Start A Petition

Should You Take a Probiotic?

Health & Wellness  (tags: food, disease, diet, ethics, health, healthcare, medicine, investigation, drugs, warning, society, risks, protection, prevention, nutrition, study )

- 1816 days ago -
The popular supplements might be more about marketing than beneficial microbes.

Select names from your address book   |   Help

We hate spam. We do not sell or share the email addresses you provide.


JL A (281)
Monday April 29, 2013, 8:01 pm

Mother Jones
Should You Take a Probiotic?
The popular supplements might be more about marketing than beneficial microbes.

By Maddie Oatman | Mon Apr. 22, 2013 3:30 AM PDT

A few years ago, after a gnarly bout of giardia earned from a few months studying in India, and the ensuing rounds of antibiotics prescribed to kill the bugs, I began to take a probiotic supplement to recoup. I was hoping for something to help me digest, and for some new microorganisms to repopulate my intestine and fend off bad bacteria. The regimen was easy—right before breakfast, I'd down one or two small capsules with some water. And it seemed to work; within a few months, my digestion was back on track. But it's a little hard to say: Did the probiotics cure my turbulent gut, or was it just the passage of time and a return to normal food and sanitation?

The human GI tract contains more than 500 species of bacteria that help break down food, strengthen immunity, and ward off pathogens. This community of trillions of microbes together weighs up to 2.2 pounds and its cells outnumber human cells 10-to-1. "There's a war going on in your gut," says gastroenterologist Dr. Shekhar Challa [1], author of Probiotics for Dummies and coproducer of Microwarriors: The Battle Within [2], a video game about probiotics. When the ratio of good to bad bacteria gets out of whack, he says, adding a probiotic—a beneficial bacteria—can help refuel the good guys. Lactobacillus acidophilus, found in some yogurt, is probably the best-known strain. These microbes bind to the lining of the gut, help you digest, battle toxic intruders, and can stimulate the immune system. They've also been credited—though with varying levels of evidence—with preventing or curing diarrhea, gastrointestinal diseases [3], yeast infections, and allergies [4].

More MoJo coverage of bacteria and health:

Are Happy Gut Bacteria Key to Weight Loss? [5]
This Is Your Body on Microbes [6]
Should You Take a Probiotic? [7]
Poop Therapy: More Than You Probably Wanted to Know About Fecal Transplants [8]
Can Antibiotics Make You Fat? [9]
Antibiotics As Key to Curing Starvation [10]
Why You Shouldn't Take Antibiotics for a Sinus Infection [11]

One recent study [12] even indicates that probiotics could be used to regulate emotions and mitigate depression via their effect on neurotransmitters. (Radiolab fans might remember this from the episode "Guts [13].") Researchers in Ireland found that mice treated with Lactobacillus rhamnosus suffered less stress, anxiety, and depression-related behavior, suggesting that certain strains of probiotics could one day be used to treat those symptoms in humans.

The excitement about probiotics' potential has prompted a slew of pills, drinks, and super-yogurts promising to "help regulate your digestive system [14]" (Dannon Activia), "balance bacteria in your gut [15]" (Good Belly), and support "immune health [16]" (Culturelle). Even after Dannon was sued in 2010 for deceptive advertising [17] about its probiotic-boosted yogurt products, including Activia (it settled but never admitted to wrongdoing), and Europe cracked down on claims [18] made by the probiotic industry, fortified food and drink sales have stayed strong—and are blossoming in Asia [19]. (Global probiotic sales are expected to jump from $28 billion in 2011 to $42 billion in 2016.) The supplements can be costly, often $1 a pill or serving. Though they aren't regulated as drugs by the FDA, the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization considers probiotics "live microorganisms" that can "confer a health benefit on the host." But many scientists and physicians still have doubts about whether probiotic supplements have much effect, especially since relatively little clinical research has been done to test them.

