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By Denise Mann, RD.comUpdated: Jul. 22, 2021
Literally meaning "for life" in Greek, probiotics seem to have a lot of health benefits. Here are the ones you can really trust.
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What you should know about the health benefits of probiotics
Probiotics are live micro-organisms that support healthy populations of bacteria in your digestive tract. When the balance of good and bad bacteria in your gut is off, you can develop diarrhea, constipation, bloating and other ailments. Probiotics help restore order in the gut, according to a new paper on probiotics in Frontiers on Microbiology. But these microbes must be alive and you have to get enough of them to benefit, explains study author Gregor Reid, PhD, MBA, Director of the Canadian R&D Centre for Human Microbiome and Probiotics at Lawson Health Research Institute in London, Ontario, and past President of the International Scientific Association of Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP). Reid also chaired the United Nations/World Health Organization Expert Panel that authored the definition of ‘probiotics’ in 2001.
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Probiotics: The basics
The most common groups of probiotics include Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium; some of the popular strains within these groups are L. acidophilus, L. bulgaricus, and B. bifidum. That sounds complex, but the names get even more confusing, often coming with numbers, letters, and other important identifying details. So read carefully to make sure you’re getting the probiotics you want, warns Reid, who also the chief scientist of Seed. You’ll also want to be sure that the studies touting a probiotic actually tested people—and not just mice—he says. There is evidence supporting the use of certain strains to treat or prevent some types of illness, but in other cases, the studies simply haven’t been done yet.
These new health studies will change the way you live.
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Probiotics can help traveller’s diarrhea
The Guideline for the Prevention of Travellers’ Diarrhea by the International Society of Travel Medicine now recommends the use of probiotics to prevent or treat traveller’s diarrhea. Reid says the group also included research on prebiotics, which feeds good bacteria. Good prebiotic foods include garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus and other healthy veggies that contain loads of fibre.
Get to know more common travel illnesses—and how to avoid them.
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Probiotics may help treat stomach bugs in kids
Although two widely publicized studies in the New England Journal of Medicine—one in the United States and the other in Canada—found that probiotics did little to help treat a severe stomach bug in kids, Reid believes the results need interpretation: “The children in these studies were already too sick to see a real benefit from probiotics,” Reid says. “They went to an emergency department and received probiotics on day three of their sickness. Nothing but rehydration can help at that point.” Starting the probiotics sooner could have made the difference, he says.
If you’re not sure whether you have a stomach bug or food poisoning, here’s how to tell the difference.
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Probiotics can shorten the common cold
Colds can last up to ten days, but probiotics can shorten the time you feel lousy, Reid says. In one study, people who took probiotics cut the time they spent sick by two days—and their symptoms were 34 per cent less severe. What’s more, students missed fewer school days when they took probiotics. The strains in this study were a type of L. rhamnosus and a form of B. animalis. “This means that you can go back to work on Friday instead of missing a whole week if you take probiotics to treat or prevent colds,” Reid says.
Here are 50 ways to avoid catching a cold.
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Probiotics can protect preemies
Many premature infants can develop a serious intestinal disorder in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). “When babies are born prematurely, they do not have beneficial bacteria in their guts, but when probiotics are introduced through feedings, the baby will get the good bacteria and not get this deadly infection—it’s called necrotizing enterocolitis,” Reid says. “We have introduced this in our NICU and rates of necrotizing enterocolitis are almost undetectable.” Helpful strains include B. breve HA-129, L.rhamnosusHA-111, B. Bifidum HA-132, B. infantisHA-116, B. longumHA-135, he says.
Learn about the 10 vitamins that should always be taken with food.
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Probiotics can help reduce cholesterol
Probiotics can lower levels of cholesterol, a major driver of heart disease, Reid says. “The results are not as dramatic as seen with cholesterol-lowering drugs such as statins. But statins tend to have a lot of side effects including muscle wasting,” he says. Probiotics don’t have any side effects. A review of 15 studies found that, on average, Lactobacillus probiotics reduced both total cholesterol and “bad” LDL cholesterol levels, and that two types of Lactobacillus probiotics, L. plantarum and L. reuteri, were particularly effective. Probiotics are not a panacea for high cholesterol by any stretch, and if cholesterol levels are a concern, you need to watch your diet.
Start by avoiding these 10 worst foods for cholesterol.
