6 Common Questions About Probiotics, Answered
Chances are you’ve heard of probiotics, the now-famous types of microorganisms that extensive research shows can benefit your health. According to data from the 2012 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), four million adults living in the United States had used probiotics or prebiotics (more on the difference between the two later) at some point in the past 30 days.
The survey also showed that the use of probiotics quadrupled between 2007 and 2012. Probiotics and prebiotics are now the third most commonly taken supplement. There’s a rising trend of using probiotics for kids too—300,000 children between the ages of 4 and 17 had used them at some point during the month before.
In this primer on probiotics, we answer six of the most common questions people have:
- What are probiotics?
- How do probiotics work?
- What’s the difference between probiotics and prebiotics?
- What probiotics benefits have scientific backing?
- Are there probiotics side effects?
- How can I boost my probiotic intake?
Question #1: What Are Probiotics?
When we talk about probiotics, we’re referring to what an expert panel made up of representatives from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Health Organization (FAO/WHO) defined as "live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host.”
Usually, these organisms are bacteria, but certain kinds of yeasts can also act as probiotics. Foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh, and kimchi that are made using bacterial fermentation naturally contain probiotics. You can also take probiotic supplements, as millions of Americans already do.
There are many, many strains of probiotics. To date, researchers have focused mainly on strains belonging to these nine genera (or groups):
- Escherichia coli
Each of those groups contains a number of species, which in turn are subdivided into strains. Studies show that different strains of probiotics have distinctly different benefits.
Some strains, for instance, have been linked to improved immune function. Others, however, are more effective when it comes to quelling inflammation. And still other strains have been shown to promote digestive health, enhance the appearance of skin, and more.
Question #2: How Do Probiotics Work?
The scientific discovery that led to the science of probiotics as we know it today began in the early 20th century, when Russian Nobel laureate Elie Metchnikoff—sometimes affectionately called the “father of probiotics”—made the claim that consuming fermented foods containing certain kinds of bacterial microorganisms could improve people’s health. Metchnikoff theorized that “health could be enhanced and senility delayed by manipulating the intestinal microbiome with host-friendly bacteria found in yogurt.”
As researchers continued to explore that concept, they eventually began to use the term probiotics, which means “for life,” to describe those beneficial bacteria.
While we often think of bacteria as something harmful to avoid, our bodies naturally contain “good” bacteria in our digestive tracts that help us to absorb nutrients and to fight off infections. These bacteria are introduced into our systems at birth. While in the birth canal, babies are exposed to the bacteria of their mothers for the first time, which kicks off a series of reactions in the baby’s gut that culminate in the production of their own helpful bacteria.
According to a study published in 2016 in PLOS Biology, a peer-reviewed journal, the number of bacteria living in our guts is approximately equivalent to the number of human cells that make up our bodies! Given that, it’s hardly surprising that scientists have found probiotics profoundly influence not only our digestive health, but also the health and well-being of the entire body.
Not all the bacteria found in our guts are good. According to the American Nutrition Association, a healthy, balanced ratio is about 85% good bacteria to 15% bad bacteria. When that ratio gets skewed, a condition called dysbiosis sets in. Symptoms of dysbiosis include:
|Muscle and joint pain||Poor memory||Alcohol intolerance|
|Frequent urination||Gas and bloating||Diarrhea or constipation|
|Anxiety, depression, and mood swings||Frequent colds and infections||Heart palpitations|
Dysbiosis has also been linked to conditions such as fibromyalgia, eczema, psoriasis, colon and breast cancer, autoimmune diseases, and neurological imbalances.
Consuming probiotic foods and supplements can help restore a balanced ratio. Probiotics do this in a number of ways, including...
- Fortifying your digestive tract’s barriers to make them inhospitable to bad bacteria.
- Producing substances that inhibit the growth of bad bacteria.
- Helping good bacteria outcompete bad bacteria.
- Stimulating an immune response.
Question #3: What’s the Difference Between Probiotics and Prebiotics?
As we’ve already discussed, probiotics are microorganisms that are the same as or very similar to the beneficial bacteria that live in your gut. Prebiotics, on the other hand, are essentially food that fuels the probiotic bacteria already living in your body.
