What are probiotics?
Probiotics are a combination of live, beneficial bacteria and/or yeast that occur naturally in your body. People often view germs in a negative light, thinking they make people sick. However, there are always two types of bacteria present in and on your body—good bacteria and bad bacteria. Probiotics are made up of good bacteria that help keep your body healthy and functioning well. This good bacteria can help you in many ways, including fighting off harmful bacteria when your body has too much of them and helping you feel better.
Probiotics are part of a bigger picture about bacteria and your body. Think of the microbiome as a diverse community of organisms, like a forest, that work together to keep your body healthy. This community is made up of microorganisms. There are trillions of microbes on and in your body. These microorganisms are a combination of:
- Fungi (including yeast).
Every person’s microbiome is unique. No two people have the same microbial cells—even twins are different.
For a microorganism to be called a probiotic, it must have several characteristics. These include being able to:
- Isolated from humans.
- Survives in the intestines after ingestion (being eaten).
- Proven good for you.
- Please eat safely.
Where do good probiotics (microorganisms) live in my body?
Although the most common place associated with beneficial microbes is your gut (primarily the large intestine), beneficial microbes are found in multiple locations in and on your body. These locations have connections to the "outside world", including your:
- Urinary tract.
How do probiotics work?
The main role of probiotics, or good bacteria, is to maintain a healthy balance in the body. Think of it as keeping your body neutral. When you are sick, harmful bacteria can enter your body and increase in number. This throws your body off balance. Good bacteria fight off bad bacteria, restoring balance in the body and making you feel better.
Good bacteria keep you healthy by supporting your immune function and controlling inflammation. Certain types of good bacteria are okay:
- Helps your body digest food.
- Prevent harmful bacteria from getting out of control and making you sick.
- Create vitamins.
- Helps support cells in the gut and prevents harmful bacteria you eat (through food or drink) from entering the bloodstream.
- Break down and absorb medications.
This balancing act happens naturally in your body all the time. In fact, you don't need to take probiotic supplements to achieve this goal. Good bacteria are just a natural part of your body. Eating a balanced diet rich in fiber every day helps keep the number of good bacteria at the right level.
What are the most common types of probiotics?
Although there are many types of bacteria that can be considered probiotics, there are two specific types of bacteria that are commonly found in stores. These include:
- Lactic acid bacteria.
Probiotics are also made from high-quality yeast. The most common types of yeast found in probiotics are:
- Saccharomyces boulardii.
Can I use probiotics to relieve a medical condition?
Currently, there is a lot of research going on around the effects of probiotics on the body. Despite the many possible positive results, researchers are still trying to find clear answers to how probiotics can help treat various illnesses.
However, probiotics may be helpful for certain health conditions. This varies from person to person, meaning what works for one person may not work for another. These may also vary depending on certain probiotics taken.
Increasing the amount of probiotics in your body (through food or supplements) may help relieve some conditions, including:
- Diarrhea (diarrhea caused by antibiotics and diarrhea caused by Clostridium difficile (C. diff) infection).
- Inflammatory bowel disease.
- Irritable bowel syndrome.
- Yeast infection. are some things you need to know about probiotics.
- Urinary tract infection.
- Gum disease.
- Lactose intolerance.
- Eczema (atopic dermatitis).
- Upper respiratory tract infections (ear infections, common colds, sinusitis).
- Sepsis (especially in infants).
Can I take or eat something to increase the probiotics (microorganisms) in my body?
You can increase the number of beneficial microorganisms in your body through food, drinks, and supplements. You may already include certain foods containing probiotics in your daily diet. Fermented foods in particular, like yogurt and sauerkraut, are home to many beneficial bacteria that are good for you. There are also fermented drinks, like kombucha (fermented tea) or kefir (fermented milk drink), that can introduce additional probiotics into your diet.
In addition to food, you can add probiotics to your diet through dietary supplements. These are not drugs and therefore do not require approval from the Federal Drug Administration (FDA). It's important to talk to your healthcare provider before starting any form of supplementation or making major changes to your diet.
Can I get probiotics from food?
You can definitely increase the number of beneficial microbes in your body from the foods you eat. Certain foods contain probiotics (good bacteria) that can benefit the health of your microbiome.
These foods can be added to your diet at any time of the day. You may even be eating them regularly now without realizing they contain probiotics. You need to check the food label for "active cultures." We have some suggestions for some probiotic-rich foods you can add to your diet and when to try them, including:
You can try breakfast:
- Sourdough bread.
For lunch, try:
If you want to eat snacks, you can try:
- Fermented kimchi.
For dinner, try:
- Fermented sauerkraut.
- Miso soup.
Make sure you still serve a balanced and healthy meal every time you sit down to eat. While adding probiotic-rich foods to your diet won't hurt you, balance is still key. Adding too much of just one food can prevent your body from getting the benefits of other food groups.