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Probiotics can help treat BV
Certain strains of probiotics namely L. rhamnosus GR-1 and L. reuteri RC-14 may reduce the incidence of bacterial vaginosis (BV), an infection that occurs when there is an overgrowth of certain bacteria in the vagina. Untreated, BV can increase the risk of sexually transmitted diseases. BV is treated with antibiotics, and studies have shown that probiotics are helpful when taken with the antibiotic tinidazole. Reid says that research on vaginal probiotic tablets and capsules may improve on the treatment of bacterial vaginosis.
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Probiotics can help prevent antibiotic-associated diarrhea
There is evidence suggesting that taking the right probiotics—including such strains as Saccharomyces boulardii or Bio K+ L. acidophilus CL1285, L. caseiLBC80R, L. rhamnosusCLR2—may lower the risk of developing antibiotic-associated diarrhea. One study found that BIO-K+ can prevent and reduce the severity of diarrhea in people receiving antibiotic therapy in a hospital setting, he says.
Get to know the everyday medication mistakes that could make you sick.
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Probiotics may help strengthen bones
Everyone’s bones get weaker as we get older, and that increases the risk of fractures and the brittle bone disease called osteoporosis. Probiotics such as L. reuteri may reduce bone loss in older women with low bone mineral density, suggests research.
Get to know more risk factors for osteoporosis.
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Probiotics can’t treat depression—yet
The gut and mind are intimately connected, so there is a reason to suspect that probiotics will play a role in treating depression in the future, says Reid. However, “We do not recommend any existing probiotics for the prevention or treatment of depression, and human clinical trials have not presented compelling data,” Reid says. “Probiotics are not substitutes for medication or talk therapy for severe depression or anxiety.”
Learn to spot the signs of high functioning depression.
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Probiotics can’t help with food allergies—yet
As of now, there are no probiotic strains approved for the treatment or prevention of food allergies in infants or adults, Reid says. “Emerging research might change the role of bacteria in preventing and treating food allergies, but it is in early stages of development.”
In the meantime, read up on 11 dangerous myths about food allergies.
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Probiotics can’t treat skin diseases—yet
The bugs aren’t ready for prime time when it comes to treating or preventing skin diseases such as acne, rosacea, eczema and others. “We haven’t proven it yet so we can’t make the claim,” Reid says. Still, many researchers are working on understanding how the skin’s microbiome affects skin issues, and there is a multitude of probiotic skin-care products already on store shelves.
Next, learn 10 easy ways to improve your gut health.
Originally Published: July 22, 2021
Originally Published on Reader's Digest
A common question about probiotics is whether it is ok to take probiotic supplements every day. Whilst there may be a few exceptions to this rule, the general answer is yes, it's safe, and usually recommended, to take them daily. It's important to understand that probiotics are a natural supplement and not a medicine.Do probiotics actually help your gut? ›
Often referred to as "friendly" or "good" bacteria, probiotics help keep the normal healthy balance of bacteria in your gut — specifically the lining of the gut which includes the microbiome.What are the signs that probiotics are working? ›
- Less stomach pain. For some people, certain probiotics can help with stomach pain and cramps. ...
- More frequent poops. ...
- Less bloating. ...
- Improved sleep. ...
- Better mood, memory, and mental clarity. ...
- Fewer vaginal infections.
An anti-inflammatory diet, regular exercise, good quality sleep, and probiotics are all strategies to put in place before trying antimicrobials or antibiotics to get rid of bad bacteria.What is the most beneficial probiotic? ›
Some of the best probiotic strains for health include: Lactobacillus acidophilus. Lactobacillus acidophilus balances potentially harmful bacteria that can otherwise grow in your gut due to illness or antibiotics.Should I take probiotics in the morning or at night? ›
Research shows the best time to take a probiotic is first thing in the morning before eating breakfast or before going to sleep at night. Probiotics are most effective when taken on an empty stomach.How long does it take for probiotics to start working? ›
The short answer: It takes most people 2 to 3 weeks to feel significant benefits when they start taking probiotics. That's because probiotics need time to accomplish their three key goals: increase your good bacteria count, decrease your bad bacteria count, and reduce inflammation.What medications should not be taken with probiotics? ›
Some medications that may interact with certain probiotics include: antibiotics, antifungals (such as clotrimazole, ketoconazole, griseofulvin, nystatin).What is the downside of taking probiotics? ›
They may trigger allergic reactions, and may also cause mild stomach upset, diarrhea, or flatulence (passing gas) and bloating for the first few days after starting to take them. There are certain people who need to use caution when using probiotic supplements. There is a risk of infection in some people.What is the downside of probiotics? ›
Probiotics are safe for the majority of the population, but side effects can occur. The most common side effects are a temporary increase in gas, bloating, constipation and thirst. Some people can also react poorly to ingredients used in probiotic supplements or to naturally occurring amines in probiotic foods.
