Tag Archives: probiotics

Do Probiotics Work? Here’s What Science Really Says

Do probiotics work? If you’ve been reading the headlines lately, the media clearly thinks they don’t:

  • Probiotics Are Mostly Useless and Can Actually Hurt You
  • Do You Buy Probiotics? New Study Says They May Not Work For You And May Even Be Harmful
  • Unexpected Findings Cause Scientists to Rethink Probiotics
  • Probiotics Found To Be Ineffective For Easing Symptoms Of Kids’ Stomach Bugs

In light of all these news stories, I’ve received many emails asking if you should avoid probiotics altogether.

That’s why in this article, I’m going to explain what these studies really mean (based on the latest and greatest research) and clear up some confusion around probiotics in general. After reading this, I’m confident you’ll feel a little more confident about your knowledge of probiotics.

Probiotics: What They Are and How They Work

Probiotics are microorganisms that may provide certain health benefits when ingested.

How probiotics work inside your body is still a bit of a mystery to scientists. Evidence suggest that probiotics communicate with your body through “toll-like” pattern recognition receptors … but more research is needed to understand their specific mechanism of action in humans.

Why Should You Care About Probiotics?

You have around 40 trillion bacterial cells in your body at any given moment (compared to around 30 trillion human cells).

Many of these bacterial organisms live in your gut, or “microbiome”. Your microbiome is now considered an organ that serves many important functions:

  • Stimulating the immune system
  • Breaking down potentially toxic food compounds
  • Synthesizing certain vitamins and amino acids
  • Providing protection from pathogenic organisms that enter the body
  • Controlling and/or producing neurotransmitters like serotonin (your body’s chemical messengers that contribute to feelings of well-being and happiness)

The exciting part is, we’re in the very early stages of research about the microbiome and its potential impact on your health. The evidence as a whole is promising but of course there are exceptions …

Which Probiotics May Not Work, According to Research Studies

It goes without saying, but you should avoid probiotics that have not been approved by the FDA. The majority of these don’t have any efficacy and safety data to support them. Unfortunately, this applies to most commercially available probiotic supplement products on the market.

With that in mind, let’s look at some published studies that show which probiotics don’t appear to work for specific conditions:

Strain

A commercially available formulation containing 11 strains.*

Conclusion

Many people’s digestive tracts prevent certain probiotics from successfully colonizing them.

Discussion

Gregor Reid, a microbiologist at the University of Western Ontario who did not participate in the studies, questions the results and urges caution in interpreting data from just 15 people.

A commercially available formulation containing 11 strains.*
Many people can’t successfully colonize standard probiotics in their gut. The probiotic strains tested may not be helpful and actually may harm the gut microbiome following a course of antibiotics.

Lactobacillus strains, in particular, appeared to inhibit the “normal” commensal microbiota. However, several studies suggest that using certain strains of probiotics during antibiotic treatment does confer some benefit.

Lactobacillus and/or bifidobacterium species

The use of probiotics could lead to a build-up of bacteria in the gut causing brain fogginess. 

“Brain fogginess is very subjective, and different criteria are used to assess this. I don’t believe that SIBO has any relationship to what they are calling brain fogginess.” –Dr. Emeran Mayer, a professor of medicine at UCLA. 
Lactobacillus rhammosus
There was no meaningful difference in how long parents said their kids’ vomiting and diarrhea lasted.
This was a well-designed study that seems to show the probiotic strain Lactobacillus rhammosus (commercially sold as Culturelle) does not help with acute gastroenteritis (specifically, symptoms of stomach flu) in children.

My Interpretation of These Study Results

What you see above is just a small sampling of studies done recently. “Probiotics” are mentioned nearly 20,000 times on PubMed. There’s been a lot of research done showing the benefits (or lack thereof) of many probiotic strains.

If you’re considering a probiotic supplement, it’s up to you to do your own research and talk to your doctor about the effectiveness and safety of the strain you’re considering for your condition.

While probiotics are largely unregulated and definitely controversial, there are now hundreds of peer-reviewed, randomized, placebo-controlled trials that have demonstrated the safety and efficacy of a variety of probiotic strains.

You can find a decent list of peer-reviewed studies done on probiotics in this article or this one.

Probiotics are not, in the words of the BBC, “useless.” This is the age of sensationalist journalism, folks. Don’t believe every headline you read!

Let’s clear up a few more misconceptions while we’re at it …

Just Because One Study Found One or More Strains Don’t Work Doesn’t Mean ALL Probiotics Don’t Work

Remember, hundreds of human clinical trials have shown that probiotics can help you if you suffer from conditions like IBS, skin disorders, anxiety, rheumatoid arthritis, depression, and more.

