Probiotics are defined as “live bacteria that are good for your gut” (1).
At birth, the sterile human gut is immediately colonized with several types of microorganisms from both the mother and the environment. By the time they reach one year of age, each individual develops a unique bacterial profile. It is estimated that only 10% of the cells in the human body actually belong to the body itself. The overwhelming majority of the cells consist of the diverse microbiota of nonpathogenic bacteria, 1-2 kg of them living in the gut alone.
And, as noted by Harvard Health, many of these organisms actually work FOR our bodies and not against them (4). Probiotics work by supporting these healthy species of bacteria.
Human gut microorganisms are strongly involved in diverse metabolic, nutritional, physiological, and immunological processes.
They play an important role in energy homeostasis and through the microbe–gut–brain axis they impact our mood and cognitive abilities. They also stimulate the immune response, prevent pathogenic and opportunistic microbes/bacteria, and produce vitamins such as B and K.
Diet can exert a profound effect on the gut microbiota profile, and people in different parts of the world have different bacterial profiles. For example, there is an association of Bacteroides and high animal fat or protein diets, while Prevotella is associated with a high carbohydrate diet.
Changes in microbiota composition can increases susceptibility to infections, immune disorders, inflammation, oxidative stress and insulin resistance.
1Probiotics supercharge your immune system. Restoring your digestive balance is important because your digestion system is crucial to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Research states that sixty to eighty percent of the body’s immune system is located in the gut (5). Several probiotic strains can enhance immune function and lead to reduced risk of infections, including the common cold (6, 7).
Having probiotics in your gut improves your digestive health and leads to a much healthier life. For example, probiotics turn food waste in your gut into butyric and propionic acid (8).
Butryic acid alone is responsible for lowering the risk of colon cancer and increasing the health of your intestinal lining (9).
2Probiotics protect and enhance your digestive system. Probiotics have been studied most in regard to digestive health (10).
Some studies also show that probiotics may be beneficial against inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (17).
3Probiotics counteract the side effects of antibiotics. One of the most common side effects you see with antibiotics is diarrhea (22).
Though antibiotics are sometimes necessary in order to fight off serious infections and help people recover, it’s also the case that taking antibiotics creates the chance that the number of good bacteria in your body becomes significantly lower than the bad bacteria (23).
This is why antibiotics often lead to digestive problems, including bloating, diarrhea, and sometimes fatal complications (24).
Taking probiotics can help support the growth of healthy bacteria while you take antibiotics, helping to maintain your body’s natural balance and improve your gastrointestinal health while letting the antibiotics clear out the dangerous bacterial infection (25).
4Probiotics can improve mental health. Establishing a healthy balance of good and bad bacteria in your gut has far-reaching implications and improves mental health, including depression.
One study in mice shows that supplementing with a probiotic can even change the messages sent from the vagus nerve to the brain, meaning there is an actual bond between your gut bacteria and how you feel or think (28).
Another research team gave 20 subjects depressed subjects probiotics for 4 weeks (29). Compared to the placebo group, who took a sugar pill, the probiotic takers scored significantly lower on the Ledien Index of Depression Sensitivity scale- meaning they ended up as happier (30)!
5Probiotics can increase feelings of fullness. Probiotics have been shown to release the fullness feeling hormone GLP-1. GLP-1 can also help burn more calories and body fat as a result (31).
6Probiotics have been shown to aid in belly fat loss. Obese people have shown to have different gut bacteria than lean people (32).
Some probiotic strains have even been shown to have weight loss benefits (33). In 2013 a study of 210 individuals with abdominal obesity was undertaken to determine if probiotics could enhance weight loss at all.
The group who took the probiotic Lactobacillus gasseri caused an 8.5% loss of belly fat mass over a period of 12 weeks (34).
When they stopped taking the probiotic, they gained the belly fat back within 4 weeks.
There is also some evidence that Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Bifidobacterium lactis can help with weight loss and obesity prevention (35).
7Probiotics have been shown to combat allergies. Certain probiotics have shown to reduce inflammatory symptoms caused by allergies (38). More research is needed however to confirm.
8Probiotics can improve blood pressure. It has been found that taking probiotics for over 8 weeks can improve blood pressure in individuals (39).
9Probiotics can affect body weight regulation. Body weight has been shown to be affected by a balance of two gut bacteria. Furthermore, human studies have shown that obese people have a much different gut bacteria makeup than their non-obese counterparts (40).
In one animal study it was even shown that when obese but bacteria were transplanted into a lean individual, the lean individual became fat (41).
10Probiotics can decrease fat storage. This is accomplished by increasing protein ANGPTL4 which in turn has shown to decrease fat storage in the body (42).
