Are Probiotic Pills Safe
Makers of probiotics dont have to prove to the Food and Drug Administration that their products are safe and effective before theyre marketed.
And a recent study in the Annals of Internal Medicine sounded an alarm about the lack of scientific proof to support their safety.
You are taking in live bacteria, so its possible that certain people may be vulnerable to infection from it and not able to fight it off, Cresci says.
While serious side effects are unlikely in healthy people, those who are immune-compromised, elderly, or critically ill in particular should consult a doctor before taking these supplements.
Which Probiotics Are Found In Yogurt And Supplements
A product of fermented milk, yogurt naturally contains probiotics from the species Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus, according to the California Dairy Research Foundation. Additional live bacteria are commonly added to enhance yogurt’s probiotic content. These same species can be found in probiotic pills.
A December 2010 study published in the International Journal of Food Microbiology studied human saliva and fecal samples after subjects consumed either yogurt or probiotic pills. The researchers determined that both options provided the body with comparable amounts of microorganisms. If, however, you are looking to supplement with a probiotic strain not found in yogurt, consider taking supplements or incorporating another food sources known to contain those probiotics.
Choosing The Right Probiotic Supplement
Probiotics can help with a wide range of health conditions, starting from stress-related digestive issues and spanning all the way to anxiety. When choosing a probiotic supplement, first look for the right bacteria strains and formulation to address your health concern. In addition, also make sure the product you choose is backed by research and testing.
For example, Omni-Biotic Balance can help support the immune system, and Omni-Biotic Stress Release promotes the gut-brain. Both probiotics are targeted formulations based on over 25 years of gut microbiome research and 100+ clinical studies.
Keep in mind that some probiotic strains are studied more than others, and your doctor or dietitian can help you determine which may work best for you.
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May Improve Symptoms Of Certain Gastrointestinal Diseases
Some of the most well-studied uses of probiotic supplements relate to the treatment of gastrointestinal diseases like irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease .
One review of 11 studies found that 7 of them reported that probiotic supplementation significantly improved symptoms like bloating and abdominal pain in IBS patients, compared with a placebo, while the remaining 4 studies did not find significant improvements.
The review also found that multi-strain probiotics used for at least 8 weeks seemed to be most effective at improving IBS symptoms .
Notably, Lactobacillus acidophilus was present in all of the multi-strain supplement studies that reported significantly improved symptoms .
Multi-strain probiotics may improve some symptoms in those with IBD, though they appear to be less effective for people with Crohns disease.
Evidence is currently limited, and well-designed studies are needed (
While some people, including those with IBS and certain types of IBD, may benefit from specific strains of probiotics, in general, most healthy people who follow a nutritious diet and healthy lifestyle do not need to supplement with probiotics.
Plus, some researchers are concerned that the widespread use of probiotics may lead to antibiotic resistance and warn that many studies investigating the safety and efficacy of probiotics are of poor quality .
You can get probiotics from a variety of foods or supplements.
More about probiotics:
When To See A Healthcare Professional
Its best to talk with a trusted healthcare professional before taking probiotics, especially if you have any underlying health conditions or are taking other medications.
Your doctor or other healthcare professional can help you find a product thats right for you, based on your specific needs and goals.
Additionally, though probiotics can be beneficial for several conditions, they shouldnt be used as a substitute or replacement for medical treatment.
Finally, keep in mind that probiotics may cause digestive side effects like diarrhea, stomach cramps, gas, and nausea, especially when you first start taking them .
If these symptoms are severe or dont improve after several days, you should discontinue use and consult a healthcare professional.
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Probiotics And Mental Health
The impact of probiotic consumption on mental health is one of the newer areas of probiotic research. Researchers believe that the link between the gut and the brain, known as the gut-brain axis, affects both physical and mental health. Probiotics are being studied for their ability to reduce anxiety, relieve stress and improve mental outlook.
Researchers are just beginning to explore the effect of probiotics on many other aspects of human health. In the meantime, probiotic-rich foods can safely become part of a daily eating pattern, with the potential to have an impact beyond the nutrients provided.
Is It Safe To Take Probiotics Daily
For healthy individuals, probiotics have a long history of being safe and beneficial to use daily. Thats because most probiotic supplements typically use the same microbes that already exist naturally in the human gut.
The risk is greater for people with severe medical conditions or who are immunocompromised as supplementation. If you have a severe medical condition or are immunocompromised, please consult with your healthcare practitioner before you start using a probiotic supplement.
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Probiotics Can Help Reduce Symptoms Of Certain Digestive Disorders
Over one million people in the US suffer from inflammatory bowel disease, including ulcerative colitis and Crohns disease .
Certain types of probiotics from the Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus strains have improved symptoms in people with mild ulcerative colitis .