Probiotics May Not Always Colonize In Your Gut, But That Doesn’t Mean They Don’t Work

Some studies suggest that probiotic strains that are able to survive the harsh conditions in your stomach and make it into your intestinal tract are the ones that convey the most benefit.

However, even when probiotics do not colonize in your gut, they still may have an impact on your gut and immune health.

Are Fermented Foods the Same as Probiotics?

No. I personally love fermented foods. I use sauerkraut, drink kombucha, and make my own pickles. And those foods are definitely good for you. But they’re not the same as probiotics. Here’s how the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics explains it:

do probiotics really work

More Strains Is Not Always Better

What’s more important is the type of strains, and making sure you’re choosing products with the correct amount of probiotic strains. Unfortunately, “50 billion CFUs” doesn’t mean anything if the strains haven’t been studied for safety and efficacy at that dose (most supplements have not).

This 2017 study found that the amount of probiotic bacteria contained in foods is often much lower than the effective dose shown in studies.

Probiotics Can Be Dangerous

Probiotics are mostly unregulated, which is a problem. Certain studies have reported probiotic-related deaths and others have shown adverse events may be underreported in clinical trials.

That’s why’s it’s so important to choose make sure the strain(s) you’re taking has been studied for safety and efficacy in peer-reviewed, placebo-controlled clinical trials.

There is likely a huge difference between the probiotic strains tested and validated in human clinical trials and the ones found on the average grocery store shelf.

Lucy Mailing, an MD/PhD student at the University of Illinois and a staff research associate for Kresser Institute.

Probiotics Are NOT a Replacement for a Nutrient-dense Diet

What we eat is still the primary determinant of a diverse microbiota composition, which has been shown to be a key factor in people with “healthy” microbiomes.

Exercise may also promote healthy gut flora.

Key Takeaways

To recap:

  1. Many foods claiming probiotic content don’t contain enough for health benefit.
  2. Eating fermented foods is good … but not the same as taking probiotics.
  3. More strains doesn’t always means better.
    • What’s more important is finding a product/strain that has been studied to treat the health condition you’re looking to improve (IBS, IBD, skin conditions, anxiety, depression, to name a few.
    • Taking probiotics that haven’t been studied for safety can do more harm than good.
  4. Talk to your doctor (preferably a gastroenterologist) about which probiotics you should be taking for specific health conditions.
    • Do your homework: make sure the strains have been studied for safety and efficacy too.
  5. Diet and lifestyle are still the most important determining factors of gut microbial composition.

And if you’re going to use a probiotic supplement, here’s another resource that may help you:

The Best Probiotics, According to Science

 

*The 11 strains listed in studies #1 and 2 above were Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus casei subsp. paracasei, Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Bifidobacterium longum, Bifidobacterium bifidum, Bifidobacterium breve, Bifidobacterium longum subsp. infantis, Lactococcus lactis, Streptococcus thermophilus

The Best Vegan Probiotics, According to Science

4 out of every 5 probiotic supplements contain dairy-based derivatives.

This isn’t just bad news for vegans. 

Why?

Because:

  1. Up to 65 percent of adults are lactose intolerant, which means milk-based probiotics can make things worse for those with dairy sensitivities.
  2. Dairy-based probiotics are often only shelf stable for a few days. After this, the bacteria start to die. So, you have to take more of them to feel any effect.

Vegan probiotics must be better for you then, right?

Not necessarily.

Most vegan probiotic manufacturers use corn-, soy-, and wheat-based fillers and additives that may make your gut issues worse.

And many just flat out don’t work.

In this guide, I’ll help you navigate the fascinating yet complex world of probiotics. We’ll talk about the best vegan food sources of probiotics. Then I’ll show you what to look for if you decide to take a vegan probiotic supplement.

Away we go …

What Are Probiotics and Why Are They So Popular Right Now?

best vegan probiotics

There are 40 trillion bacterial cells in your body at any given moment (compared to around 30 trillion human cells).

Many of these bacterial organisms live in your gut, part of a stunningly complex network of neurons known as your “microbiome”.

The densest part of your microbiome is in your gut, where about 1,000 species of bacteria feast on complex carbohydrates and fibers you eat.

The microbiome plays an important role in your body …

Scientists have discovered that 70-80 percent of your immune system is controlled by your microbiome and 95 percent of your body’s serotonin—the neurotransmitter that’s the main contributor to your well-being and happiness—is made in your gut, not your brain.

