Feeling bloated and constantly tired? Adding a probiotic supplement to your diet might be a great way to improve your gut health. Probiotics are live, active microorganisms able to reestablish the balance of the gut flora when compromised by medical conditions, emotional and physical stress, and, most notably, use of antibiotics. And although more research is needed, there is evidence that they may boost our immune system, improving symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome as well as reducing inflammation, vaginal infections and skin irritations.
What are the most effective probiotics?
The classic examples of probiotics are yoghurt and kefir (a fermented milk-based beverage), which are great for a lot of people, but also fermented foods you can find in most of the supermarkets or health food stores like sauerkraut (traditional German shredded, fermented cabbage), apple cider vinegar, pickles, kimchi (traditional Korean fermented cabbage) and kombucha ( a fermented green tea-based beverage).
However, unless you have a perfect gut and are already eating lots of them—which is rare— it’s difficult to get all the probiotics you need from diet alone, so you might consider integrating your regime with specific supplements that come in the form of capsules, tablets, powders, liquids, gums, shells, beads, and lozenges. Keep in mind, there are many different types of probiotics that may have different effects on the body, and little is known about which ones are best. Also, there’s likely to be a huge difference between the pharmaceutical-grade probiotics that show promise in clinical trials and the yoghurts and supplements sold in shops.
A general recommendation is to choose those products with at least 1 billion CFUs (colony forming units) and containing Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium or Saccharomyces boulardii, some of the most researched probiotics. Harvard Health Experts, in particular, recommends when buying a probiotic supplement, to check the label for the type of genus, species, and strain to make sure they align with your specific health needs. You should also look for a description that indicates there are live and active bacterial cultures and invest in a probiotic supplement from a reputable brand. Some of them have created advanced technology that preserves a probiotic supplement’s survival in your gut and go through third-party testing to evaluate the purity, potency, composition, and other criteria. Why? Because probiotics are living organisms and can die easily. If they sit on a shelf for months or longer, the number of organisms you get may be far less than what the bottle claims.
These supplements should be taken on an empty stomach once or twice a day for at least three months. After that time, reassess and decide if the benefits you achieved warrant continuing a maintenance dose of the probiotic supplement. In case you’re trying to address a specific health concern, it’s better to consult your doctor to ensure the best health benefit.
How about probiotics in skincare?
Just like the capsules, you swallow to keep your gut happy, probiotics can have biome-balancing properties when applied topically to the skin. A new brand of cleansers and serums to masks and mists packed with types of friendly bacteria, promise to soothe inflammation, preventing damage to collagen, elastin and healthy cells.
Probiotics in skincare optimize the healing benefits of our skin’s good bugs- says Dr Whitney Bowe, NYC-based dermatologist and author of The Beauty of Dirty Skin. – This includes acting as a protective shield against bad bacteria, dialling down inflammation, preventing premature ageing in the skin, among other things.
However, keep in mind that probiotic skincare products are quite delicate. Most of them have a six-month expiration date after opening and need to be stored in a cool environment, some even in the fridge.
Do they really work?
There are many unanswered questions about probiotics, and although the science looking into these products is promising, the research is still emerging. Some questions include exactly how much of a probiotic product people need to consume to see beneficial health effects, how exactly probiotics work in the body, and which microbes and dosages work best for specific medical conditions. According to Eran Elinav, an immunologist at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, “probiotics should not be universally given as a ‘one-size-fits-all’ supplement. However, it may be possible to tailor probiotic treatments to the individual, based on the types of microbes already in his or her gut, as well as other factors, so that he or she gets the most benefit from probiotics“.