Prebiotics, more specifically, are a specific type of dietary fiber that your body can’t digest. They don’t contain bacteria, but they do play a role in the health of your gut microbiome by supporting the growth of good bacteria. A fiber called inulin, which can be found in chicory root, bananas, and asparagus, is a prebiotic. Onions, garlic, and legumes also contain prebiotic fiber.
There’s little evidence to support the use of prebiotics on their own, but some research indicates that doing so may amplify the benefits of your prebiotics. Using prebiotics and probiotics together is known as microbiome therapy.
Some foods naturally contain both probiotics and prebiotics. Those foods, known as synbiotics, include:
- Certain types of yogurt
Question #4: Which Probiotics Benefits Have Scientific Backing?
A slew of ongoing studies show that probiotics have a multitude of benefits. In this primer, we’re focusing on the benefits that have the most evidence to support them, largely in the form of meta-analyses on the link between probiotics and specific health issues. We’re also looking at several areas in which studies have shown especially promising results.
Benefit #1: Improve Digestive Health
This is perhaps the most-researched and most-established benefit of probiotics. A 2012 meta-analysis published in PLOS One concluded that probiotics are “generally beneficial in the treatment and prevention of gastrointestinal diseases.” The authors, two researchers from the Department of Biology at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, also noted that it’s important to find the right probiotic strain to treat a specific gastrointestinal complaint.
And a 2015 study published in Frontiers in Microbiology found that many strains of genera Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium possess probiotic properties that can help address a range of gastrointestinal disorders. “The effectiveness of probiotic bacteria in the treatment of these conditions is supported by many clinical trials involving patients of all ages and probiotic organisms chosen based on laboratory research trials,” the authors stated.
One area of focus within that has been the use of probiotics to treat diarrhea resulting from antibiotic use. It’s not uncommon for people who take antibiotics, especially for long periods of time, to experience diarrhea that in some cases can persist long after the infection has been eradicated. That’s because in addition to killing the bacteria that cause infections, antibiotics also kill off the helpful bacteria that live in your gut and are essential for healthy digestive function.
A systematic review and meta-analysis published in JAMA in 2012 found that probiotics can be used both to treat and prevent antibiotic-associated diarrhea. The authors of that study, who were working out of the Southern California Evidence-Based Practice Center at RAND Health in Santa Monica, California, examined 82 randomized, controlled trials to reach that conclusion.
A separate 2012 systematic review and meta-analysis on the effectiveness of probiotics as a preventative treatment for antibiotic-associated diarrhea was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, an academic medical journal published by the American College of Physicians. The authors examined data from 3,818 participants and determined that probiotics result in “a large reduction” in antibiotic-associated diarrhea.
Yet another 2012 meta-analysis of the use of probiotics to treat antibiotic-associated diarrhea, published in Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics, looked at data from 34 studies that enrolled a combined total of 4,138 patients. The authors concluded that probiotics are especially advantageous as a preventative treatment.
There’s also a wealth of data on how probiotics can prevent and treat other kinds of diarrhea. A meta-analysis published in Travel Medicine and Infectious Disease in 2005 investigated how probiotics can be used to prevent traveler’s diarrhea. The author concluded that probiotics are a “safe and effective” method for doing so.
And a review of studies on the use of probiotics for kids with acute diarrhea, published in Digestive Diseases and Sciences in 2002, determined that probiotic therapy can shorten the duration of acute diarrheal illness.
There’s plenty of good research to support the use of probiotics to treat irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) too. Few drug treatments have been shown to help IBS, a common digestive disorder that can result in unpleasant symptoms like gas, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea.
According to a systematic review published in Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics in 2013, probiotics can be a great means of treating IBS symptoms and improving quality of life for people with IBS.
A separate systematic review of randomized, controlled trials published in 2010 in Gut, a monthly, peer-reviewed medical journal, also found that probiotics are a beneficial treatment for IBS, but noted that more research is needed to determine which strains have the most impact.
A third systematic review and meta-analysis, published in BMC Gastroenterology, an open-access, peer-reviewed journal, also found strong evidence supporting the use of probiotics for IBS. Researchers from the Department of Primary Health Care at the Centre for Evidence Based Medicine at the University of Oxford looked at data from randomized, placebo-controlled studies and found that probiotics successfully alleviated symptoms of IBS. They did note, however, that since IBS is a chronic condition, they recommend longer-term trials to determine which probiotics are most effective, what the optimal dose of probiotics would be, and which patients are likely to benefit most from them.
