“What is the best probiotic?”
This is the number one question in our search for stomach comfort and gut health.
But what we should be asking is, “Do probiotics work?”
The answer to this is, “Yes, they work!”
Recent studies prove it. Well-controlled clinical trials show that probiotics improve irritable bowel syndrome, which includes symptoms like constipation, loose bowels, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, and nausea.
Probiotics also help more severe conditions such as antibiotic-associated diarrhea, acute infectious diarrhea, ulcerative colitis, and necrotizing enterocolitis.
Understanding Probiotics and Gut Bacteria
Probiotics are friendly living bacteria. We can take them in a pill or capsule, in kefir or kombucha, in yogurt or sauerkraut. These tiny creatures swim through the acidic environment of our stomach, making their way past the digestive enzymes in the small intestine until they finally reach our large intestine where they join the 30 trillion other helpful bacteria who live there.
Over 1,000 different species of bacteria stake out different territories or ecological niches throughout our physiology. Some of them choose to live close to our gut lining where they protect us from harmful bacteria. Others, in different locations, help to ferment and digest our food and to produce vitamins, such as B12 and K2.
Whenever we take an antibiotic, we are basically napalming our gut in order to kill harmful, even deadly bacteria. But there is always collateral damage. Large numbers of useful bacteria also perish. In an attempt to correct this debilitating loss, doctors now prescribe probiotics both during and after a course of antibiotics.
So, are probiotics able to repopulate our ravaged gut? They can help, but taking only a few friendly probiotics compared to the vast number of types normally present, is like sending a small group of American college students into a third world country teeming with poverty.
Science doesn’t completely understand why, but probiotics work well enough to produce statistically significant health benefits and are one of the hottest areas of research in science today. This is not a passing health fad. The National Institutes of Health lists almost 1,000 human clinical trials presently exploring the effectiveness of probiotics to treat a wide range of disease.
Back to our first question: how can we pick the right probiotic for our gut? Studies indicate that both the type and the number of friendly bacteria are critical for success. Some companies insist that probiotics need a special coating to survive the acid of the stomach and the digestive enzymes in the small intestine. Others say that they must always be refrigerated. And everyone advertises their particular probiotic as the best. Several prominent gut experts even have their own brands.
There are many online sites that rate probiotics (some with fantastic graphics) but their criteria are not always comprehensive or accurate. For example, ratings may be based on animal research that doesn’t apply to humans. And unless the site keeps up with the latest scientific discoveries, their findings are quickly outdated.
Our rating chart evaluates probiotics according to clinical research studies on the condition (such as constipation and diarrhea), the number of types, the number of bacteria, and the price. We also include Amazon’s ratings because personal experience can be useful.
Port of Entry
There is a third question we need to ask: what is the best way to take probiotics? Should we eat them in natural foods or in the form of a pill or capsule? Should we take them orally or as an enema?
Yes, you read correctly, as an enema. Think about it. Where do most bacteria live? In the lower intestine and colon. And what is the shortest route to that part of the body? Well, it’s not through the mouth. Probiotic enemas are incredibly fast acting and effective compared to oral probiotics and are gaining in popularity. Websites tell you how to do a probiotic enema, but we suggest consulting a doctor before you embark on this brave new health adventure.
Many traditional systems of medicine, including Ayurveda, use probiotics both orally and as an enema. An Ayurvedic enema (called a basti) is an important part of the purification treatment program called panchakarma. Classical Ayurveda texts say that over 50 percent of all disease can be cured by bastis. Bastis may contain a wide variety of ingredients such as probiotics, medicinal herbs, medicated ghee, and plant oils. The use of sesame oil is particularly interesting because modern science has shown that this oil has both anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects on colon cells.
It is clear is that the ancient doctors understood the importance of the digestive system, and how to repair and rebalance the gut using diet, probiotics, and important herbal remedies to create an environment in which friendly beneficial bacteria can thrive.
So, your answers to three big questions:
- Yes, probiotics work. If you have gut problems, especially irritable bowel syndrome, take them.
- Choosing the best probiotic is a challenge. Find a really good rating chart.
- Try an oral version for a couple of weeks. If the results aren’t outstanding, consult your doctor and try a probiotic enema.
Gut Crisis: How Diet, Probiotics, and Friendly Bacteria Help You Lose Weight and Heal Your Body and Mind by Robert Keith Wallace, PhD and Samantha Wallace, Dharma Publications, 2017.
Author: Robert Keith Wallace
Editor: Travis May
Copy Editor: Callie Rushton
Social Editor: Waylon Lewis