The body is an amazing thing; every system, organ, muscle, bone, and cell functions to sustain life. No one system is more valuable than the other; all need to function at ideal capacity for overall optimum health. If one system is compromised, others may begin to falter; it’s a chain reaction within your body. One of these vital components of the human body is the gut.
As you may know, the human digestive tract is filled with bacteria. In fact, the whole human body contains more individual bacterium than actual human cells. Most of the bacteria in the digestive tract are beneficial and promote a symbiotic relationship within the body. The exception to the rule is foreign, illness-causing bacteria. Essentially, gut microflora (bacteria) is what allows the digestive system to function as it does. Among its many tasks, these live microorganisms aid in fermenting (and utilizing) carbohydrates, aid the body in absorbing nutrients from food, and boost immunity within the body.
Where to Find Them
Probiotics aren’t as elusive as they sound; they’re attainable in fermented foods such as yogurt, soy yogurt, pickled vegetables, kefir, buttermilk, tempeh, miso soup, and even sauerkraut. Since these foods make up only a small portion of the average person’s diet, supplements have taken center stage as a means to boost the number of probiotic bacteria within the gut.
You may ask yourself why humans need to ingest probiotics if they already exist within our intestinal tract. The body does not make probiotics on its own; they must be consumed through diet. However, a modern diet consisting of heavily processed, preserved, and nutrient-deficient foods does not provide plentiful probiotics for consumption. In addition, antibiotics, frequently prescribed for common ailments, and pesticide-laden GMOs, are notoriously known to kill probiotics and create an imbalance of bacteria in the gut.
What Probiotics Are
Probiotics are bacteria present in the intestinal tract that are defined by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO) as “live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host.” This is a broad definition, but in terms of probiotics, there are a wide variety of “good” bacteria to include in your diet.
Probiotics is an umbrella term that covers several strains. Lactic acid bacteria (LAB) Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are the two principal genuses of probiotic bacteria. Lactobacilli reside in the small intestine, while bifidobactiria are active in the colon. Probiotics are identified by genus, species, and strain. Here are some common probiotic species and strains (of the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium genus) that may be found in food or supplements and what their role is within your gut:
Most probiotic strains belong to the genus Lactobacillus. Probiotics have been evaluated in research studies in animals and humans with respect to antibiotic-associated diarrhea, inflammatory bowel disease, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). It is possible that, in the future, probiotics will be used for different gastrointestinal diseases, or as delivery systems for vaccines.
>> L. acidophilus CL1285 (a strain of Lactobacillus) is used in the production of yogurt—it’s one of the “live and active cultures” you may see printed on the side of the yogurt container. Its purpose in yogurt is to decrease pH of the milk used to create yogurt. Since L. acidophilus can survive pH levels of four to five or below, it can pass through the acidic environment of the stomach into the small intestine and work its magic in keeping intestines clean and boosting the immune system.
>> L. reuteri DSM 17938 is often used as a dietary supplement as it boosts the immune system and simultaneously attacks foreign pathogens in the gastrointestinal tract.
>> L. rhamnosus GG is also used in the production of yogurt and some other dairy products. It inhibits pathogen growth in the urogenital tract, inhibits diarrhea from the rotavirus, and oddly enough, has been shown to reduce anxiety in lab mice.
>> Lactobacillus casei produces a carbohydrate-digesting enzyme known as amylase, which is essentially the beginning process of digestion for all foods. Without amylase, food could literally pass right through you.
>> Bifidobacterium lactis is known to prevent diarrhea, reduce colon inflammation, and provide relief from constipation.
>> Bifidobacterium animalis shortens colonic transit time, that is, how long it takes for a meal to be digested and eliminated by the body through a bowel movement. Bifidobacterium animalis also plays a role in processing B-complex vitamins.
Probiotics tout numerous health benefits—even for a relatively healthy individual or a person in excellent health, probiotics maintain health. Yet the use of probiotics for those who suffer from various ailments is becoming more widely recognized as more research is done.
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a painful condition caused by inflammatory changes in the colon and intestines. It has been noted that people with IBD have a different composition of gut microflora than healthy individuals; they lack the probiotics bifidobacteria and lactobacilli.