11Probiotics can reduce the severity of eczema in children. One study showed that women who took probiotics during pregnancy lowered the risk of eczema in their children significantly (43).
In another study, it was shown that children who had eczema and were breastfed probiotic-infused breast milk, had their symptoms significantly reduced compared to the control (44).
12Probiotics balance the gut to protect you from numerous diseases. The complex community of microorganisms in your gut is called the gut flora (45).
Your gut actually contains hundreds of different types of microorganisms including bacteria, yeasts and viruses, with majority being bacteria. However, not all organisms in the gut are friendly. Some are good, others are bad.
Probiotics (and prebiotic fibers) can help correct this balance, making sure our gut flora is functioning optimally (53).
The gut flora manufactures vitamins, including vitamin K and some of the B vitamins (54).
13Probiotics can help prevent diarrhea. Diarrhea is a common culprit in many people’s lives. There are many reasons for it happening but a big reason is due to an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the gut.
14Probiotics can improve heart health. The way it accomplishes this is by lowering bad “LDL” cholesterol (63). It also has been shown to increase the good cholesterol, thus having a double enhancing effect (64).
15Probiotics can increase vitamin levels in the body. Daily consumption of L. acidophilus and L. reuteri (isolated from sourdough) significantly improved vitamin B12, B2 and folate levels in children (64, 65).
Taking L. reuteri increased blood levels of vitamin D3 by 25.5% in a Canadian study (66).
16Probiotics can combat stress. Certain probiotics have been shown to lower stress and the hormones associated. L. casei lowered academic-stress-induced increases in cortisol and the incidence of physical symptoms in students (67).
Another study showed that when L. casei was administered to medical students undertaking an authorized nationwide examination to test their response to stress, this bacterium increased serotonin levels, lowered the rate of subjects experiencing common abdominal and cold symptoms and decreased the total number of days students experienced these symptoms (68).
In academically stressed undergraduate students, B. bifidum increased the proportion of healthy days per participant and decreased the percentage of participants reporting cold/flu during the intervention period (69).
Similarly, B. bifidum reduced self-reported stress and stress associated diarrhea/GI discomfort in undergraduate students (70).
17Probiotics help regulate the circadian rhythm. L. helveticus-fermented milk significantly improved sleep efficiency in healthy elderly people (71).
In volunteers with insomnia, L. brevis showed a mildly beneficial effect on sleep in subjects with insomnia (72).
Daily voluntary wheel-running and sleep rhythmicity became intensified in mice when heat-killed L. brevis was added to the diet (73).
1Probiotics can cause an upset stomach. It’s scientifically proven that probiotics tend to decrease instances of diarrhea, constipation, and other digestive health problems (74).
Taking probiotics may cause minor side effects, but the benefits of probiotics outweigh these effects for most people.
2Probiotics can cause weight gain. A few studies have demonstrated that certain strains of probiotics can actually lead to weight gain (75).
There are two big categories I recommend when searching out the perfect probiotic to ensure that the bacteria will help you and be delivered where it needs to go in the gut
CFU Count. Your gut is designed to break food down so you have to make sure are taking a hefty dose of bacteria, measured in Colony-forming Units (CFU). Typically you want to see a count of 5-10 billion to ensure a proper amount reaches their new home.
Strain Diversity. Having a blend of probiotics allows each species to work together giving you more health benefits than they can individually.
You can take it as a supplement or get them naturally from probiotic-rich foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh, kimchi and others.
Are probiotics safe to use? Probiotics are considered safe overall for healthy people
Can probiotics cause you to gain weight? Some studies have found that certain probiotic strains might lead to weight gain, not loss. This includes the Lactobacillus acidophilus strain.
Do probiotics help you poop? Probiotics, the beneficial bacteria found in yogurt and other cultured foods, have long been touted for their ability to ease digestive woes.
Do you take probiotics with food or on an empty stomach? Probiotic bacterial survival is best when taken within 30 minutes before or simultaneously with a meal or beverage that contained some fat content.
Can you take probiotics and digestive enzymes at the same time? Enzymes and probiotics are two different supplements that can be taken together to support digestion and address different digestive issues
Are probiotics and digestive enzymes the same thing? No digestive enzymes break down food while probiotics support a healthy gut flora.
Can you take probiotics with a hot drink? So you may not want to literally put your probiotics (the usual kind) in a hot drink, but taking it with one is usually fine.
Probiotics may reduce depression and anxiety, improve heart health and enhance immune function, to name a few.
The importance of having a healthy gut doesn’t always get the attention it deserves, but research indicates it is just as vital as food choices, good sleep and exercise.
Maintaining a healthy gut goes way beyond just taking a probiotic supplement, but adding it to your daily lifestyle is a great start.