Surprisingly, one study found that supplementing with the probiotic E. coli Nissle was just as effective as drugs in maintaining remission in people with ulcerative colitis (
Nevertheless, probiotics may have benefits for other bowel disorders. Early research suggests they may help with symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome .
They have also been shown to reduce the risk of severe necrotizing enterocolitis by 50%. This is a fatal bowel condition that occurs in premature infants .
Probiotics may help reduce the symptoms of bowel disorders like ulcerative colitis, IBS and necrotizing enterocolitis.
May Contain Different Amounts Of Nutrients Than Listed
Gummy vitamins are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration as food, not as drugs. This means the ingredients may interact with medications. Always consult with a healthcare professional before taking any vitamins.
In particular, gummy vitamins may have fewer nutrients than consumers are led to believe.
This is partially because manufacturers cannot pack in as many vitamins and minerals when they have to add sugars, colorings, and other filler compounds that are used to maintain a gummy texture.
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Psoriasis And Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
This specific type of bacteria is often included in supplements to fortify the digestive system.
Probiotics are available as supplements, though there is not yet enough evidence to prove that a specific brand or type will help with a particular condition.
The Food and Drug Administration for medical purposes. However, they do not consider probiotic supplements to be medication and so do not monitor claims about probiotic contents. A person cannot be sure exactly what a product contains. Also, it is not always clear how long a probiotic stays active in the body. As a result, a person cannot be sure how effective any product is likely to be or which condition it may help with.
Probiotics are likely to be safe for most people, but there are some points to consider before using them or increasing the intake.
The note that while probiotics are likely safe for those in good health, these bacteria may pose a risk to people with weakened immune systems or other health issues.
These people may face a risk of:
Signs Your Probiotics Arent Working Is It Time To Switch
Youre using probiotics to fix your digestive issues. Should you stop using them or switch to another option if your existing probiotics dont generate any improvement after a few days?
Probiotics and multivitamins may take some time before they start showing any benefits. Several factors may affect the performance of these health boosters. Probiotics and vitamins follow similar timelines for effectiveness. For more information on how long vitamins take to work, read here.
Some signs help you determine whether its time to switch your probiotics:
- You dont experience any change in your symptoms of poor gut health after four weeks
- You start experiencing side effects including gas, bloating, and headaches
In some cases, you may experience beneficial side effects of using probiotics. Theyre signs your body is adapting to the probiotics youre using.
These side effects may include flatulence, mild bloating, and more frequent bowel movements. Its a sign that your body is removing unhealthy bacteria.
These side effects may last for almost a week. If they dont disappear after a full week has passed, you should quit taking the supplements and consult a doctor.
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Potential Downsides To Gummy Vitamins
On the flip side, there may be some potential downsides to taking gummy vitamins, depending on your relationship with sugar. One of the main appeals of gummy supplements is their crave-worthy taste â which usually comes from added sugar.
While the sugar content in a gummy vitamin might not seem too high, it can add up. If you have a sweet tooth, stick to the American Heart Associations recommendation of consuming no more than 9 teaspoons of sugar per day for men or 6 teaspoons per day for women. Since this is the biggest criticism of gummy vitamins, you can actually find low-sugar options for your daily supplement, including those in gummy form.
Things To Consider When Buying Probiotics
We recommend that you look at three factors when in the market for a new probiotic.
Probiotic strains are different in all gummies. Some of them include ingredients like sugar and others are free of gluten and dairy products. Some probiotic gummies even contain artificial flavors and colors. However, these might do more harm than good, so better steer clear of them. Whats important is that your research is complete and your intake of bacteria is natural and healthy.
The most effective probiotic supplements include three different types of strains, Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus and Saccharomyces. Hard on the mouth , arent they? Well, many probiotics have multiple strains of bacteria which is why they are called multistrain probiotics.
These are believed to produce better results. Adults should take probiotics having a minimum of six strains of bacteria. At least one of them should be Lactobacillus and the other should be Bifidobacterium.
Colony Forming Units
Probiotic supplements are quantified in colony forming units which is the number of active bacteria present in a gummy. Ideally, a probiotic supplement should have a minimum 1 billion CFU. Most gummies and supplements have 3 to 5 billion CFUs but they can even exceed to about 50 billion or more.
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Understanding The Health Benefits Of Taking Probiotics
What are the benefits of taking probiotics? Bacteria have a reputation for causing disease, so the idea of tossing down a few billion a day for your health might seem literally and figuratively hard to swallow. But a growing body of scientific evidence suggests that you can treat and even prevent some illnesses with foods and supplements containing certain kinds of live bacteria. Northern Europeans consume a lot of these beneficial microorganisms, called probiotics , because of their tradition of eating foods fermented with bacteria, such as yogurt. Probiotic-laced beverages are also big business in Japan.
Some digestive disease specialists are recommending probiotic supplements for disorders that frustrate conventional medicine, such as irritable bowel syndrome. Since the mid-1990s, clinical studies suggest that probiotic therapy can help treat several gastrointestinal ills, delay the development of allergies in children, and treat and prevent vaginal and urinary infections in women.
