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Badminton court diagram
The gastro intestinal system is about half the size of a badminton court. [10]

Benefits of Probiotic Foods & Supplements


It might not be the most pleasant thing to think about, but we all have billions of bacteria living on and in us. Some are bad and some are good. The good ones help keep the bad ones in check, and work with our bodies to digest food, help our blood clot, and keep our immune systems happy.

A very large part of our immune system is in our gut; the surface area of our digestive tract is about half the size of a badminton court, so we need a lot of protection there! If we have good probiotic bacteria living in a symbiotic, or "commensal," relationship with our digestive tract, then we have a happy immune system.

are micro-organisms present on the skin, as well as in the intestine, providing benefit without harm to the host individual.

CFU's - Colony Forming Units

Yoplait Plus 1 billion cfu
Bifidobacterium-12 activated by three grams of prebiotic fiber called inulin.

Dannon Active 5 to 10 billion cfu/4-oz.

Chobani 90 billion [16]

Brown Cow unpublished data
contains: S. Themophilus, l. Bulgaricus, L. Acidophilus, Bifidus.

Plain Yogurt 50 to 600 billion Lactobacillus
3 billion to 1 trillion Streptococci, cfu/ml[11]

After 2 weeks most products showed reduced viable counts of bacteria. [11]

According to the July 2015 Nutritional Review, "Yogurt has been a part of the human diet for several millennia and goes by many names throughout the world. The word "yogurt" is believed to have come from the Turkish word "yoğurmak," which means to thicken, coagulate, or curdle. While references to the health-promoting properties of yogurt date back to 6000 BC in Indian Ayurvedic scripts, it was not until the 20(th) century that Stamen Grigorov, a Bulgarian medical student, attributed the benefits to lactic acid bacteria.

Today, most yogurt is fermented milk that is acidified with viable and well-defined bacteria (Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophiles). While patterns of yogurt consumption vary greatly from country to country, consumption is generally low. In the United States and Brazil, for example, only 6% of the population consume yogurt on a daily basis. Low consumption of yogurt represents a missed opportunity to contribute to a healthy lifestyle, as yogurt provides a good to excellent source of highly bioavailable protein and an excellent source of calcium as well as a source of probiotics that may provide a range of health benefits." [12]

Skin Care

Limited yet growing evidence shows hows healthy commensal microbes residing in the gastrointestinal tract can affect skin disease. [13]

Appearing in the August 2015 journal Immunity, researchers demonstrate the function of immunoglobulin, a growth hormone coating the surface of intestinal microbes. [14]

Preventing Influenza

Results published by British Medical Journal, suggests how lactobacillus can, "prevent the pathogenesis of an influenza-like illness." Lactobacilli are a lactic acid bacterium that can activate tooth dendritic cells in both cultured cells and human species. [1]

influenza microscope

Reproductive Health

Vaginal Lactobacillus bacteria acts as barrier against pathogens by combining metabolism by-products with cervico-vaginal fluid to inhibit infections. Vaginal bacteria can act as a biomarker, where microbal balance can be altered during menstruation, sexual activity, and pregnancy, including viral infections. [2]

Vaginal lactobacilli has been shown to inhibit herpes simplex type two. [3]

The anticancer effect of Lactobacillus acidophilus is considered a nutraceutical alternative medication, used topically, shows no cytotoxicity to normal cells, but toxic to human cancer cell lines. [4]

Mental Health

Appearing in the journal of Beneficial Microbes, using an animal model, researchers highlighted results about how our gut works to regulate the brain, suggesting clinical applications of probiotics to treat the side effect of antibiotics and mental disorders. [5]

Stomach Ulcers

Thanks to researchers publishing the journal Medicine, "adding probiotics to the standard triple therapy for H. pylori eradication significantly contributes to treatment efficacy and distinctly decreases the adverse effects of therapy and the symptoms of the underlying disease." [6]

Cardovascular Benefits

Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research demonstrates how lactobacillus bacteria decreased total cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol and HDL-cholesterol levels in patients over a six week period. [7]

Lung Benefits

Cigarette smoking increases the risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a major world wide problem. Researchers from England, Iran, Netherlands and Italy, worked together to publish data indicating how probiotics contain useful anti-inflammatory agents in cigarette smoking associated disease. [15]

Sports Performance

Published in the journal of Dairy Science, scientists looked at how kefir (yogurt drink) could accentuate positive health benefits using fitness, body composition, and C-reactive protein measurements to determine cardiovascular disease risk. Results showed improvements in 2.41 km performance times, as well as, healthy C reactive protein profiles. [8]

My friends, family and patients have all benefited from eating foods with probiotics or taking a probiotic supplement. I once had a family of patients who would get the flu almost every season each year. By simply adding a probiotic supplement and adjusting their diet slightly, they’ve significantly reduced their share of the seasonal catch.