Scientists have also found that probiotics can help manage inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), including ulcerative colitis. A systematic review of randomized controlled trials, published in Clinical and Experimental Gastroenterology in 2014, found that probiotics influence gut microbiota in ways that improve the management of IBD.
And it seems that probiotics can help to induce remission for patients with pouchitis, a condition that occurs after the surgical removal of the large intestine and rectum, according to a meta-analysis of 23 randomized, controlled trials published in Inflammatory Bowel Diseases in 2014.
Probiotics also appear to be able to fight Helicobacter pylori infections, one of the main drivers of ulcers and stomach cancer. The World Journal of Gastrointestinal Pathophysiology, a leading academic journal devoted to reporting the latest, cutting-edge research progress and findings of basic research and clinical practice in the field of gastrointestinal pathophysiology, published two studies in 2014 that looked at the use of probiotics to treat Helicobacter pylori infections. The first concluded that the use of probiotics appears to be a promising treatment option, but more work must be done to optimize it. The second, which looked at the use of probiotics for kids with Helicobacter pylori infections, also concluded that probiotics look like a useful option, but more research is needed.
Benefit #2: Promote Healthy Weight Loss
Scientists have found a clear connection between gut bacteria and obesity. According to a study published in Nature, a British multidisciplinary scientific journal, people who are obese have smaller populations of a kind of bacteria called Bacteroidetes. The authors also found that with weight loss, Bacteroidetes populations increased. The authors concluded that “obesity has a microbial component” which they believe could have “potential therapeutic implications.”
Although it’s not yet clear whether there’s a causal relationship between differences in gut microbiome populations, researchers strongly suspect that’s the case.
It also appears that some probiotic strains can facilitate weight loss. A multicenter, double-blind, parallel-group randomized controlled trial published in the British Journal of Nutrition, a peer-reviewed, scientific journal, found that consuming the probiotic Lactobacillus gasseri brought about reductions in belly fat. The 210 healthy adults enrolled in the study, all of whom had large visceral fat areas, took a daily probiotic for 12 weeks, which led to an 8.5% loss of belly fat. Other measures, including BMI, waist and hip circumference, and overall body fat mass, also significantly decreased over the course of the study. When participants stopped taking the probiotics for four weeks, however, all those changes reversed.
A separate study published in Beneficial Microbes in 2014 showed that two strains of probiotics—Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium lactis—can both encourage weight loss and prevent unhealthy weight gain. After reviewing clinical trials on the use of probiotics to support weight-control efforts, the authors determined that probiotics could be a means of treating obesity. They also suggested that further research investigate the most effective combinations and dosages.
Benefit #3: Reduce Symptoms of Anxiety, Depression, and Other Neurological Conditions
There’s strong evidence showing that that our guts and our brains “talk” to each other. A review published in Biological Psychiatry in 2013 highlighted the variety of ways our guts and brains interact, which the authors stated “seem to influence the pathogenesis of a number of disorders in which inflammation is implicated.” They found that probiotics produce and deliver neuroactive substances, such as gamma-aminobutyric acid and serotonin, that act on what the authors and other experts refer to as the “gut brain axis.” They further state that probiotics can help alleviate symptoms of depression, autism spectrum disorders, chronic fatigue syndrome, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.
A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials, published in Nutrients in 2016, looked at the existing evidence on the use of probiotics to treat depression. This was the first review of its kind, and it found that probiotics brought about “a significant reduction in depression.” The authors concluded that this “underscores the need for additional research” on probiotics as a treatment for depression.
Prior to that, a 2011 clinical study published in Gut Microbes showed two specific strains of probiotics, Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterium longum, could help alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety. The trial also found no indication of any unwanted side effects.
And a 2018 placebo-controlled study published in Bipolar Disorder, a peer-reviewed, open-access journal, found that probiotic therapy can prevent psychiatric rehospitalization for patients recently discharged after being hospitalized for mania.
It also appears that probiotics can mitigate some symptoms of autism. Experts have long been interested in a possible connection between autism and gut health, given that patients with autism often have a variety of digestive issues too.
According to an article published in BioEssays, a monthly, peer-reviewed journal, “alteration in the composition of the gut microbiome has long been implicated as a possible causative mechanism” in the development of autism. Research done with rodents showed that alterations to gut bacteria led to changes in behavior. The authors suggest that probiotics could be used to increase beneficial bacteria populations, which would in turn alleviate some behavioral symptoms of autism.