And like other supplements, when it comes to the supposed health benefits, caveats abound. The vigor of a probiotic in part depends on the quantity of colony-forming units (CFUs) present. "You should be getting 3-5 billion CFUs a day," advises Challa. "95 percent of probiotic supplements, you can send them out to testing and I promise you they won't have 10 percent of the CFUs they say they have." [20] did just that. When the agency tested 12 popular brands sold in the United States, two—Nutrition Now PB8 and i-Flora Kids Multi-Probiotic—contained only 56.8 percent and 65 percent, respectively, of the cells claimed on the label, though the other 10 contained the amounts advertised. "Like any supplement, it's kind of a buyer-beware situation," says ConsumerLabs' president, Tod Cooperman. "There really aren't a lot of rules from the FDA on how the products are tested." Many probiotics require refrigeration, and sometimes they aren't kept cold during transit or on the shelves of unknowing shopkeepers. Beware of probiotics bought online, warns Cooperman. "The manufacturer should offer to send it to you refrigerated."

And not all probiotics are right for all conditions. "You can kind of think of probiotics as more or less a toolbox," says Joseph Sturino, an assistant professor in Texas A&M University's food and nutrition department who's studying the interactions between probiotics and pathogens. "Some strains are going to be really good at doing one thing, and others are going to be good at doing another." (For a breakdown of certain probiotic strains linked to alleviating conditions like antibiotic associated diarrhea, see ConsumerLab's report [21] or "A Gastroenterologist's Guide to Probiotics [22].") But most importantly, cautions Sturino, for any serious condition, probiotics should be taken upon the referral of a physician. "You really want to see good clinical trials with good efficacy for the condition you're interested in," he says.

What's more, noted the experts I spoke to, most probiotics you take as supplements won't actually colonize your gut, so any effect will be temporary, and won't compare to the work of a healthy microbiome. The few dozen strains that are commercially available, says Moises Velasquez-Manoff, author of MoJo's "Are Happy Gut Bacteria Key to Weight Loss?, [23]" "are a pittance compared to the 1,000 species within. What you'd really want is to get microbes native to the gut and replenish them. We haven't figured out which ones are the right ones or how to implant them."
The probiotics industry has "largely scoffed at the idea that traditional foods could give you the same benefits. Nobody's doing clinical trials for sauerkraut."

We may see improvements as scientists start to piece together what they know about probiotics and prebiotics, those indigestible fibers that serve as food for probiotics and our inherent microbes (see "Are Happy Gut Bacteria… [24]" for more on prebiotics) and that already come to us via much of the food we eat. (Green vegetables, Jerusalem artichokes, oatmeal, and legumes are particularly rich in them.) To find prebiotics in supplements, look on the label for added FOS, or fructooligosaccharides. You can also find synbiotics, combinations of complimentary pro- and prebiotics. Since these prebiotics feed microorganisms, probiotic products that contain them, claims Challa, may give you "a one-two punch." But Cooperman of ConsumerLab wasn't so sure. "You're only getting what, a gram or two a pill?" he says, referring to prebiotics. "How much can that help you compared to eating lunch?"

Ah, lunch. I hadn't explored much about the probiotics and prebiotics that occur naturally in food until I spoke with Sandor Ellix Katz [25], author of Wild Fermentation and a guy who introduces himself these days as a "fermentation revivalist." Raw, unpasteurized fermented foods like sauerkraut, sour pickles, and kimchi are naturally high in good bacteria, as are some yogurts, kefirs, and stinky cheeses. "People in the probiotics industry have largely scoffed at the idea that traditional foods could give you the same benefits," Katz says. "Frankly, nobody's doing clinical trials for sauerkraut." Cultured foods can come with hundreds of diverse strains of bacteria and yeast, the number of microbes multiplying as the stages of fermentation evolve. Plus, these foods come with the added benefit of vitamins and nutrients. "Bacteria are not fixed," Katz says. "To me, that's the flaw with the probiotic idea. It seems like diverse bacterial stimulation will always be better than a single strain."

That's not to say you should switch to an all-kimchi diet: Fermented foods can be super salty, and they've been subject to little scientific study. But incorporating cultured foods into a well-balanced diet, complemented by plenty of prebiotic-laden foods, might come with the same digestive and immune benefits as a capsule, and a tastier experience to boot.
Source URL:

[3] mailto:
[4] mailto:

Karen Marion (30)
Monday April 29, 2013, 10:31 pm
good info thanks...

