Recently, probiotics have received a lot of attention.
These living organisms have been linked to various beneficial health effects, related to intestinal function and others.
If you want to use probiotics to improve your health, it’s important to make sure which of the probiotic supplements listed below you can opt for to get the results you want.
This article takes a detailed look at the effects of probiotics, and provides recommendations for certain supplements that address particular health concerns.
What are probiotics?
At birth, our intestine acquires bacteria and later they develop and diversify through a process called colonization.
Many of these bacteria are considered beneficial or “friendly.” Its functions include: converting fiber into short-chain fatty acids, synthesizing certain vitamins, and supporting the immune system.
Taking probiotics can help increase the number of these friendly bacteria.
The formal definition of probiotics is: “live microorganisms, which when administered in adequate amounts provide a health benefit to the host”.
That is, probiotics are microorganisms that provide beneficial effects when consumed in adequate amounts.
Probiotics can be consumed in supplement form or in fermented foods like sauerkraut, kefir, and yogurt.
They should not be confused with prebiotics, which are a type of fiber that serve as a food source for bacteria that live in the colon.
Abstract: Probiotics are beneficial bacteria for health, found in supplement form and in some foods. Taking probiotics can help increase the number of beneficial bacteria residing in the gut.[/su_note]
Learn more about “probiotic foods” in our article: 11 Surprisingly Healthy Probiotic Foods (Scientifically Confirmed).
Some probiotics may have specific benefits
The gut microbiota, or intestinal flora, consists of a wide variety of bacteria.
The exact composition is unique to each person.
The colon contains billions of bacteria with more than 500 different species.
Probiotics that have been found to provide health benefits include various strains of: Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus, and Saccharomyces. Many probiotic supplements contain a combination of different strains in the same supplement.
Research has shown that some strains appear to be more effective than others in treating certain conditions.
Therefore, you are more likely to get better results by choosing probiotic supplements that have been shown to be effective for certain specific conditions.
Also, it is important to consume probiotics in sufficient quantities.
Probiotics are typically measured in Colony Forming Units (CFU). In general, it has been found in most studies that the higher the doses, the better results they produce.
However, some probiotics can be effective when given in doses of 1-2 billion CFUs per day, while others may require at least 20 billion CFUs to achieve the desired effects.
No adverse effects have been found from taking extremely high doses. One study gave participants up to 1.8 billion CFUs per day. However, it is expensive and does not appear to provide any additional benefits.
It is important to note that not everything is known about probiotics yet. Although research has expanded rapidly in recent years, much remains to be explored.
Summary: Different types of probiotic bacteria may provide health benefits. Integrating a good amount of the correct probiotic into the diet is important to achieve the desired effects.
Learn more about “the benefits of probiotics” in our article: 6 benefits of probiotics that have been proven by science.
Probiotics that can help relieve constipation
Constipation is characterized by bowel movements that are uncomfortable, difficult circulation, and infrequent. Everyone experiences constipation from time to time, but for some people it can become a chronic problem.
Chronic constipation is more common in the elderly and adults who spend a lot of time in bed under certain circumstances, although it can also occur in children.
Also, some people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) experience persistent constipation as their main symptom. This is known as constipation-predominant IBS.
Conventional treatments usually include laxatives. However, in recent years, dietary changes and probiotic supplements have become increasingly popular treatments.
Several studies have shown that supplementation with certain probiotic strains can reduce constipation in both adults and children.
In a study comparing probiotics and prebiotics in children with IBS, the Bifidobacterium Lactis or B. lactis strain was shown to provide significant relief in terms of constipation.
In addition, the group given probiotics experienced less flatulence, bloating and bloating after meals than the group given prebiotics.
Other probiotics that can improve constipation include: B. longum, S. cerevisiae and a combination of L. acidophilus, L. reuteri, L. plantarum, L. rhamnosus and B. animalis.
Summary: Various probiotic strains have been shown to provide constipation relief in children and adults when taken alone or together.
Learn more about “foods to relieve constipation” in our article: 14 Healthy Foods That Help With Constipation.
Probiotics that are effective against diarrhea.
Diarrhea is defined as both loose and liquid bowel movements that occur more frequently than normal.
It is usually short-lived, but it can become chronic in some people.
Probiotics have been found to reduce stool frequency in infection-related diarrhea that occurs from food poisoning and gastroenteritis, commonly known as “stomach flu.”
A large review of 34 studies found that probiotics reduced the risk of diarrhea from various causes by 34%.
Effective strains included Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, Lactobacillus acidophilus, and Lactobacillus bulgaricus.