There’s some limited evidence to support that claim. In 2016, SAGE Open Medical Case Reports published a case study of a boy with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), severe cognitive disability, and celiac disease. After four months of probiotic treatment, his core autistic symptoms unexpectedly improved.
The multi-strain mixture of probiotics he was taking was meant to improve his gastrointestinal symptoms, which it did. It also lead to clinically evident changes to his ADOS score, a metric used to rate the severity of various symptoms of autism. His score dropped from 20 to 17, at which point it remained stable. According to the study’s authors, “It is well known that ADOS score does not fluctuate spontaneously along time in ASD and is absolutely stable.”
Based on that unprecedented shift, the researchers recommend that further human studies be conducted to determine whether probiotic supplements can influence “cognitive and language development” as well as “brain function and connectivity” for individuals with autism.
Benefit #4: Decrease Antibiotic Resistance
According to the World Health Organization, antibiotic resistance is “one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today.” This resistance is spurred by the overprescription of antibiotics, lack of diversity with those medications, and improper use of antibiotics (including in factory farming operations).
As discussed earlier, probiotics can help rebuild healthy gut bacteria populations after a course of antibiotics, as well as prevent and treat unpleasant digestive issues related to antibiotic use.
And according to a study published in the Canadian Journal of Infectious Diseases and Medical Microbiology in 2006, probiotics may even be able to replace antibiotics, “whose side effects are unwelcome and whose efficacy is diminishing due to drug resistance.”
Benefit #5: Boost Immunity
Studies indicate that probiotics can be used to prevent a variety of immunity-related disorders, as well as to reduce your risk of common colds and infections.
In 2015, EPMA Journal, a scientific journal that shares expert viewpoints on predictive, preventive, and personalized medicine (PPPM), published a review on the connection between the gut microbiota and immunity. The authors determined that probiotics “may have potential for preventing a wide scope of immunity-related diseases.”
Additional research bears that out. Another 2015 review, this one published in Current Opinion in Gastroenterology, looked at the mechanisms underlying the influence probiotics have on the immune system, as well as the effects of prebiotics and synbiotics. The authors concluded that for all three treatments, the earlier the intervention begins, the better the results.
A systematic review, published in Expert Opinion on Biological Therapy in 2015, found that probiotics can be used to prevent acute upper respiratory tract infections in children, which can be quite dangerous and even fatal.
And an unrelated 2014 systematic review published in the British Journal of Nutrition reported that probiotics can also help you recover more quickly if you do get sick. After analyzing the results of a number of high-quality randomized, controlled trials, the authors concluded that “probiotics reduce the duration of illness in otherwise healthy children and adults.”
It appears that probiotics can also benefit another vulnerable population: the elderly. An article published in Beneficial Microbes in 2014 explored how probiotics could be used to counteract changes to the gut microbiota that often accompany the aging process and can compromise the immune system.
A separate study, published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2000, examined how probiotic supplementation impacts immunity. The study authors enrolled participants between the ages of 60 and 83 and found that daily probiotic supplementation can enhance natural immunity in measurable ways in just six weeks’ time!
Plus, research is underway to determine whether probiotics can improve immunity in individuals who are HIV positive. An article published in HIV Clinical Trials described the aim of the studies as evaluating “the ability of probiotics as a safe and tolerable therapeutic intervention to reduce systemic immune activation and to accelerate gut immune restoration in people living with HIV.”
Benefit #6: Enhance Skin Health
Just as the gut has a microbiome, the skin has what’s known as a microbiota. And probiotics can help restore balance. An article published in the Journal of Dermatological Science in 2009 summarized current research on the beneficial role probiotics play in improving the skin’s microbiota, which offer a more selective and nuanced treatment approach than conventional antibiotic treatments used for some skin disorders.
The benefits of probiotics for skin health appear to be related their anti-inflammatory properties.
A study published in the European Journal of Immunology found that a specific strain of probiotics, Lactobacillus casei, can reduce skin inflammation. The study looked at inflammation related to allergic contact dermatitis in particular.
And a paper published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology in 2014 noted that probiotics can successfully be used to treat a range of inflammatory skin conditions, such as atopic dermatitis. The authors noted that probiotics also appear to be a promising means of treating acne, protecting against sun-related skin damage, and speeding wound healing, but that larger trials are needed to confirm those benefits.
