment of prostate cancer, opening the possibility that probiotics could be helpful with the metabolism of various cancer-drugs and the overall response to prostate cancer treatment.
Common FAQs Asked About Probiotics
Q: Overall, are probiotics good for you?
A: Research has shown that probiotics may be beneficial to your gut and therefore, helpful in the prevention and treatment of various diseases.
However, there are many different strains in our gut that it is difficult to pinpoint which strain you need and/or could benefit from.
According to the NIH, probiotics are generally safe. It is best to ask your dietitian and your doctor to discuss probiotic use.
Q: What is the best time to take a probiotic?
A: The best time to take a probiotic is controversial. Some research suggests that taking probiotics right before (within 30 minutes) a meal is most effective for the strains to survive acidic gastric torment.
If the strains do not make it past the stomach, they cannot establish themselves in the gut . Other research shows that it may not be this simple, and some strains do better with limited food intake .
Consistency is key for creating a routine involving the use of a probiotic. Schedule a definitive time every day to take your probiotic for the best results.
Q: When could I see results from a probiotic?
A: Research suggests that you could see benefits from taking a probiotic within days to months. To be on the safe side, give yourself 3-4 weeks of taking a probiotic to see possible results.
Q: Where could I buy probiotics?
A: Probiotics are found over the counter, behind the counter or on the shelves of your local grocery store in fermented foods and live-cultured yogurts. You can find probiotics at your local drug store or grocery store as well as online.
When purchasing yogurts that contain probiotics, you need to verify that they have live cultures, as probiotics can be killed during processing.
The National Yogurt Association (NYA) has created a “live and active cultures” seal to alert consumers if the product contains live cultures.
However, the NYA is not a regulatory agency, so you also need to check the ingredients label for probiotic presence.
Q: Can probiotics treat yeast infections?
A: Probiotics have been questioned as an effective method for the prevention and treatment of yeast infections. Research has shown some benefit in the prevention of recurring yeast infections in women, but more research needs to be done.
Start a discussion with your gynecologist regarding your treatment plan before deciding to take a probiotic supplement.
Probiotics are small, living organisms that are found in foods and in supplements. They have been researched extensively in recent years touting health benefits ranging from gut health to urogenital issues in women to obesity prevention via changes in energy expenditure.
Even though the research on probiotics has been increasingly more thorough, more conclusive research needs to be found on the specific strains, given that your gut is as unique as your own thumbprint.
It is best to discuss probiotic pill use with your dietitian and doctor before deciding to take.