How do I take probiotic supplements?
You can take probiotic supplements in a variety of ways. They come in many forms, including:
- Capsules or pills.
Probiotic supplements can be combined with prebiotics. Prebiotics are complex carbohydrates that provide nutrients to the microbes in your gut. Basically, prebiotics are a "food source" for good bacteria. They help feed good bacteria and keep them healthy. Prebiotics include inulin, pectin, and resistant starch.
When you have a supplement that combines probiotics and prebiotics, it is called a synbiotic.
How effective are probiotics?
Researchers are not yet sure how effective probiotic supplements are in treating disease. Research on this topic is ongoing. While many studies have produced positive results on the effects of probiotic supplements, more research is needed.
It's also important to remember that, unlike medications, dietary supplements do not require FDA approval. This means that manufacturers can simply make “claims” of safety and effectiveness to sell supplements.
Always talk to your healthcare provider (or pediatrician) before taking supplements or giving them to your child. Supplements may interfere with medications you are taking. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, check with your provider before taking any supplements.
Are there storage instructions for probiotics?
Some probiotic strains are very fragile and need to be protected from heat, oxygen, light and humidity. If probiotics are exposed to these elements, they may begin to break down or die. Therefore, you may need to refrigerate your probiotics or store them in a specific place. Refrigeration of certain probiotic strains ensures they are still effective when you use them and still provide the full benefits of probiotics. Be sure to read the label on any probiotic product you purchase to ensure it is stored correctly and used within the expiration date.
How safe are probiotics?
Because the microorganisms used as probiotics are already naturally present in your body, probiotic foods and supplements are generally considered safe. They may trigger an allergic reaction and may also cause mild stomach upset, diarrhea, or flatulence (gas) and bloating in the first few days after you start taking them.
Some people need to be careful when using probiotic supplements. Some people are at risk of infection. These include people with the following characteristics:
- A weakened immune system (such as one undergoing chemotherapy).
- A critical illness.
- I recently had surgery.
Be cautious when giving probiotics to seriously ill babies.
Always talk to your healthcare provider before starting a probiotic supplement.
Can probiotics harm me?
For most healthy people, probiotics do not cause any harm. They are generally considered safe and are often "tried" to see if they can help with various medical conditions. There is a lot of research surrounding the topic of probiotics. Scientists are trying to determine when and how to use them, and how effective they are. Talk to your healthcare provider before starting to take probiotic supplements, as there are certain situations where you shouldn't take them. It’s best to have a conversation before starting a new addition.
Are there any risks associated with probiotics?
Probiotics are generally considered safe. However, there are some risks associated with supplements. These risks are increased if you have a medical condition that weakens your immune system, recent surgery, or other serious health conditions.
Unlikely but possible risks may include:
- Infection occurs.
- Develop antibiotic resistance.
- Developing harmful by-products from probiotic supplements.
Should I give my child probiotics?
Probiotics are beneficial for both adults and children. If your child has a condition that requires antibiotic medication, taking probiotics can help shorten symptoms. Probiotics are also used to help relieve constipation, acid reflux, diarrhea, gas, and eczema in children.
Introducing probiotics into your child's diet through food is generally a safe way to consume probiotics. Foods like yogurt and cottage cheese are often part of a balanced diet and can add beneficial bacteria without much risk.
There are commercially available probiotic supplements designed for infants and children. However, be sure to talk to your child's pediatrician before giving your child any probiotic supplements or changing your child's diet to include probiotic-rich foods.
Do I need to take probiotics after taking antibiotics?
Antibiotic medications are often needed to fight the infection. However, while antibiotics kill harmful bacteria, they also eliminate good bacteria in the body. Some people develop symptoms such as diarrhea after taking antibiotics. For others, this may allow truly harmful bacteria to take over and multiply in the gut, such as Clostridium difficile. Some studies show a positive correlation between taking probiotics after antibiotics and relief from diarrhea. This is unproven and may not be suitable for everyone.
The idea behind adding probiotics back into your body after taking antibiotics is that it can repopulate the good bacteria destroyed by the antibiotics and reboot your system. The extra good bacteria help repopulate your gut and fight off any remaining bad bacteria. Many people believe that adding probiotics can't hurt and may help you feel better faster and prevent diarrhea.
Should I try probiotics?
If you are interested in adding probiotics to your diet, it is worth talking to your healthcare provider. Many providers may recommend trying them to see if they help your overall health. It's important to remember that not all probiotics behave the same way and have the same effects. Everyone has their own personal interests. They generally cause no harm. An easy way to start is to simply introduce probiotic-rich foods into your diet, such as yogurt.
Always consult your healthcare provider before starting any supplements. Your provider may be able to point you in the right direction and help you determine which probiotic is best to take, how much to take, and when to take it. When it comes to your health, the conversation is always worthwhile.