Keeping those microorganisms living in your digestive tract happy is super important to your gut health. Plus, probiotics — the “good” bacteria and yeasts in your gut microbiome — come with some primo health benefits.
Want to know more about what these healthy bacteria can do for you? Here’s the rundown of the health benefits of probiotics.
What are the benefits of probiotics?
Probiotics are friendly gut bacteria you can get from fermented foods or supplements. Consuming probiotics has been linked to possible benefits such as:
- Digestive balance
- Diarrhea treatment and prevention
- Mental health boost
- Improved heart health
- Eczema relief
- IBS and IBD symptom reduction
- Immune system support
- Weight loss support
- Cavity prevention
You can consume probiotics naturally through certain foods, but they’re also available as a supplement. That said, science is still iffy on whether taking probiotic supplements is helpful for already-healthy adults.
Let’s dive into the deets on why your body might love these friendly bacteria.
1. Probiotics help balance your gut microbiome
A healthy microbiome — the world of live microorganisms in your body — requires a delicate balance of different types of bacteria. When you get an overgrowth of bad bacteria, things can go a little sideways. Probiotics to the rescue!
Balancing your gut microbiome is probiotics’ main claim to fame. And that’s a big deal because research shows that your gut health may influence the health of other areas — from your brain and heart to your skin and teeth.
2. Probiotics help prevent diarrhea
It makes sense that a healthy gut = healthy poop. But scientists have found that probiotics specifically reduce your risk of getting the runs.
A 2017 research review suggests that probiotics may prevent antibiotic-associated diarrhea. Since antibiotics kill off bad *and* good bacteria while fighting infections, probiotics top up the good guys. This could potentially help you avoid those extra-urgent trips to the toilet.
Some research has also found that probiotic supplements could put the kibosh on travelers’ diarrhea.
3. Probiotic supplements may boost your mood
The jury’s still out on this one, but some studies have linked probiotics to improvements in mood disorders.
One small 2015 study of 20 people found that the group given probiotic-rich foods and probiotic supplements for 4 weeks reported less sadness than the group given a placebo.
Other research from 2016 also suggests that taking supplements containing several strains of probiotics could dial down symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders.
But we still need more studies to find out more about this possible link.
4. Probiotics are good for your heart
Got high cholesterol? How about stratospheric blood pressure? These two health probs are major clues that it’s time to take better care of your ticker.
Research has linked a probiotic-rich diet with lower levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and even less body fat.
Bottom line: That probiotic yogurt and kombucha in your fridge may help improve your heart health.
5. Some probiotics might soothe eczema
Maybe you’ve even heard that rubbing yogurt on your hands will help with your eczema?
Here’s the scoop: Some research suggests that topical probiotics (meaning you apply them to your skin, not ingest them) seem to improve some skin conditions, including eczema. But scientists are still studying how and why this could happen, so stay tuned before you open up the Chobani.
A 2012 study also found that when women with eczema took specific probiotic supplements while pregnant, their babies were significantly less likely to get eczema.
The research is still slim, and more studies are needed to explore the link between probiotics and skin disorders.
6. Certain probiotics could dial down IBS and IBD symptoms
While there’s no cure for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), probiotics may be a treatment option for IBD symptoms.
Some probiotic strains have helped soothe symptoms in folks with mild ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, and even necrotizing enterocolitis, a deadly bowel condition in some premature newborns.
It might seem obvious that good gut bacteria could help with gastrointestinal issues. But we need more research to fully understand the *exact* strains of probiotics that could help, how often to take them, and which IBD or IBS symptoms they could prevent.
7. Probiotics offer immune support
We know “boosting” your immune system isn’t really a thing, but that doesn’t mean you can’t give your body the best conditions to thrive. Probiotics can help keep your gut healthy, contributing to overall wellness.
These bad boys have also been linked to lower rates of respiratory infections and urinary tract infections. But that research is more than 10 years old, and we need more current studies to find out more about these effects.
Want the expert take from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services? Probiotics might “influence your body’s immune response.” But also, “Possible harmful effects of probiotics include infections.” 🤔
(But the HHS also notes that those harmful effects are more likely to happen in people who have serious illnesses or weakened immune systems.)
Bottom line: Talk with your doc before trying probiotic supplements to ward off illness. If you have an underlying medical condition, they *might* tell you to opt for probiotics from food instead.
8. Some probiotics may aid weight loss
If your goal is to lose weight, stocking up on probiotics — but not just any probiotics — might help. Research suggests some strains may contribute to fat loss, while others may be linked to weight gain.
One 2013 study linked 12-week supplementation of the probiotic Lactobacillus gasseri with an 8.5 percent belly fat reduction.
A 2014 study also found that women with obesity who took Lactobacillus rhamnosus supplements for 12 weeks lost significantly more weight than those who didn’t take a probiotic. But the supplement didn’t have a notable effect on the weight of the men in the study.
In a 2015 study, participants who drank fermented milk supplemented with the probiotic strain Lactobacillus gasseri SBT2055 for 1 week seemed to absorb less fat — and excrete more fat in their poop — than those who drank plain fermented milk.
But some 2012 research also found that Lactobacillus acidophilus led to weight gain.
The TL;DR: We need more research to explore the role of probiotics in weight loss, but there seems to be a link.
9. Probiotics may help prevent cavities
If probiotics keep bad gut bacteria in check, can they do the same thing for the bacteria in your mouth? Maybe!
Research is limited, but some older studies suggest that you could prevent cavities by noshing on probiotic-rich foods regularly. Whether science eventually confirms this or not, noshing on unsweetened kefir and yogurt won’t hurt.
Ready to get a healthy dose of probiotics? You can easily top up your good bacteria by noshing on these probiotic-rich foods:
And don’t forget these bevvies that are swimming with probiotics:
In general, it’s best to get your nutrients from food before adding supplements. But if you’re interested in trying a supplement, pick one that aligns with your lifestyle and needs. Here are some factors to consider:
- Type. You can find probiotic supplements in capsule, tablet, or even powder form. Follow the dosage recommended on the product label. Always start with the lowest recommended dose.
- Purpose. Are you hoping to staunch the flow of antibiotic-triggered squirts, accelerate fat loss, or improve overall gut health? Do your research on the strains known to help with your specific concern.
- Quality. Probiotics with live cultures are more likely to be effective. And reading brand ratings and consumer reviews is always a good idea!
- Storage. Some probiotics need to be refrigerated. Read the instructions on the label.
- Safety. Most strains of probiotics are safe for most people. But it’s best to talk with your doctor before adding a probiotic to your daily rotation, especially if you take prescription meds or have an immune system-related health condition.
Probiotics are live bacteria strains similar to the bacteria found naturally in your gut. Ingesting them through food or supplements has been linked to several health benefits, such as soothing digestive woes and aiding weight loss.
You can boost your probiotic intake by eating probiotic-rich foods. You might also experience health benefits from taking a quality probiotic supplement that contains a strain shown to improve your specific symptoms. Just chat with your doc before taking a new supplement.