One study on the use of probiotics to treat acne, published in Gut Pathogens in 2011, found that probiotics can reduce systemic inflammation, which can in turn help clear up acne.
And as mentioned above, there’s a substantial amount of research on probiotics and pediatric atopic dermatitis. A meta-analysis published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology in 2009 found that probiotics are most effective as a means of preventing this skin condition, rather than treating it.
A separate meta-analysis and systematic review, published in the European Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, also examined how probiotics can be used to prevent atopic diseases in early childhood. After analyzing numerous randomized controlled trials, the authors determined that probiotic supplementation can prevent infantile eczema, which they state suggests “a new potential indication for probiotic use in pregnancy and infancy.”
A third meta-analysis on this subject, published in Epidemiology in 2012, came to similar conclusions. Importantly, its authors did note that dosing infants with probiotics early in life produces similar results to mothers using probiotic supplements during pregnancy.
Benefit #7: Lower Infant Mortality Rate
Probiotics may also be an effective means of treating necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) and neonatal sepsis, two diseases that can be extremely dangerous in newborns. Both conditions are most common in premature babies and the risk they pose increases as birth weight decreases.
Well-designed probiotics for women who are pregnant can make it less likely for babies to develop both NEC and sepsis, especially if the mother breastfeeds while continuing to supplement or if probiotics are added to infant formula.
According to research published in Advances in Nutrition in 2017, an international review journal, “Probiotic consumption can significantly reduce the risk of developing medical complications associated with NEC and sepsis, reduce mortality and length of hospital stay, and promote weight gain.”
A meta-analysis published in Pediatrics in 2012 recommended probiotics even more strongly. “The results confirm the significant benefits of probiotic supplements in reducing death and disease” in premature babies, the authors stated. Given the evidence already in existence, they concluded that “additional placebo-controlled trials are unnecessary if a suitable probiotic product is available.”
And the results of a randomized, controlled trial published in Nature, an international journal of science, in 2017 showed that the use of a synbiotic (remember, that’s a probiotic combined with a prebiotic) could effectively prevent many cases of sepsis, which results in one million infant deaths yearly, primarily in developing countries.
Benefit #8: Protect Against Food Allergies
A study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology in 2001 highlighted a likely connection between intestinal microflora during infancy and the development of allergies.
Research published in the same journal in 1997 sheds some light on how probiotics might be used to rebalance gut flora and help to prevent the development of food allergies. The authors found that probiotics alleviate intestinal inflammation and promote endogenous barrier mechanisms.
And findings published in the European Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology in 2001 showed that probiotic bacteriotherapy can help to control the allergic inflammation associated with food allergy. This means that taking probiotics could allow people to reintroduce foods they had previously eliminated due to allergic reactions.
Plus, an article published in Current Opinion in Allergy and Clinical Immunology showed that pre- and probiotics can be especially effective when used jointly.
Benefit #9: Reduce Blood Pressure
There’s good information indicating probiotics can help you reduce your blood pressure. According to a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized, controlled trials, published in Hypertension in 2014, supplementing with probiotics can lead to reductions in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. They also found that combining multiple strains results in a greater impact.
A meta-analysis of randomized, controlled trials published in the British Journal of Nutrition in 2013 looked specifically at the effect of probiotic fermented milk on blood pressure. The authors concluded that it was effective for both pre-hypertensive and hypertensive subjects.
Prior to that, in 2008 the International Journal of Molecular Sciences published an in-depth analysis of the way probiotics improve various health markers related to hypertension, such as lipid profiles, insulin sensitivity and resistance, the regulation of renin levels (a blood-pressure-lowering protein and enzyme secreted by the kidneys), and the conversion of bioactive phytoestrogens. The authors believe their findings indicate probiotics could be a preferable alternative to drugs and hormone therapy, since they have few or no side effects.