The gut microbiome is largely shaped by what we eat and drink. And the Western diet, with its heavy use of heavily processed foods like refined flour and sugar, actually starves your microbiota, leading to a plethora of health conditions.

That’s why probiotics, these “good”, “friendly” or “healthy” bacteria you can take in supplement form, are so popular now.

The Best Sources of Probiotics for Vegans and Vegetarians

1. Fermented vegetables 

Sauerkraut, pickles, and kimchi are among the most popular natural sources of vegan probiotics. But most of the store brands contain vinegar and preservatives, which kill the beneficial bacteria.

So look for pickled vegetables that are naturally fermented using salt.

Or just make your own.

Personal note: I was inspired to start fermenting vegetables after reading Michael Pollan’s fantastic book, Cooked. All you need is vegetables/fruit, salt, and a fermentation vessel. This is the crock I use if you get serious but when you’re first starting out, any large container will work).

Also, the cellular structure of certain foods makes them act as “superfoods” for good microbes to feed on. These include onions, leeks, Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, dandelion greens, jicama, and peas.

2. Fermented tea 
Kombucha is black tea that’s fermented with sugar. Some store-bought brands also add sugar, which can strengthen harmful microbes like E. coli.

Personal note: I got this kombucha kit and use it to make a fermented tea called Jun that uses green tea and honey instead of black tea and sugar. Here’s how to make it.

3. Sourdough Bread

There is not a more delicious way to enjoy the benefits of probiotics than eating a warm, crusty slice of sourdough bread (assuming you don’t have a gluten sensitivity).

Personal note: I also start making sourdough bread after reading Cooked. Seriously, read the book! Then pick up a sourdough starter and some flour and make this no-knead Cast Iron Sourdough Bread recipe. from the New York Times.

4. Fermented soy

Soy has gotten a bad rap because it’s used so much in processed foods and is one of the top 8 allergens. However, fermented soy products like organic miso, tofu, and soy sauce may actually have some health benefits.

5. Variety

Simple sugars cause conflict between our microbes and cells, but eating a variety of vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains encourages cooperation between them. Gregory Plotnifkoff, MD, coauthor of Trust Your Gut recommends adhering to the old Japanese adage of eating at least 30 different whole foods per day!

6. Supplements

Eating 30 different foods can be a challenge for time-strapped folks though. That’s where probiotic supplements may help …

How to Find the Best Probiotic for Your Health Needs

healthiest probioticsNot all probiotics strains are the same. Different strains offer different benefits and some probiotic strains survive manufacturing processes, shelf life and digestive transit better than others. When choosing a probiotic consider the following questions:

  1. Is it derived from dairy? As mentioned, even if you’re not a vegan, dairy can be problematic for the 65 percent of people who can’t digest lactose properly. Choose vegan probiotics instead.
  2. Does your probiotic survive stomach acid and/or manufacturing? As mentioned, most don’t. Certain strains fare better than others. Always ask the manufacturer of your probiotic if they have any clinical research to support their product. Just because they sell a popular strain, doesn’t mean their probiotic are live and active.
  3. Is your probiotic safe and FDA-approved? The FDA doesn’t require probiotic companies to test their bacteria strains. So naturally, most don’t do it. Probiotic contamination is a big deal though. If your probiotic manufacturer doesn’t have strict quality control measures in place, your probiotic may be doing more harm than good. Make sure the company you buy from tests its probiotics for safety and efficacy and can provide documentation to prove it.
  4. Is your probiotic backed by peer-reviewed clinical studies? Don’t trust marketing claims on product labels and websites. Even most clinical data probiotic companies cite is funded by the companies themselves. Your probiotic should be backed by randomized, double-blind, peer-reviewed clinical studies (the gold standard in scientific research) if the company makes any claims about its benefits.
  5. Does your probiotic contain fillers, preservatives, allergens, and artificial ingredients? The answer is usually yes, but manufacturers are very good at hiding this information. The only way to know is to ask them what “excipients” are in it.
  6. What health challenges are you facing? Different strains of probiotics offer different types of benefits. Don’t just buy a probiotic without understanding the type or types of strains it contains—otherwise you’re very likely wasting your money. For example, I suffer from GI issues, so I make sure I take strains that help me with those.

The Best Time to Take Probiotics

Research shows you can take probiotics before, during, or after meals. However, you may experience additional benefits if you take your probiotics with some form of healthy fats (avocado, olive oil, etc.).