Probiotics may help you lose weight and belly fat
In particular, studies have found that certain strains of the Lactobacillus family can help you lose weight and belly fat. In one study, eating yogurt with Lactobacillus fermentum or Lactobacillus amylovorus reduced body fat by 3–4% over 6 weeks (29).
If you are taking a high quality, multispecies and multistrain supplement, you can expect to notice initial improvements and health benefits of probiotics in your digestion as early as the first 1-2 weeks after starting your probiotic. Depending on how sensitive you are, many people feel a difference after a few days.How long should you stay on probiotics? ›
For short-term symptom relief, such as reducing diarrhea, some probiotics may work in as little as a few days. For chronic conditions or general immune health, it may be most beneficial to take probiotics for weeks or months at a time.How do you feel when you first start taking probiotics? ›
When first using probiotics, some people experience gas, bloating, or diarrhea. Changes in the gut microbiota can result in bacteria producing more gas than usual, which can lead to bloating. However, these side effects usually clear up within a few days or weeks of taking the probiotics.What are the 3 super foods for your gut? ›
- Leafy Greens. Leafy greens are a powerful prebiotic and are high in vitamins C, K, B complex, folic acid, beta carotene, iron, iodine, calcium, potassium, magnesium, sulphur and chlorophyll. ...
- Asparagus. ...
- Oats. ...
- Greek Yoghurt. ...
- Apples. ...
- Pears. As you may know, fibre plays a huge role in supporting gut health. ...
- Bananas. ...
- Apples. ...
- Blueberries. ...
- Kiwis. ...
- Peaches. ...
- Grapefruit. ...
- Not Eating a Diverse Range of Foods. Generally, a rich and diverse gut flora is considered to be a healthy one ( 12 ). ...
- Lack of Prebiotics in the Diet. ...
- Drinking Too Much Alcohol. ...
- Antibiotic Use. ...
- Lack of Regular Physical Activity. ...
- Cigarette Smoking. ...
- Not Getting Enough Sleep. ...
- Too Much Stress.
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Studies have shown that probiotics can be beneficial to seniors and aging adults for more than just the keeping the body regular. Probiotics can help older adults maintain a healthy gut and strong immune system while fighting off harmful bacteria such as Clostridia and Bacteroides which are more common with age.
In addition, probiotics might have synergistic effects with vitamin D, through improving the expression of vitamin D receptors . Therefore, modulating the microbiota-gut-brain axis by probiotics plus improving vitamin D levels might provide a novel target to treat mental and metabolic disorders.How long after taking a probiotic can you drink coffee? ›
“Don't take a probiotic supplement with hot food and drinks such as tea or coffee as this can lessen the chance of the bacteria getting to your gut unharmed. Give it 30 minutes after taking them before you reach for the teapot.”Can you take probiotics with coffee? ›
As we've learned in the previous paragraph, heat kills most types of probiotic bacteria. Therefore, I wouldn't advise mixing your probiotics into a hot drink. However, by the time your tea or coffee is cool enough to drink, it's closer to body temperature, which probiotics can withstand.How long does it take to restore gut health? ›
Building a healthy microbiome can take up to 6 months if the correct healthy habits are adopted (diet, exercise, sleep and stress management - and also supplements if needed) however it really is a lifelong journey because you need to continue these habits to maintain a healthy microbiome.Is 50 billion probiotic too much? ›
Although the vast majority of existing clinical trials indicate that probiotic doses of 10-20 billion CFU per day are sufficient for maintaining immune and digestive health, research studies examining the dose-response of larger CFUs and products featuring CFUs of 50 to 100 billion are becoming increasingly common.Do probiotics raise blood pressure? ›
Can Probiotics and Prebiotics Lower Blood Pressure? Eating food that contains probiotics—consumable live bacteria—has been linked to healthier blood pressure in previous studies.Do probiotics affect the kidneys? ›
Using probiotics (“good bacteria”) for removal of uremic toxins from the colon could help to maintain healthy kidney function.Can I eat anything while taking probiotics? ›
As a nutritionist, I like to recommend that clients take their supplements with a meal, as the food helps to buffer the effects of stomach acid; it may also help to facilitate the passage of the probiotics through the stomach, and ensures that they are well mixed with the stomach contents as they pass into the small ...Why do doctors not recommend probiotics? ›
“The supplements can be costly, and there isn't enough evidence to prove a benefit or confirm lack of harm.” Probiotics are microscopic organisms — including certain bacteria and yeast — that live in the digestive tract and are also found in a variety of foods and dietary supplements.Can probiotics affect your bladder? ›
Probiotics, especially ones with strains from the Lactobacilli family, may be helpful in preventing urinary tract infections. Because Lactobacilli are present in healthy, premenopausal women, maintaining a balance of these probiotic bacteria may support the body in fighting off the pathogens that cause UTIs.
