Choose the right probiotics for gut health problems.
Probiotics are powerful balancers for your digestive system and overall health.
Specific probiotics are not condition specific and don’t work like medications.
Choose one probiotic of each type from a reputable brand that stands behind its label claims.
Do your homework to make sure you are choosing reputable products.
Probiotic foods are healthy, but aren’t strong enough to treat digestive health problems.
Prebiotics are food for your beneficial bacteria.
Our digestive systems are home to a community of
trillions of live
bacteria that help keep us healthy. Your good bacteria work
constantly to regulate your immune system, keep inflammation and symptoms in
check, and keep your digestion working smoothly.
But imbalances in this community of gut bacteria can lead to
uncomfortable consequences. Digestive symptoms like bloating, constipation,
frequent diarrhea, food sensitivities, and heartburn can all be related to an
overgrowth of bad bacteria or a lack of enough beneficial bacteria. An
imbalance can even cause symptoms beyond the digestive tract, like brain fog,
joint pain, or insomnia. Fortunately, rebalancing your gut microbiome isn’t that
complicated, and can help you improve all these symptoms. Let’s take a look at
can help restore your gut health.
Probiotics are powerful balancers for your digestive system and overall health.
Said simply, probiotics can help improve the balance of organisms
in your gut, reduce overzealous immune system activity and reduce the inflammation
that causes many of the symptoms you may be experiencing. There is even some evidence
reduce the incidence of viral illnesses, which means probiotics could be part
of your COVID-19
prevention strategy. [16 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]
One general approach to taking probiotics provides these health benefits,
regardless of the specific gut health condition you are trying to address.
Also, probiotic supplements have very few side effects.
Probiotics for Gut Health Conditions
Millions of Americans suffer with digestive complaints, such
as constipation, diarrhea, gas, and bloating, as well as digestive diagnoses
Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). Let’s take a
look at some specific gut health problems that probiotics have been shown
to be effective for.
Probiotics for IBS
The American College of Gastroenterologists estimates that
10-15% of American adults have irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS. Symptoms of IBS
include gas and bloating, gut pain, and stool changes, including diarrhea,
constipation, or mixed types.
Adopting an anti-inflammatory diet, like the low FODMAP
diet, is always important to address IBS. But probiotics have also been
shown to be important players.
In another meta-analysis, the results of twenty clinical trials were reviewed with a total of 1,404 subjects. In all studies, subjects were given either probiotics or placebo. The probiotic group showed improvement in global IBS symptoms when compared to the placebo group. [19 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]
The Canadian Association of Gastroenterology Clinical Practice Guideline for the Management of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) recommends a trial on probiotics for IBS. [20 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]
Meta-analyses are the highest quality scientific evidence.
These three meta-analyses together give very strong evidence that probiotics
are worth trying if you are struggling with IBS symptoms.
Probiotics for Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome (IBD)
Inflammatory Bowel Disease is a general category of
digestive disorders including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. IBD
patients experience regular inflammatory flares of the gut lining, and may
experience diarrhea, abdominal pain, and other symptoms.
Probiotics have been widely researched as a complementary
therapy for IBD and have shown important benefits.
One review found that probiotics worked as well
as the anti-inflammatory drug, mesalamine, in maintaining remission for Crohn’s disease.
[21 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source] Best results were for a combination of probiotics
Another review found the best approach for treating
colitis was a probiotic supplement combined with an
anti-inflammatory drug. 
Other reviews have found probiotics to be equally
effective for ulcerative colitis as anti-inflammatory drugs like mesalamine.
[23 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]
One systematic review has found probiotics do not
help maintain remission, but overall the data suggest probiotics are helpful. [24 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]
If you have IBD, the evidence suggests that including probiotics
in your treatment regimen may help you maintain your gut health, or minimize
Probiotics for Gut Infections, Including SIBO
Many digestive symptoms are caused by overgrowth of bad
bacteria or other types of pathogens, like parasites or fungus. There is
evidence that probiotics help restore the gut environment to make it less
hospitable to pathogens. They also enhance the effectiveness of conventional
treatments to remove infections.