Benefits of Various Probiotic Strains

Let’s look at some of the strain-specific benefits of probiotics …

Sleep Benefits

We spend almost a third of our lives asleep. Researchers are discovering that the duration and quality of our sleep affect everything from our cognitive performance, mood, and memory to the health of our immune and endocrine systems.

It’s widely known that quality sleep can improve your memory, reduce inflammation (the pre-cursor to most disease), sharpen your mental focus, help you control your weight, and lower your stress levels.

Probiotics (beneficial bacteria) produce and regulate a number of neurotransmitters and hormones that impact our sleep:

Tryptophan and Melatonin: Probiotics can increase blood levels of tryptophan, an amino acid that converts into serotonin and then into melatonin, the hormone that regulates how sleepy you feel.

Serotonin: Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps to regulate mood and plays a significant role in sleep quality. Researchers found that serotonin deficiency in rats led to disrupted sleep-wake cycles. Most serotonin is made in the gut.

GABA: Beneficial bacteria help produce GABA, the calming brain chemical, as well as enhance its brain receptors.

Cortisol: If temporary stress and anxiety are the cause of your sleepless nights, rest assured that probiotics may even lower levels of cortisol, a hormone that becomes elevated during times of stress.

So what probiotic strains have been shown to be effective for sleep? Not many, just yet.

A small study showed that the probiotic Streptococcus can help improve sleep outcomes.

Mental Health Benefits

The relationship between the microbiota and anxiety/depression has been studied mainly in animals … but preliminary research is promising.

Your gut microbiota plays a major role in the communication between the gut and the brain.

A review of several research studies showed that certain probiotics have antidepressant and anti-anxiety properties. The researchers concluded:

Regulation of the gut microbiota using diet, probiotics and FMT (fecal microbiota transplantation) may have important benefits for preventing and treating depression.

Weight Loss Benefits

In a metaanalysis of over 800 studies, researchers found that:

Administration of probiotics resulted in a significantly larger reduction in body weight and fat percentage compared with placebo; however, the effect sizes were small.

Immunity Benefits

Research is still emerging in this area but it appears probiotics may be able to help you keep your immune system functioning at a higher level.

New research has shown that certain strains can activate health immune cells and decrease inflammation.

Gut Health Benefits

Several probiotic strains have been shown to help those suffering from GI issues like diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), irritable bowl disease (IBD), and food allergies.

Safety and Side Effects of Probiotics

According to the National Institutes of Health, the safety of probiotics depends on the state of your health and the strain you’re using.

In people who are generally healthy, probiotics have a solid safety record. Side effects, if they occur at all, usually consist only of mild digestive symptoms such as gas.

On the other hand, there have been reports linking some probiotics to severe side effects, such as dangerous infections, in people with serious underlying medical problems. The people who are most at risk of severe side effects include critically ill patients, those who have had surgery, very sick infants, and people with weakened immune systems.

Do your homework and ask your doctor about any certain strains so she/he can tell you whether it’s safe for you.

Why GanedenBC30 (Bacillus coagulans) is the One of the Best Vegan Probiotic Supplements

vegan probioticsOk, I’ll admit I’m a little biased here because GanedenBC30 is the probiotic we use in Pure Food Protein.

But here’s why I think it’s one of the best vegan probiotics on the market …

Bacillus coagulans is:

  • Proven to be safe for people of all ages (it’s one of the few strains with FDA “Generally Recognized As Safe” affirmation)
  • Calorie and gluten-free
  • Organic Compliant
  • Kosher and halal
  • A sustainable, naturally occurring, non-GMO ingredient (non-GMO verified)
  • Studied and supported in over 25 peer reviewed, published clinical trials.
    • Research on GanedenBC30 demonstrates the probiotic helps keep your digestive system functioning at full speed.
    • Several studies found that GanedenBC30 reduced bloating and gas and even abdominal pain.
    • In addition to helping people digest food better, GanedenBC30 increased utilization of minerals and proteins and
    • GanedenBC30 can even support immune function, according to several studies.
  • One of the few EXTREMELY stable probiotics due to the cell’s ability to form a protective spore. Just like plant seeds wait to grow until spring when the temperature and moisture levels are optimal, GanedenBC30 spores wait to germinate and grow until they reach the intestines where the conditions are just right. This protective shell also gives GanedenBC30 is one of the few vegan probiotics on the market that can survive harsh manufacturing processes, product shelf life, and the journey through the digestive system.