Probiotics can also produce special antibiotic-like substances that kill harmful bacteria, called bacteriocins. Probiotics help to prime our immune system so our cells are ready to tackle bacterial and viral invaders.Is yogurt a good probiotic? ›
Besides healthy doses of calcium and protein, yogurt is a prime source for probiotics, the "good" live bacteria and yeasts. Why are these helpful? Having a proper balance of bacteria in your gut improves digestion, blocks dangerous organisms that can cause infections, and boosts your immune system.How can I flatten my belly gut? ›
- Add cardio. Share on Pinterest Running is effective in trimming a person's midsection. ...
- Eat more fiber. ...
- Limit refined carbs. ...
- Increase protein intake. ...
- Do exercises while standing, not sitting. ...
- Add resistance training. ...
- Eat more monounsaturated fatty acids. ...
- Move more.
It's a rich source of antioxidants called polyphenols, which help support your “good” gut bacteria. The acetic acid it contains is also antibacterial and antifungal, which explains why people have used vinegar to clean wounds as far back as the Ancient Greeks.Can probiotics reset your gut? ›
Just like fiber and prebiotics, probiotics belong on the list of foods to reset your gut. Probiotics are live microorganisms that increase the amount of your gut's “good” bacteria.Do you have to take probiotics every day forever? ›
In other words, you need to keep taking the probiotic supplements for the effects to last. If you stop taking them, your gut bacteria are likely return to their pre-supplementation condition within one to three weeks. You may be able to get longer-lasting changes by “feeding the healthy bacteria”.Do probiotics detox your body? ›
By taking probiotics, it is increasing the number of good bacteria which can detoxify your system and help you absorb nutrients more efficiently. If you have been taking too many antibiotics, the probiotics can balance the negative effects of that as well.What are the symptoms of leaky gut? ›
- A burning feeling of ulceration in your gut.
- Painful indigestion from the loss of intestinal mucosa.
- Gas and bloating from fermentation by overgrown bacteria in your gut.
- Low energy from the reduced ability to draw energy from your food.
A healthy diet combined with probiotic supplements can balance your gut's good bacteria by replenishing what is killed off by antibiotics, both during and after a course of antibiotics. They can also prevent the most common side effect: antibiotic-associated diarrhea.Who should not take probiotics? ›
Some reports have linked probiotics to serious infections and other side effects. The people most likely to have trouble are those with immune system problems, people who've had surgery, and others who are critically ill. Don't take probiotics if you have any of those issues.
For short-term symptom relief, such as reducing diarrhea, some probiotics may work in as little as a few days. For chronic conditions or general immune health, it may be most beneficial to take probiotics for weeks or months at a time.What is the negative side of probiotics? ›
The most common side effects are a temporary increase in gas, bloating, constipation and thirst. Some people can also react poorly to ingredients used in probiotic supplements or to naturally occurring amines in probiotic foods. If this occurs, stop using probiotics.Why don t doctors recommend probiotics? ›
“The supplements can be costly, and there isn't enough evidence to prove a benefit or confirm lack of harm.” Probiotics are microscopic organisms — including certain bacteria and yeast — that live in the digestive tract and are also found in a variety of foods and dietary supplements.What not to mix with probiotics? ›
Some medications that may interact with certain probiotics include: antibiotics, antifungals (such as clotrimazole, ketoconazole, griseofulvin, nystatin).