Individuals who are lactose intolerant may drink sweet acidophilus milk (also made from L. acidophilus) as it allows the stomach to easily digest the enzymes present in dairy. L. acidophilus has also been shown to boost the immune system by increasing cytokine, phagocytic activity, and antibody production. Another important aspect of L. acidophilus is that it is present in normal vaginal flora. There are various causes for an alteration in vaginal flora such as antibiotics, other medications, stress, or even chemicals from laundry detergent that lead to a proliferation of Candida albicans (more commonly known as a yeast infection).
According to a 2011 study published by the Public Library of Science, L. ccasei DN-144 001 improves symptoms of colitis by strengthening the gut barrier function. This is also true of L. ccasei DN-144 001 for cases of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis.
Probiotics and calcium work together—probiotics boost calcium absorption, and calcium aids the effectiveness of probiotics. You may see why yogurt is an ideal food for probiotic delivery. In addition to increasing bioavailability of minerals, probiotics break down fats from food (known as lipolysis) and convert lactose to lactic acid.
Different Forms of Probiotic Supplements:
Dry Stored versus Cold
There is a longstanding dispute over whether the delivery method of probiotics changes effectiveness, or, what is the best form of probiotic supplement to take. There are capsules, powder, chewable tablets, and liquid supplements to choose from, and each has its own pros and cons.
>> Capsules: Capsules are a popular form for supplements and probiotics are not an exception. Capsules keep out air and moisture—things that are detrimental to the survival of probiotics.
>> Powders: Since moisture and oxygen are destructive to probiotics (probiotics are living bacteria—they are not effective once dead), powders are a less popular and effective form of probiotic delivery than capsules. Yet, for children or individuals who cannot swallow capsules, powdered probiotics can be mixed into food or beverages. Make sure probiotic powder is kept in dry, dark location, such as a kitchen cupboard. Keep in mind that any temperature above normal body temperature will begin to kill probiotic bacteria, so never sprinkle a probiotic powder on hot foods or in hot beverages.
>> Liquids: In recent years, probiotic liquid supplements have become popular. From on-the-go single serving beverages to larger, multiple-serving supplements to be taken daily, liquid probiotics are here to stay. One benefit to liquid probiotics is that the liquid form allows probiotics to be distributed along the digestive tract. Liquid probiotics must be refrigerated; therefore they may be inconvenient for some individuals.
There has been recent controversy over whether there is a significant difference in effectiveness between freeze-dried probiotics and live, active probiotics. Freeze dried probiotics are inert or dormant, and reconstitute themselves once ingested. They are found in capsule, tablet, powder, and pill form—any probiotic that does not require refrigeration is freeze-dried. The argument goes that live and active probiotics retain potency.
How are Probiotics Selected?
Probiotics are microbial strains that must be tested for safety and efficacy before being placed on the market. So how is this done?
First in vitro testing (resistance to gastric acidity, bile acid resistance, adherence to mucus and/or human epithelial cells and cell lines, antimicrobial activity against potentially pathogenic bacteria, ability to reduct pathogen adhesion to surfaces, bile salt hydrolase activity, resistance to spermicaides for vaginal probiotics) is done to determine effectiveness for potential probiotics. After in vitro tests, animal feeding trials and human trials ensue to test efficacy.
But what does efficacy encompass? Probiotics must be safe, be stable (that is, not be affected by temperature or oxygen), survive in vivo conditions (be resistant to conditions in the body such as acid and bile, and in probiotic enhanced food), demonstrate an ability to adhere to the intestinal wall, and show antimicrobial properties.
Once a probiotic has passed the above criteria, it is considered safe.
What to Look for in a Probiotic Supplement
The number of probiotic supplements available is dizzying and some supplements may even be misleading in their claims. To help you on your probiotic supplement journey, here are a few tips for choosing an effective supplement:
>> Choose supplements that list probiotics by genus, species, and strain. This way you are able to identify exactly what kind of probiotic the supplement contains as certain conditions respond better to certain probiotics.