And in 2013, Nutrition Reviews, a monthly, peer-reviewed medical journal, published a review of clinical trials looking at how probiotics effect low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol—that’s the bad kind. Four strains of probiotics (Lactobacillus reuteri, Enterococcus faecium, and the combination of Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium lactis) as well as two synbiotics (L. acidophilus plus inulin and L. acidophilus plus fructo‐oligosaccharides) all lowered LDL cholesterol levels. One probiotic, Lactobacillus reuteri, was recommended as the best option, based on how it significantly reduced both LDL and total cholesterol levels, improved other coronary heart disease risk factors, such as inflammatory biomarkers, and is “generally recognized as safe” by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Benefit #10: Help to Prevent and Treat Diabetes
Based on the results of several large-scale studies, as well as two meta-analyses, it appears that probiotics can be used to reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, as well as to manage diabetes symptoms.
A gigantic study published in BMC Medicine in 2014 assessed data from nearly 200,000 participants, primarily to assess the impact of dairy consumption on diabetes risk. Interestingly, the most compelling findings have to do with the benefits of probiotics for men and probiotics for women when it comes to lowering your risk of type 2 diabetes. The researchers found that yogurt intake was “consistently and inversely associated” with type 2 diabetes risk for all participants, meaning that adding a probiotic-rich fermented food to your diet appears to be a helpful strategy for preventing diabetes.
Also in 2014, Nutrition Journal published a meta-analysis that looked at how probiotics can help people with diabetes manage symptoms of the condition. The authors found “a large body of evidence” that suggests probiotics can be used to reduce the inflammatory response and oxidative stress, as well as other crucial changes to the gut microbiome that increase insulin sensitivity and beneficially reduce the body’s autoimmune response.
And a systematic review and meta-analysis published in the European Journal of Nutrition in 2018 found that both probiotics and synbiotics can lower fasting blood glucose levels. High fasting blood glucose levels are known to contribute to the development of chronic conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and kidney disease. The researchers concluded that probiotics and synbiotics can bring down elevated fasting blood glucose levels, and that multi-species formulations appear to be the most effective.
Benefit #11: Reverse Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
According to the Mayo Clinic, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease—a catch-all term used to describe a multitude of liver conditions affecting people who drink little to no alcohol—is becoming an increasingly common complaint. In the United States, it’s now the prevalent form of liver disease and affects approximately 80 to 100 million individuals.
As the name indicates, the primary characteristic underlying all manifestations of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is that too much fat accumulates in liver cells. In severe cases, the disease can cause irreversible damage and scarring similar to the damage done by years of heavy drinking. Nonalcoholic liver disease can even progress to cirrhosis and liver failure.
A meta-analysis of the pooled data from randomized controlled trials, published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology in 2013, found that probiotics can help to improve liver function, fat metabolism, and insulin resistance in patients with nonalcoholic liver disease. The authors concluded that “modulation of the gut microbiota,” through the use of probiotics “represents a new treatment” for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
Question #5: Are There Probiotics Side Effects?
While probiotics are generally considered safe, it’s important to remember that there are thousands of different strains, all of which affect the body differently. If you’re in good health, you’ll likely experience only mild side effects, if any, no matter which strain you choose. In some cases, beginning with a high dose of probiotics can throw off your digestion and lead to symptoms like diarrhea.
If you have underlying health problems, it is possible you might experience more intense complications. There have been reports that probiotics can increase the risk of infection for individuals with weakened immune systems.
In very rare instances, probiotics have been associated with sepsis in cancer patients.
Overall, however, studies reveal very few side effects associated with probiotics and a very high number of benefits.
As with any new medication you try, it’s important to do your research and to consult with a trusted medical professional.
Question #6: How Can I Boost My Probiotic Intake?
Many experts agree that the best way to take in a wide variety of probiotics, which will likely improve your health in myriad ways, is to eat more fermented foods. Some excellent choices include:
- High-quality kefir
- Grass-fed yogurt
- Apple cider vinegar
Adding these probiotic-laden foods to your diet can help boost the numbers of the beneficial bacteria populating your gut.
Sour fermented foods, like apple cider vinegar and fermented vegetables, also contain acetic acid and gluconic acid, which studies show can increase the efficacy of probiotics. In some cases, these acids actually act as prebiotics that fuel the growth of probiotics.
And speaking of fuel, it’s important to give the probiotics already living in your gut what they need to grow and thrive. The preferred food source of probiotic gut bacteria? Prebiotic fermentable fiber. Research indicates that adding high-quality fiber to your diet can actually increase the populations of good bacteria in your gut. Some wonderful high-fiber foods include:
- Dandelion greens
- Jerusalem artichoke
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