Bottom Line About Vegan Probiotics

the best probioticsFrom the day you were born, your digestive tract has been exposed to a steady stream of bacteria–some helpful, some harmful. One key to gastrointestinal (GI) health is maintaining a balance of these “good” and “bad” bacteria.

Over time, diet, aging, antibiotic use, travel, medications, illness, stress, and hormonal changes can disrupt your intestinal balance.

Keeping a healthy level of these “good” bacteria is key to maintaining your digestive and immune health.

To help level the playing field of good and bad bacteria, many people find it helpful to add a daily supplement or eat more probiotic fortified foods and beverages.

Like most industries, the market for probiotics is ripe with crappy products. The only way to know if your probiotic is legit is to answer the 6 questions above. If a manufacturer is hesitant to provide any information you ask for, that’s a big red flag for an inferior product that could do more harm than good.

10 minutes of research makes a world of difference when it comes to choosing the right probiotic supplement for you.

Learn More About Pure Food Protein Powder with Probiotics

Sources Not Linked to Above/Further Reading:

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/strange-but-true-humans-carry-more-bacterial-cells-than-human-ones/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10564096

https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052970204468004577164732944974356

https://www.ganedenbc30.com/health

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/gut-second-brain/

https://www.the-rheumatologist.org/details/article/1386089/The_Microbiome.html

https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/gut-week-do-probiotics-work-are-they-good-for-me/ 

https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2013/11/18/244526773/gut-bacteria-might-guide-the-workings-of-our-minds

https://experiencelife.com/article/how-to-heal-a-leaky-gut/

Is This “The Secret” to Optimal Health and Happiness?

You are only 10 percent human.

As crazy as it sounds, our bodies have only 10 percent human cells. The other 90 percent are bacterial.

Most of these bacterial organisms live in your gut, part of a stunningly complex network of 100 million neurons known as your “microbiome”.

Your gut—which includes the esophagus, stomach, and intestines—actually has its own nervous system that allows it to operate independently from the brain, which is why it’s often called the “second brain.”

Ever felt butterflies in your stomach before giving a speech? Or had a “gut feeling” about something that turned out to be right?

That’s the second brain at work.

The Health Benefits of Probiotics

probiotics health benefits

So how do you improve your gut health?

The best way to get more good bacteria in your body is to eat whole, fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, and miso.

The second best way is to take a supplement or eat foods with added “probiotics,” a term used to describe health-promoting bacterial species.

However, 94% of probiotics added to food products are completely ineffective.

That’s because they either:

  1. Have a short shelf life
  2. Get killed by your stomach acid, or
  3. Don’t stay in your digestive tract long enough to provide any health benefit

It doesn’t matter how many “billion CFUs” your probiotic has if none of those good bacteria survive through your digestive system!

How do you find a good probiotic that actually works?

Start by finding out the answers to these questions:

  1. Does your probiotic survive stomach acid? As mentioned, most don’t. Certain strains fare better than others (like Bacillus coagulans). And some manufacturers (like Hyperbiotics) have developed proprietary processes that time-release the delivery of the bacteria until it reaches your intestine.
  2. Is your probiotic lab tested for safety? The FDA doesn’t require probiotic companies to test their bacteria strains. So naturally, they don’t do it. Probiotic contamination is a big deal though. If your probiotic manufacturer doesn’t have strict quality control measures in place, your probiotic may be doing more harm than good. Make sure the company you buy from tests its probiotics and can prove it to you.
  3. Is your probiotic backed by peer-reviewed clinical studies? Don’t trust marketing claims on product labels and websites. Even most clinical data probiotic companies cite is funded by the companies themselves. Your probiotic should be backed by peer-reviewed clinical studies (the gold standard in scientific research) if the company makes any claims about its benefits.
  4. Does your probiotic contain fillers, preservatives, and artificial ingredients? The answer is usually yes, but manufacturers are very good at hiding this information. The only way to know is to ask.
  5. Is your probiotic dairy-free? Many probiotics use a milk-based medium to help the bacteria grow. However, the people who probiotics tend to benefit most are those with digestive or immune problems … and dairy can trigger a whole host of issues.

The bottom line

Like most industries, the market for probiotics is ripe with crappy products. The only way to know if your probiotic is legit is to find out the answers to the five questions above. If a manufacturer is hesitant to provide any information you ask for, that’s a big red flag for an inferior product that could do more harm than good.

10 minutes of research makes a world of difference when it comes to choosing a healthy probiotic supplement.

Don’t roll the dice with your health.

If you want to try a probiotic that actually works, grab a sample bag of Pure Food Probiotic Protein Powder for just 5 bucks (you just pay shipping).