>> Look for how much of the probiotic is included per serving. One to two billion live cells daily is known to be a safe and effective amount of any given probiotic.
>> Find supplement brands that also produce food or drugs, as they are often held in higher regard for quality than other supplement brands.
 BioGaia Gut Health A live and active chewable tablet of 100 million L. reuteri, BioGaia Gut Health can be used daily to promote gut health or to alleviate an upset stomach. // $30, 30 tablets, everidisprobiotics.com
 Good Belly Splash With three delicious flavors (Blueberry Açai, Mango, and Pomegranate Blackberry), Good Belly Splash provides 20 billion live and active cultures per serving. // $2, 10 oz, goodbelly.com
 Arbonne Daily Power Packs Key ingredients include calcium, folic acid, Lactobacillus acidophilus, saw palmetto, black pepper, and leutin. This pack of five supplements contains a multivitamin, multimineral, probiotics enzymes, and antioxidants. // $106, 30 packs, 30-day supply, arbonne.ca
 Better Whey of Life Greek Yogurt Since yogurt is an excellent way to consume probiotics, Better Whey of Life has developed a low-fat Greek yogurt loaded with probiotics, protein, and fiber. Available in six unique flavors. // $2, 6 oz, betterwheyoflife.com
 Nordic Naturals ProOmega ProOmega Probiotic concentrated fish oil works in synergy with a unique spore-form probiotic, Bacillus coagulans, to deliver all the health benefits of omega-3s (EPA+DHA), while also supporting the immune system and promoting an optimal balance of healthy bacteria in the digestive tract. // $34, 60 soft gels, nordicnaturals.com
Culturelle Digestive Health Probiotic Digestive Health Probiotic is a probiotic supplement designed to maintain overall digestive health by restoring the balance of good bacteria in the digestive system. It also helps to reduce occasional diarrhea, gas and bloating, as well as support the immune system. Each capsule contains 10 billion live active cultures at time of use. // $24, 30 capsules, culturelle.com
 DDS Probiotics Multi-Flora Plus DDS Plus is the source of a special strain Bifidobacterium longum, Lactobacillus acidophilus (DDS-1 strain) and Fructooligosaccharides. DDS Plus is free of dairy products, corn, soy and preservatives. // $26, 30 capsules, usalabs.com
 Lifeway Frozen Kefir Not all probiotics need to be taken as a supplement. Lifeway has introduced frozen kefir that contains 10 strains of probiotics, is 99 percent lactose-free, gluten-free, and contains only one gram of fat per serving. It’s a great alternative to ice cream! // $5, 1 pint, lifeway.net
 ProbioActive 1B Ideal daily support for digestion and regularity, promotes healthy balance of gut microflora, this supplement contributes to optimum digestion, nutrient assimilation, efficient removal of toxins and wastes, and increases immune response. // $20, 90 capsules, rainbowlight.com
 Probiolicious Gummies shelf-stable prebiotic and probiotic gummy with 1 billion CFU bio-active Probiotic Defense and only 1 gram of sugar per serving. 100 percent natural cranberry flavor children and adults love! // $18, 50 gummies, rainbowlight.com
 Garden of Life Raw Probiotics Garden of Life introduces RAW Probiotics, whole food probiotic formulas providing 30+ powerful probiotic strains, along with probiotic-created cofactors including vitamins, minerals, enzymes, antioxidants, and prebiotics. The probiotics are uncooked, untreated, and unadulterated with no binders or fillers. // $50, 90 capsules, gardenoflife.com
How Do You Use Probiotics?
>>60% of our readers take of have taken probiotics
>>21% of readers have not used a probiotic in the past
>>Readers use probiotics to seek relief from the following conditions:
Acid Reflux: 33%
Crohn’s Disease: 3%
>>What form of probiotic do you take?
>>8 out of 10 consulted a healthcare professional before trying probiotics
>>How long have you taken probiotics?
Over three months: 67%
One to three months: 12%
Two to four weeks: 12%
Less than one week: 9%
>>72% of readers that eat probiotics in their diet consume yogurt
>>17% of readers that eat probiotics in their diet consume kefir