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- Find the best treatments and procedures for you
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They’re Good For Your Gut*
Probiotics might be best known for their impact on gut health.* “Think of probiotics as your little helpers that restore order and help maintain harmony in your gut ecosystem,”* says gut health expert Vincent Pedre, M.D. “They outnumber and antagonize unwelcome bugs, including unfavorable bacteria, yeast, and parasites.”*
Research has shown that probiotics are beneficial for improving gut issues like irregularity due to gut imbalance.* A common culprit of gut microbial imbalance are antibiotics.
Probiotics are a targeted strategy to elevate the gut microbiome.*
Science demonstrates their ability to support numerous functions of the upper and lower GI tract, including abdominal comfort by helping reduce gas and bloating.*
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Probiotics Can Help Prevent And Treat Diarrhea
Probiotics are widely known for their ability to prevent diarrhea or reduce its severity.
Diarrhea is a common side effect of taking antibiotics. It occurs because antibiotics can negatively affect the balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut (
A review of 15 human studies found supplementing with Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus strains for 12 months can improve anxiety, depression, autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder and memory .
One study followed 70 chemical workers for 6 weeks. Those who consumed 100 grams of probiotic yogurt per day or took a daily probiotic capsule experienced benefits for general health, depression, anxiety and stress .
Benefits were also seen in a study of 40 patients with depression.
Taking probiotic supplements for 8 weeks decreased depression levels and reduced levels of C-reactive protein and hormones such as insulin, compared to people who did not take a probiotic .
Research shows taking probiotics may help improve symptoms of mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, stress and memory, among others.
Can I Get Probiotics From Food
You can absolutely increase beneficial microbes in your body from the foods you eat. Certain foods have probiotics in them and can benefit the health of your microbiome.
These foods can be introduced into your diet at any point of the day. You may even be regularly eating them now and not realize that they contain probiotics. You will want to check the food label for live and active cultures. A few suggestions for just some of the probiotic-rich foods you can add to your diet and some times to try them include:
For breakfast, try:
Probiotic supplements may be combined with a prebiotic. Prebiotics are complex carbohydrates that feed the microorganisms in your gut. Basically, prebiotics are the food source for the good bacteria. They help feed the good bacteria and keep it healthy. Prebiotics include inulin, pectin and resistant starches.
When you have a supplement that combines a probiotic and prebiotic, its called a synbiotic.
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How Popular Are Probiotics
The 2012 National Health Interview Survey showed that about 4 million U.S. adults had used probiotics or prebiotics in the past 30 days. Among adults, probiotics or prebiotics were the third most commonly used dietary supplement other than vitamins and minerals. The use of probiotics by adults quadrupled between 2007 and 2012. The 2012 NHIS also showed that 300,000 children age 4 to 17 had used probiotics or prebiotics in the 30 days before the survey.
How Might Probiotics Work
Probiotics may have a variety of effects in the body, and different probiotics may act in different ways.
- Help your body maintain a healthy community of microorganisms or help your bodyâs community of microorganisms return to a healthy condition after being disturbed
- Produce substances that have desirable effects
- Influence your bodyâs immune response.
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Should You Start Eating Probiotics
Russian microbiologist Elie Metchnikoff was the first to associate the large amounts of fermented dairy products with the good health and longevity of Bulgarians back in 1907. He proposed that the acid-producing organisms in fermented dairy products could prevent what he called “fouling” in the large intestine. He believed if eaten regularly, these foods could lead to a longer, healthier life. One version of the Old Testament even attributes Abraham’s long life 175 years to the “consumption of sour milk.” Fermented milk products may have also been used to treat illnesses of the digestive tract during Roman times.
The scientific community agrees that there are potential health benefits to eating foods with probiotics. However, more research is needed to solidify the claims. The best we can say right now is they won’t hurt and may help.
Remember that dietary supplements are not tested by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration like medications. And the probiotic strains in the supplements may not be specific for the condition you’re looking to treat. You may want to consult with a practitioner, like a registered dietitian, who is familiar with probiotics. Always tell your physician what you are doing that may affect your health.
Get Healthy Bacteria From Food
If you eat a diet rich in plant-based and fermented foods, you will be ingesting a variety of microbes, says Mayer at UCLA. And the more you feed them, the greater their abundance and diversity in the gut. What do they eat? Fiber called prebiotics. Some good sources are artichokes, asparagus, garlic, onions, and whole grains.
But with a supplement, you consume the bacteria in isolation, Cresci says.
If you get your good bacteria in fermented foods such as yogurt and sauerkraut, youll also get their beneficial byproducts, such as acids and enzymes.
Editors Note: This article also appeared in the January 2019 issue of Consumer Reports On Health.
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