The use of antibiotics is another common cause of diarrhea. When the antibiotic kills the harmful bacteria causing the infection, the beneficial bacteria are destroyed as well. The change in the bacterial balance can lead to inflammation and diarrhea.
Studies in children and adults have shown that taking probiotics can help reduce diarrhea caused by antibiotic therapy.
A large review of 82 controlled studies found that taking probiotic supplements reduced the risk of developing antibiotic-associated diarrhea by 42%. However, the most effective probiotic strains were not discussed.
While some people with IBS struggle with constipation, others experience frequent bouts of diarrhea, known as diarrhea-predominant IBS.
Research suggests that certain probiotics appear to be especially effective for diarrhea-predominant IBS, including B. coagulans, S. boulardii, and a combination of various Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains.
However, one study found no significant improvement in diarrhea among IBS patients treated with S. boulardii.
Abstract: Probiotic therapy has been shown to help reduce the severity and frequency of diarrhea related to infection, antibiotic use, and IBS, among other causes.
Probiotics that can improve IBS symptoms
Sometimes the main symptoms of IBS are not related to the consistency or frequency of your stools. On the other hand, some people experience bloating, gas, nausea, and lower abdominal pain on a regular basis.
A review of 19 studies found that although some people reported improvement in IBS symptoms while taking probiotics, the results varied between individuals. The researchers were unable to determine which probiotics were most effective.
Also, because the symptoms of IBS are so diverse, sometimes one symptom gets better, while others doesn’t.
For example, a study in people with constipation-predominant IBS found that although S. cerevisiae improved constipation, it did not have much of an effect on abdominal pain or discomfort.
In another study, participants with diarrhea-predominant IBS were given a supplement known as VSL #3 (it’s a medical food used as a probiotic), which contains strains of Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Streptococcus.
Bowel movement frequency and consistency did not improve, but bloating symptoms did improve.
Another study found significant reductions in pain and swelling during treatment with VSL #3. The researchers believe that the probiotics led to an increase in melatonin, a hormone involved in digestive function.
Summary: Certain probiotics have been shown to help relieve bloating, abdominal pain, and other symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. However, taking probiotic supplements may not improve all symptoms.
Learn more about “Irritable Bowel Syndrome” in our article: 9 Signs and Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome-IBS.
Probiotics that can help you lose weight
There is growing evidence that the balance of bacteria in the gut can profoundly affect body weight.
Some studies suggest that taking probiotic supplements may be helpful for weight loss and a healthier body composition.
Animal and human studies have found that certain bacterial strains may decrease the amount of fat and calories absorbed by the gut, promote a healthy balance of gut bacteria, and reduce weight and fat in the abdomen.
According to a 2014 analysis of several studies, probiotics that appeared to be effective for weight loss include: Lactobacillus gasseri, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, and the combination of Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Bifidobacterium lactis.
In one study, obese men who took L. gasseri for 12 weeks experienced significant reductions in body weight and body fat, including up to 8.5% decrease in abdominal fat. By contrast, the placebo group had very little noticeable change in body weight or body fat.
In another study, obese women who took L. rhamnosus for three weeks lost twice as much weight as those given a placebo.
In addition, they continued to lose weight during the maintenance phase of the study, while the placebo group gained weight.
Taking probiotic supplements can also help limit weight gain during a high calorie intake.
In a four-week study, lean young men ate 1,000 excess calories per day. Those who took the VSL #3 probiotic formulation gained less weight than the control group.
However, because the results of some studies have not been impressive, researchers feel that there is not enough evidence at this time to draw any firm conclusions about the benefits of probiotics for weight loss.
Summary: Results from several studies suggest that certain probiotics may promote fat loss in obese subjects. However, more research is needed.
Learn more about “effective ways to lose weight” in our article: How to lose weight in 3 steps (without spending money).
Probiotics to support brain health
There is a strong connection between the gut and brain health.
Bacteria in the colon digest and ferment the fiber into short-chain fatty acids that nourish the intestine. Research has shown that these compounds may also benefit the brain and nervous system.
A review of 38 animal and human studies found that various probiotics helped improve symptoms of anxiety, depression, autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and poor memory.
The most commonly used strains in these studies were Bifidobacterium longum, Bifidobacterium breve, Bifidobacterium infantis, Lactobacillus helveticus and Lactobacillus rhamnosus.
Probiotics appear to be effective for both anxiety in general and anxiety related to specific causes.