JL A (281)
Monday April 29, 2013, 10:46 pm
You are welcome Karen

Terry V (30)
Tuesday April 30, 2013, 3:52 am
Talk to your Doctor

JL A (281)
Tuesday April 30, 2013, 6:59 am
You cannot currently send a star to Terry because you have done so within the last day.

Dotti L (85)
Tuesday April 30, 2013, 9:11 am
Thank you JL for the very informative article. Oh, and the links.

Past Member (0)
Tuesday April 30, 2013, 9:24 am

Jane K (10)
Tuesday April 30, 2013, 9:39 am
By all means if you have a specific illness and your doctor recommends it take them, otherwise , no, It is just too easy to convince people now that that need something or must have something that is totally useless. Your body is a wonderful machine that unless compromised will do it's job very well. Stop interfering in it's every day work with pills and drugs you don't need , sold to you by either Big Pharma or holistic healers or health food store. They want profit, they don't really care about you.

Sandra ;atterson (59)
Tuesday April 30, 2013, 9:43 am
My stomach issues caused me to be in the hospital but both end action and protonix is all that stopped it.Stopped all drugs for a few months because of money.This morning have been having acid reflex and colon spasms so thinking whether to start protonix and zantac again. Mine is really bad and have to have special stuff to drink to keep it from coming up during surgery.Now I have info and can make a better decision so thanks for posting this hon,noted

JL A (281)
Tuesday April 30, 2013, 9:43 am
You are welcome Marianne and Dotti.

. (0)
Tuesday April 30, 2013, 9:46 am
I don't use probiotics. Try fermented foods like cole slaw and cabbage for eg. I do use chlorella and spirulina among my other dietary supplements. I don't use creatin [said to be hard on the kidneys] or whey powder either. Remember whey is derived from milk and there is no guarantee that the whey you are using is from grass fed organic cows I suspect most of it is from factory farms.

JL A (281)
Tuesday April 30, 2013, 9:58 am
You cannot currently send a star to Michael because you have done so within the last day.

Kit B (276)
Tuesday April 30, 2013, 10:38 am

There used to be an active Lactobacillus acidophilus that could be purchased for drinking, far more effective than the dead ingredients in most yogurts. It did not taste horrible and was a quick way to assist your body in recovering from an infection. We don't even know for sure what is in most vitamins. How much is actually active and how much is filler? How are we to decide which brands, if any, are good probiotics?

Patricia H. (440)
Tuesday April 30, 2013, 11:13 am

Nancy M (197)
Tuesday April 30, 2013, 11:13 am
Interesting. Used to be plain old yogurt had active cultures and that was good enough.

JL A (281)
Tuesday April 30, 2013, 12:46 pm
I remember that Kit--was the only one doctors seemed to know about. You cannot currently send a star to Kit because you have done so within the last day.

Angelika R (143)
Tuesday April 30, 2013, 12:49 pm
all nonsense and yes, mainly out there to benefit the manufacturer. As the article says, Europe"cracked down on it", correct and I remember those reports. Never bought any of the probiotic joghurt drinks but kept my habit of consuming regular joghurt about once, twice/week.

Robert O (12)
Tuesday April 30, 2013, 1:47 pm
Interesting to know. Funny because for some reason whenever I hear the mention of probiotics I flash in on Jamie Lee Curtis (whom I adore) and her ads for that Activia yogurt. Thanks JL.

Jaime Alves (52)
Tuesday April 30, 2013, 2:12 pm

Judith Hand (55)
Tuesday April 30, 2013, 2:22 pm

Azure Wildflowers (0)
Tuesday April 30, 2013, 2:48 pm
I think scientists n food makers have messed with enzymes enough. I don't think it's a great idea to introduce new bacteria into your system. There are plenty of things someone can do for bathroom help. Drinking something with tons of bacteria, like such, is not one of them.

Azure Wildflowers (0)
Tuesday April 30, 2013, 2:48 pm
It's really unnatural to ingest all that extra bacteria.