In a study of 181 infants, probiotics were as
effective as Nystatin (a standard antifungal medication) in reducing fungal
infection and improving food intolerances. [25 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]
Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) is thought to
be one of the common underlying causes of IBS. It causes many of the same symptoms,
such as gas and bloating, stool changes, and abdominal pain.
Some claim you should not take probiotics for SIBO because
you already have too much bacteria. However, probiotics have been
CLEARLY shown to be effective in treating SIBO, both in improving symptoms and
in improving lab values. [28 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]
One study found probiotics to be more effective than the
antibiotic metronidazole (a standard treatment for SIBO). [29 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]
A meta-analysis summarizing 18 clinical trials
concluded that probiotics are an effective treatment for SIBO. [30 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]
reduce bacterial overgrowths and hydrogen concentrations, and improve symptoms
including abdominal pain.
Another study found that probiotics work
substantially better in patients with both IBS and SIBO, as compared to those who
without SIBO. [31 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]
Probiotics has been shown to help resolve gut
infections of various kinds. If you are trying to heal from gut infections,
including SIBO, probiotics are likely to help and should be included.
Probiotics for Leaky Gut
Leaky gut is when intestinal inflammation causes small gaps to open up in your intestinal wall, which allows bacterial and food fragments to enter your bloodstream. This leakage can lead to uncomfortable symptoms, including food sensitivities, joint pain, brain fog, and digestive symptoms.
Because probiotics help repair the gut lining and restore the gut environment, they help repair leaky gut.
One small clinical trial found that probiotics
helped to promote intestinal repair in humans. 
Another trial found positive effects of probiotics
when used to treat intestinal impairment after a GI infection. [33 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]
Another small clinical trial showed that probiotic
supplements reduced zonulin, a protein marker for intestinal
permeability. [34 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]
Including probiotics may be worthwhile to help repair the
intestinal lining damage that occurs with a gut infection or other inflammation
you are experiencing.
Choosing the Right Probiotics
Probiotics are not condition specific and don’t work like
There’s a lot of advice online about how to choose the right
strains. Most of this advice recommends choosing probiotic species and
strains that have been studied for your particular condition, like irritable bowel
syndrome (IBS) or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
These claims are often promoted by companies selling
products, and would have you believe that you need a different probiotic for
every different symptom or condition. But probiotics are not condition specific
and don’t work like medications. Rather, they influence the gut environment
There are really only
three categories of probiotics:
Type 1:Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium blends
Type 2:Saccharomyces boulardii
Soil-based probiotics, often Bacillus
With all that in mind, here is how you can think about
choosing the right probiotics for you.
Choosing Probiotics for Your Gut Health
All you need to do is choose one probiotic from each type from a reputable brand that stands
behind its label claims.
There are hundreds of probiotic species, and different
strains within each species. But I’ve found the best results in the
clinic from encouraging my patients to use one probiotic from each category.
Lactobacillus & Bifidobacterium
species predominated blends
Saccharomyces boulardii (a
Soil-Based Probiotics using various Bacillus species
the most well-researched, with over 500 trials assessing their validity.
These live microorganisms are also known as lactic-acid producing probiotic
bacteria. They typically do not colonize the host, but do improve the health
of the host.
The second most researched probiotic, with over 100
studies. Saccharomyces boulardii (S. boulardii for short) is not a
normal part of human microbiome,
meaning it does not colonize us, but does improve the health of the host.
most researched category of probiotics is soil-based probiotics. This group
has roughly 14 clinical trials evaluating their effectiveness. This category
is also known as spore-forming bacteria. This category of probiotic
can colonize the host. [41 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]
Many people don’t seem to achieve balance in their gut microbiota
with just one strain of probiotic. I have seen the best results with my
patients following a protocol that includes all three probiotic categories. For many
patients who have tried probiotics in the past, this approach makes all the
Using Probiotics for Gut Health – Easy as 1, 2,
Try a Quality Probiotic from Each Category; take all three together.