One study found that when throat cancer patients took probiotics for two weeks before surgery, they had lower levels of stress hormones in their blood and their anxiety decreased by 48%.
In other studies, probiotics have been shown to improve overall mood and reduce sadness in healthy individuals and in people with chronic fatigue syndrome.
Taking probiotic supplements also appears to help people struggling with depression, including those with major depressive disorder.
In an eight-week study in patients with major depression, those taking L. acidophilus, L. casei, and B. bifidum had a significant decrease in depression levels.
What’s more, they experienced reductions in insulin levels and inflammatory markers.
Summary: Brain and gut health are strongly connected. Taking certain probiotics can promote better mental health by reducing anxiety, sadness, depression, and other symptoms.
Learn more about “brain health” in our article: 5 Brain Nutrients Only Found in Meat, Fish, and Eggs.
Probiotics that can improve heart health
Taking probiotics can help reduce the risk of heart disease.
Several studies have found that certain bacteria in yogurt or probiotic supplements can lead to favorable changes in indicators of heart health.
These include a decrease in LDL (low-density lipoprotein) or “bad” cholesterol, and an increase in HDL (high-density lipoprotein) or “good” cholesterol.
Specific bacterial strains that appear to be effective in lowering cholesterol levels include: Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium longum, and Lactobacillus reuteri.
An analysis of 14 studies found that probiotics led to an acceptable reduction in LDL cholesterol, a slight increase in LAD, and also a decrease in triglycerides.
There are probably several processes responsible for these positive effects on LDL cholesterol, including changes in fat metabolism and decreased cholesterol absorption in the intestine.
Probiotics can also help lower blood pressure.
A review of nine controlled studies found a moderate reduction in blood pressure among those who took probiotics. However, only treatment of more than eight weeks at doses greater than 10 billion CFU per day had significant effects.
Summary: Taking certain probiotic supplements can help lower LDL cholesterol, increase HDL cholesterol, and can also lower blood pressure.
Learn more about “ways to lower blood pressure naturally” in our article: 15 Natural Ways to Lower Blood Pressure.
Probiotics to boost immunity
Studies suggest that taking probiotic supplements may change the balance of intestinal bacteria in such a way that it increases the body’s defenses against allergies, infections, and cancer.
It should be noted that the effective strains are: Lactobacillus GG, Lactobacillus crispatus, Lactobacillus gasseri, Bifidobacterium bifidum and Bifidobacterium longum.
These types of bacteria appear to reduce the risk of respiratory diseases and eczema in children, as well as urinary tract infections in adult women.
Additionally, probiotics have been shown to reduce inflammation, a known risk factor for many diseases.
In one study, older adults consumed a mixture of Lactobacillus gasseri, Bifidobacterium bifidum, and Bifidobacterium longum or a placebo for three weeks each.
After taking probiotic supplements, their inflammatory markers decreased, anti-inflammatory markers increased, and gut bacteria balances became more like the type of balance seen in young, healthy people.
Some probiotics can also help prevent gingivitis, or gum infection.
One 14-day study looked at adults who refrained from brushing and flossing while being treated with Lactobacillus brevis or a placebo.
Gingivitis progressed more rapidly in the placebo group, suggesting that the probiotics helped protect against infection.
Summary: Taking probiotics can help strengthen the immune system and help reduce the risk of infection and disease.
Probiotics for general health
In addition to promoting symptoms or conditions of specific diseases, probiotics can also be taken to promote overall health.
A recent study in healthy adults showed that taking Bifidobacterium bifidum for four weeks helped increase the production of beneficial short-chain fatty acids.
There is also some evidence to suggest that probiotics may promote better aging by reducing the inflammation that normally occurs as you age.
Of course, it’s important to make sure you’re eating a healthy diet and also practicing other health-promoting behaviors. Nor can probiotics be expected to provide all the benefits.
Also, while probiotics are safe for most people, they can cause harm to people who are seriously ill or have compromised immune systems, including those with HIV or AIDS.
Abstract: Probiotics can help maintain well-being in healthy people. However, taking probiotic supplements can be dangerous for people who are very sick or have compromised immune systems.
Learn more about “the ways probiotics support health” in our article: 9 Ways Lactobacillus Acidophilus Can Benefit Your Health.
Having a healthy gut microbiota is extremely important.
Although the research is still emerging, probiotics appear to provide beneficial effects for a number of different conditions and may also improve overall health.
Taking the right type of probiotics can help treat specific health problems, and improve overall quality of life.
Learn more about “the good bacteria” in our article: Why Is the Gut Microbiome Crucial to Your Health?