What are the benefits of taking probiotics? Bacteria have a reputation for causing disease, so the idea of consuming a few billion a day for your health might seem hard to swallow. A growing number of scientific evidence suggests that you can treat and even prevent some illnesses with foods and supplements containing certain kinds of live bacteria.

Which is why gut health, nurturing and feeding your gut microbiota is so important. That’s where probiotics come in. Probiotics are live microorganisms that can be consumed through fermented foods or supplements. More and more studies show that the balance or imbalance of bacteria in your digestive system is linked to overall health and disease. Probiotics promote a healthy balance of gut bacteria and have been linked to a wide range of health benefits. These include benefits for weight loss, digestive health, and immune function. This is an overview of the key health benefits linked to probiotics.

What Are Probiotics?

Probiotics are the good guys for our digestive system! Probiotics help maintain a balance with the natural-occurring bacteria and yeast in our digestive system.

Different bacterial strains have been studied in relation to helping ease or improve a certain disease/symptom. For example, Lactobacillus acidophilus one of the most well-known bacteria. Other types of bacteria include Lactobacillus bulgaricusLactobacillus caseiBifidobacterium infantis, Bifidobacterium breve, and Bifidobacterium bifidum

Probiotics may be helpful for those suffering from allergies, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), lactose intolerance, chronic gut inflammation, bacterial overgrowths, h. pylori infections, diarrhea, constipation, eczema, and more.

Probiotics work to promote your health by traveling through the colon and interacting with different cells and nutrients along the way. By doing so, probiotics can help protect the gut barrier for regular digestion.

Probiotics Health Benefits

Besides affecting gut health, probiotics can also have positive benefits throughout the rest of your body—mostly because the state of your gut has been shown to influence many other areas of your health. So even if you don’t have digestive issues, you could still benefit from probiotics. Getting more of these bacteria’s in your diet can positively influence everything from digestive and vaginal health to mental health.

Probiotics and Antibiotics

Many things may affect gut function including diet, lifestyle, and stress. And if you’ve ever been on antibiotics for an extended period, your gut is most likely lacking the good bacteria. Antibiotics are anti-everything, including both the good and bad bacteria lining your gut.

If antibiotics are fighting off the bad bacteria, guess what? They’re also fighting off the good bacteria as well! Antibiotics are not just found in our prescription medication, but also in our meat, dairy, egg and general factory farming food production. We ideally want to feed our body with foods that promote healthy gut microflora. Consuming probiotic rich foods and a plant-based diet loaded with fruit and vegetable fibers will do this perfectly. In fact, research even says that probiotics can help with antibiotic-related diarrhea, so keep that in mind if you’re experiencing this side effect.

Where Can You Find Probiotics?

Probiotics occur naturally in our digestive system already. They’re made from digesting the foods we eat. You can see how this can be an issue for those who don’t consume a diet high in whole foods and rely on the Standard American Diet for their nutrition. Highly processed foods, ones that contain those antibiotics from meats and dairy and foods lacking in fiber are just some ways our bodies aren’t primed for a healthy gut microflora.

Our bodies make probiotics from the foods we eat through prebiotics. Prebiotics are basically the “food” for the bacteria to feed on. They’re indigestible ingredients, and two of the most common forms are inulin and fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS).

Probiotic-Rich Food Sources

Remember eating a diet rich in prebiotic foods, the foods that are food for probiotics, is important before adding in a high-quality supplement. While it is difficult to tell if fermented foods reach the gut in an activated state and what your body accepts, recent research still finds that eating these types of foods is a sound way to promote health in your gut.

Fermented Foods to Try

  • Fermented sauerkraut: Note that there’s a difference between naturally fermented sauerkraut and the kind you find in a can. This kind doesn’t contain the probiotics like fermented varieties do.
  • Kimchi: Raw or naturally fermented. A cousin to sauerkraut. It’s created by mixing a main ingredient, such as Chinese cabbage, with a number of other foods and spices, like red pepper flakes, radishes, carrots, garlic, ginger, onion, and sea salt. The mixture is then left aside to ferment for three to 14 days.
  • Yogurt: All organic dairy or non-dairy alternatives: Be wary of yogurt brands on the grocery store shelves that advertise on commercials and other marketing tactics to make you believe their product is high in probiotics. Most yogurts don’t contain substantial amounts, let alone reach a billion CFU’s.
  • More fermented veggies such as carrots, shredded beets, etc.
  • Kefir: Organic dairy kefir or Coconut Kefir
  • Kombucha: Fermented black tea

 Should You Take a Probiotic Supplement?

Probiotics are also found in supplemental form, varying from the quantity of CFU’s (colony forming units), types (i.e. strains of bacteria), and form (i.e. pill, powder, etc.).

Five things to consider when buying a probiotic supplement

  1. Brand quality — Look for brands that are reputable
  2. High CFU count — Purchase a probiotic brand that has a higher number of probiotics, from 15 billion to 100 billion.
  3. Strain diversity — Search for a probiotic supplement that has 10–30 different strains.
  4. Survivability — Look for strains like bacillus coagulans, saccharomyces boulardii, bacillus subtilis, lactobacillus rhamnosus, and other cultures or formulas that ensure probiotics make it to the gut and can colonize.
  5. Research — When I recommend probiotics to clients with digestive issues or challenges, I recommend looking for a trusted, reputable company who undergoes third-party testing if possible and has Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP). You can use consumerlabs.com to check how pure and potent a supplement is. They’re a great third-party organization/lab who tests supplements in general. The FDA categorizes probiotics as supplements, but that doesn’t mean they’re regulated by the government.  Therefore, it’s important to look for that third-party label and research where the supplement is coming from.

Final Thoughts

In the end, we are all different, especially when talking about our digestive systems. Therefore, the amounts, doses, and strain types differ among everyone. Just be sure to do your research and check in with your doctor. Feel free to contact me if you have specific digestive issues or questions. I’d be happy to help!


Carol Aguirre MS, RD/LDN