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Should I Take a Probiotic? If So, Which One?

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By Franziska Spritzler

Probiotics have received a lot of attention recently.

These living organisms have been credited with providing all kinds of health benefits related to gut function and beyond (1).

If you're looking to use them to boost your own health, it's important to make sure you take the right probiotic supplements to get the results you're after.

This article takes a detailed look at the effects of probiotics and provides recommendations for supplements that address specific health issues.

What Are Probiotics?

Your gut contains bacteria acquired at birth and onward in a process called colonization.

Many of these bacteria are considered beneficial or "friendly." Their functions include converting fiber into short-chain fatty acids, synthesizing certain vitamins and supporting your immune system (2).

Taking probiotics may help boost the numbers of these healthy bacteria.

The formal definition of probiotics is, "live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host" (1).

Basically, probiotics are microorganisms that provide beneficial effects when you consume them in the right 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 types of fiber that serve as a food source for the bacteria living in your colon (3).

Summary: Probiotics are health-promoting bacteria found in supplement form and some foods. Taking probiotics can help increase the number of beneficial bacteria that reside in your gut.

Certain Probiotics May Have Specific Benefits

Your gut microbiome or gut flora, consists of a wide variety of bacteria.

Its exact composition is unique to you.

Your colon contains billions of bacteria with types from more than 500 different species (4).

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 seem to be more effective than others for treating certain conditions.

Therefore, you're more likely to get good results by taking probiotics that have been shown to achieve specific effects, such as controlling diarrhea.

In addition, it's important to consume probiotics in sufficient amounts.

Probiotics are typically measured in colony-forming units (CFU). Generally, higher doses have been found to produce the best results in most studies (5).

However, some probiotics may be effective at dosages of 1–2 billion CFU per day, while others may require at least 20 billion CFU to achieve the desired effects.

Taking extremely high doses hasn't been found to cause harm. One study gave participants up to 1.8 trillion CFU per day. However, it's expensive and doesn't appear to provide any additional benefits (5).

Importantly, scientists still don't know everything about probiotics. Although research has rapidly expanded within the past several years, there is much left to explore.

Summary: Different types of probiotic bacteria may provide health benefits. Taking a sufficient amount of the right probiotic is important for achieving the desired effects.

Probiotics That May Help Relieve Constipation

Constipation is characterized by bowel movements that are hard, difficult to pass and infrequent. Everyone experiences constipation once in a while, but in some people it becomes a chronic problem.

Chronic constipation is most common among the elderly and adults who are bedridden, although it can also occur in children.

In addition, some people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) experience persistent constipation as their main symptom. This is known as constipation-predominant IBS.

Conventional treatments include laxatives and stool softeners. However, in recent years, dietary changes and probiotic supplements have become increasingly popular alternative approaches (6).

A number of studies have shown that supplementing with certain probiotic strains can reduce constipation in both adults and children (7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12).

In a study comparing probiotics and prebiotics in children with IBS, B. lactis was shown to provide significant constipation relief.

The probiotics group also experienced less belching, abdominal fullness and bloating after meals than the prebiotics group (8).

Other probiotics that may improve constipation include B. longum, S. cerevisiae and a combination of L. acidophilus, L. reuteri, L. plantarum, L. rhamnosus and B. animalis (10, 11, 12).

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