Birgit W (160)
Tuesday April 30, 2013, 3:10 pm

Betty Kelly (4)
Tuesday April 30, 2013, 4:25 pm
If u would like to help the manufactuers go for it.

Theodore Shayne (56)
Tuesday April 30, 2013, 5:40 pm
Personally I think probiotics are overrated.

JL A (281)
Tuesday April 30, 2013, 6:40 pm
You cannot currently send a star to Theodore because you have done so within the last day.

reft h (66)
Tuesday April 30, 2013, 11:14 pm
I ate Kimchi once - I'll stick with yoghurt pickles and occasional saurkraut. Sometimes kefir in my smoothies.

Past Member (0)
Tuesday April 30, 2013, 11:58 pm
Great article. Thanks.

Julie W (32)
Wednesday May 1, 2013, 1:57 am
Avoid Yakult - it is simply loaded with sugar! The 'light' one is loaded with Aspartame and sickly sweet. You are better off making sauerkraut. Don't buy it, as it has probably been pasteurised, which kills off a lot of the goodies.

Gloria picchetti (304)
Wednesday May 1, 2013, 5:57 am
I have a serving of plain organic yogurt everyday. We put honey and cinnamon in it.

Lloyd H (46)
Wednesday May 1, 2013, 8:08 am
The probiotic craze is pure profit motive. Perhaps if you could enforce the Truth in Advertising laws and make them call their probiotic products what they actually are "Fecal Bacteria Cultures", you can bet the market would dry up real quick. And no I am not being facetious, probiotic are nothing but fecal bacteria seed cultures to re-establish the natural fecal bacterial colonies in the human digestive tract, which does include e-coli.

JL A (281)
Wednesday May 1, 2013, 8:29 am
You cannot currently send a star to Julie because you have done so within the last day.

Nancy M (197)
Wednesday May 1, 2013, 9:17 am
Fecal bacteria do include E. coli- most strains of E. coli are normal flora and not pathogens. In part, some of these bacteria establish a community that keeps pathogens from growing.

But many of those same "fecal bacteria" if that is what you want to call them, are in fermented foods. Yogurt, some cheeses, pickles, sauerkraut, etc. ANd it is far better to have them than not.

That is not to say that some companies aren't making outrageous profits over this though.


Nancy M (197)
Wednesday May 1, 2013, 9:31 am
And E. coli is not found in all those yogurts and such. Probably not in the probiotic products either.

JL A (281)
Wednesday May 1, 2013, 9:31 am
Thanks so much for the additional and clarifying information Nancy! You cannot currently send a star to Nancy because you have done so within the last day.

Charlene Rush (79)
Wednesday May 1, 2013, 4:18 pm
Probiotics have helped me immensely. I don't take them daily, but when the need occurs, they have assisted me toward a better 'outcome', so to speak.

Please remember one thing, all probiotics are not alike. There are different strengths.

David F (39)
Wednesday May 1, 2013, 5:00 pm
I maker 80 lbs of sauerkraut every fall with my own organic cabbage and then eat a good cup every day. Google to see how good this is.

Kerrie G (116)
Thursday May 2, 2013, 3:58 am
Noted, thanks.

Kerrie G (116)
Thursday May 2, 2013, 4:01 am
You cannot currently send a star to JL because you have done so within the last day.
:) Shared on Pinterest.

JL A (281)
Thursday May 2, 2013, 10:55 am
You are welcome Kerrie--thanks for the star thought, too!

Marie Therese Hanulak (30)
Thursday May 2, 2013, 11:15 am
I bought some, tried them, got sick and now I don't dare try them gain.

Sergio P (65)
Tuesday May 7, 2013, 3:41 pm
Or, log in with your
Facebook account:
Please add your comment: (plain text only please. Allowable HTML: <a>)

Track Comments: Notify me with a personal message when other people comment on this story

Loading Noted By...Please Wait


butterfly credits on the news network

  • credits for vetting a newly submitted story
  • credits for vetting any other story
  • credits for leaving a comment
learn more

Most Active Today in Health & Wellness

Content and comments expressed here are the opinions of Care2 users and not necessarily that of or its affiliates.

New to Care2? Start Here.