Probiotic Food Sources

Natural sources for Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria “active” or “live” probiotics cultures:

Commercial foods tested average 90 billion to 500 billion CFUs per serving.

Best Probiotic Supplements?

Probiotics are easy to take with your other vitamins, and can significantly boost your immune system to keep you healthy as we head into the last few months of the year.

Supplements average 0.7 billion to 20 billion CFUs per capsule. [16]

Consumer Labs mentions how probiotics, "tend to be expensive (averaging nearly $1 per day and costing as much as $6 per day) while some provide billions of organisms for 20 cents or less per day." -

lactobacillus probiotic

Important things to consider when purchasing probiotic supplements:

Strain Variety:

Look for a broad spectrum (more than 5 different strains); the one I recommend most has 10. Depending on any specific conditions, I might choose different species or amount of CFU's (colony forming units).

Packaging delivery system:

If the probiotics are dead in the capsule before you take them they're not any good to you. An acid-stable probiotic is needed so that it can withstand gastric juices until it gets into the small intestine. Look for probiotics that mention this type of delivery system, or better yet, have some proof or explanation about how this is accomplished.


While this is not always the case, refrigerated probiotics tend to be higher quality.

Safe Use / Side Effects

The National Institutes of Health recommend, "most people do not experience side effects from probiotics or have only mild gastro-intestinal side effects such as gas. There have been some case reports of serious adverse effects."


  1. Effects of oral intake of plasmacytoid dendritic cells-stimulative lactic acid bacterial strain on pathogenesis of influenza-like illness and immunological response to influenza virus.
  2. Lactobacillus species as biomarkers and agents that can promote various aspects of vaginal health.
  3. Vaginal Lactobacillus gasseri CMUL57 can inhibit herpes simplex type 2 but not Coxsackievirus B4E2.
  4. Probiotic potential and biotherapeutic effects of newly isolated vaginal Lactobacillus acidophilus 36YL strain on cancer cells.
  5. Lactobacillus fermentum NS9 restores the antibiotic induced physiological and psychological abnormalities in rats.
  6. Probiotics for standard triple Helicobacter pylori eradication: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.
  7. A Randomized Double-blind Controlled Trial of Lactobacillus acidophilus Plus Bifidobacterium bifidum versus Placebo in Patients with Hypercholesterolemia.
  8. The effects of postexercise consumption of a kefir beverage on performance and recovery during intensive endurance training.
  9. National Institutes of Health, Spotlight on a Modality: Oral Probiotics,
  10. Surface area of the digestive tract - revisited.
  11. Microflora and acidification properties of yogurt and yogurt-related products fermented with commercially available starter cultures.
  12. History of yogurt and current patterns of consumption.
  13. Effects of Fermented Dairy Products on Skin: A Systematic Review.
  14. Innate and Adaptive Humoral Responses Coat Distinct Commensal Bacteria with Immunoglobulin A.
  15. Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Lactobacillus Rahmnosus and Bifidobacterium Breve on Cigarette Smoke Activated Human Macrophages
  16. Go with your gut: by Consumer Reports Magazine, 2011.

There are many different strains, and they all have their own function. Probiotic supplements can be found in health food stores, but you’ll find a higher quality at your naturopathic healthcare provider’s office. Be sure to refrigerate your probiotics, and as always check with your healthcare practitioner before taking one.

For more information about what probiotics or other vitamin supplements might be good for you, call

Jason Jensen

Author Jason Jensen is a licensed naturopathic medical physician in the state of Arizona.

Citric acid inhibiting stomach ulcers, orange peel extract affecting acid reflux, licorice root affecting stomach ulcers, leaky gut issues, probiotics, peppermint oil affecting irritable bowel, and the microbial causes of inflammatory bowel disease.

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Updated: Sept 14 2015