Symptoms for 3-4 Weeks. If you’re improving, stay on the protocol until your
improvements have plateaued.
Plateaued, Stay Here for About a Month to allow your system to calibrate to these new
improvements. Then reduce your dose and find the minimal effective dose. Stay on the minimal effective dose.
If you haven’t noticed any change in your symptoms after 3-4
weeks, you can stop taking probiotics and feel confident that you have fully
therapy. There’s no need to go shopping for other probiotic strains.
Choosing Quality Probiotics
Do your homework to make sure you are choosing reputable
One thing for sure is that all probiotic products are not
created equally. Probiotic supplements are not heavily regulated by the Food and
Drug Administration, and labels may not accurately reflect what is actually in
the product. Two common problems in probiotic supplements are:
a low concentration of viable probiotic cells (i.e.
you’re getting ripped off)
the presence of undesired (potentially harmful)
One study found only half of the probiotics examined had the
specific strain listed on the label! 
With this in mind, it’s important to do your homework to
make sure you are choosing reputable products so that you aren’t wasting your
money or exposing your digestive system to risks.
What to Look for in a Probiotic Supplement
All probiotic raw materials and final products should
undergo independent laboratory analysis. Look for some kind of assurance or
certification on the label or the company’s website that it has done this
analysis. This ensures the probiotic meets its label claims.
Look for probiotic
products that guarantee and label the strain(s) of probiotics, thus protecting
you from exposure to frankenstein probiotics or harmful organisms.
Free of Major Allergens
Probiotics should be grown on media which are free
of the common allergens: wheat, gluten, milk, casein, eggs, fish, shellfish,
tree nuts, peanuts, and soybeans. A quality probiotic will also be free
of artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives.
Probiotics should always clearly state the number of
units (CFUs) on the label, and meet their claims upon testing. Certain probiotics
should be stored by the manufacturer and shipped in refrigerated conditions to
retain the potency claimed on the label.
Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) Manufacturing
GMP are a set
of best practices for dietary supplement manufacturing in the United States.
This includes utilizing a state-of-the-art facility where temperature and air
quality are tightly controlled. You don’t need to purchase the most expensive probiotic
supplements, but you should be wary of probiotics that are
substantially cheaper than the rest. This usually indicates quality assurance
corners have been cut.
Probiotic foods are generally healthy, but aren’t strong enough to treat
digestive health problems.
Probiotic and fermented foods, like kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut,
have active cultures in them and are healthy foods for your gut. However, probiotic foods
usually don’t have sufficient colony-forming units of probiotics to provide you
with a clinical benefit. Include them in your diet if you tolerate them, but if
you have gut health
problems, be sure to include probiotic supplements as well.
Prebiotics are food for your beneficial
Just like your garden plants need fertilizer, your probiotics
to keep them healthy.
Some probiotics have prebiotics in the product, but prebiotics
are also sold as separate supplements. Prebiotics and fiber help your gut
bacteria produce short-chain fatty acids, which provide energy for your
Prebiotics are important, but use with caution because
they can make digestive symptoms worse.
If you can’t tolerate prebiotic supplements, never fear. A diet
rich in dietary fiber usually contains all the prebiotics you need to
support your probiotics.
sources of prebiotics include fruits and vegetables, legumes, and nuts and
seeds that you tolerate. By regularly including these foods, you’ll keep your good bacteria
happy and healthy.
No matter whether you have general digestive complaints or a specific diagnosis, probiotics are a powerful and easy-to-use part of your health care strategy. By calming inflammation, healing your gut lining, and balancing your bacteria, probiotics help you reduce symptoms and improve your overall health. Choose high-quality, well-made probiotics from reputable companies and use one of each type, and you’ll likely be feeling much better in no time.
I care about answering your questions and sharing my knowledge with you. Leave a comment or connect with me on social media asking any health question you may have and I just might incorporate it into our next listener questions podcast episode just for you!
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Every product is science-based, validated by real-world use, and personally vetted by Dr. Ruscio, DNM, DC.