Probiotics: An In-Depth Guide & The Best Probiotic Supplements on the Market

probiotic

Probiotics have thundered onto the health and wellness stage — you hear about them everywhere now.  With claims running the gamut from “probiotics heal your gut” to “probiotics prevent cancer,” it seems as though they are just about a cure for everything.

But, do they actually do what they claim to? Or are these claims just another way to convince you to buy expensive supplements?

In this article I’m going to answer all of your pressing questions about probiotics. From the very basics of what probiotics are, through the details of probiotic strains, to the ways probiotics work at the molecular level; everything you need to know about this burgeoning field, you’ll find right here.

What are Probiotics?

Alright, first thing’s first. What are probiotics, exactly?

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the International Scientific Association for Prebiotics and Probiotics, probiotics are defined as: “live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.” (1)

…And what, exactly, does that mean?

Well, basically, it means a probiotic is any species of bacteria, virus, fungus or tiny parasite that, if you get enough of them living on or in your body, makes you healthier. You can kind of think of these microorganisms as “reverse germs”. If they “infect” you, rather than getting miserable cold or flu symptoms, they make you feel extra healthy for a while.

Even though this is the official definition, when most people say “probiotic”, this isn’t exactly what they mean. They usually aren’t talking about the microorganisms directly; rather they are talking about products that contain these microorganisms — probiotic supplements. Probiotic supplements are capsules, pills, tablets, powders, lotions, liquids or even foods that have had probiotic microorganisms mixed in. (1)

That means when you hear people talking about how they’re “taking a probiotic”, they’re usually talking about taking a capsule or pill filled with probiotic microorganisms.

I realize that, in a lot of ways, this is a tiny distinction. After all, it’s the microorganisms that are the defining feature in both cases. But it’s helpful for being able to really visualize what the people in your life mean when they are talking about probiotics. And it helps you understand the way scientists, who stick to technical definitions, are using the term when you’re poking around in scientific literature.

I told you! We’re covering all our bases here!

What Do Probiotics Do?

So, now we know that probiotics are microorganisms that make you healthier. Cool!

But how does that actually work? What do probiotics actually do that leads to you becoming healthier?

That is an excellent question!

To really explain it, we’re going to have to make a small detour here and talk about something called the gut microbiome.

Introduction to the Gut Microbiome

The gut microbiome is the name scientists give to the collective host of trillions of microorganisms that naturally live in the human digestive tract. (2)

Yep. Whether you know it or not, your gut is loaded with microorganisms. Most of them are bacteria, but there are also viruses, fungi and other tiny single-celled organisms. (2) Your intestine is a veritable jungle of microscopic life!

And it’s supposed to be.

I know it feels pretty weird to think about because we’re so programmed to think of bacteria and viruses as gross and dangerous, but your gut is intended to function completely filled with microorganisms. Not just any microorganisms, though. These are microorganisms hand-selected over millions of years to be the perfect gut-buddies for humans. (3, 4)

I Feed You, You Protect Me: The Mutual Benefits of the Gut Microbiome

There are few relationships in nature as truly symbiotic (scientific slang for “win-win”) as that between you and your gut microbiome.

For your microbiome, this is the best gig ever. The bacteria living in your gut have a permanent, perfectly climate-controlled environment.  It’s balmy 98.6℉, all day, every day. They always have enough water. Food simply rains down on them three times a day. And when other germs show up and want to steal their cushy gig, their home literally helps kill them off.  (5, 6)

For you, your microbiome provides an ingenious solution to a serious problem: the overwhelming onslaught of potentially dangerous microorganisms coming in from the digestive tract.

The world is absolutely positively overrun with microorganisms. Everything you see, touch and eat is swarming with bacteria, viruses and all kinds of other little critters. You microbiome, thankfully, helps you kick out bad bacteria without it making it into your bloodstream to infect you.

Symbiosis to Dependance: Extensive Functions of a Healthy Gut Microbiome

As you might imagine, with such a good gig for both us and the bacteria, neither of us was planning to go anywhere. We got cozy, our gut bacteria settled in, and we started building a serious partnership that ran far deeper than just food and protection.

We started relying on one another, expecting one another to be there, and organizing our physiological functions around one another. This has gone on to the point that we are now really and truly dependent on one another for our health, wellbeing and survival. (6, 3, 4)

For our gut bacteria, this means that many of them can no longer thrive anywhere but in our guts.

And, for us, it means that we can no longer regulate our vast array of complex organ systems without gut bacterial help. Over the millennia, we’ve come to rely on our gut bacteria to properly (6, 3, 4, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11):

  • Digest food
  • Maintain our intestinal walls
  • Coordinate our intestinal wall movements
  • Regulate our immune system function
  • Coordinate nerve signaling and brain function

We need them in order for our body to work at all normally. And when we don’t have them, we become ill.

Probiotics and the Gut Microbiome

So what do probiotics have to do with the gut microbiome?

Well, probiotics are part of your microbiome.

When you take a probiotic supplement, the probiotic microorganisms are transported down to your digestive tract. Naturally, they take to it like a fish to water. They grow, divide and thrive.

They take up the mantle of microbiome responsibility – supporting digestion, gut health, immune health, nervous system health and, thereby, your whole body health. (6, 12, 13)

Probiotic Benefits

I guess, technically, I could leave the benefits of probiotics at “support[…] digestion, gut health, immune health and nervous system health,” couldn’t I?

But that’s a bit vague and impractical if you’re trying to decide if probiotic supplements are a good fit for you. It’s much more helpful if I break it down into individual symptoms. So, that’s exactly what I’m going to do!

Here are some of the main benefits of probiotics (that have been proven so far, anyway!).

1. More Regular Bowel Movements.

At first glance, this probably seems like more of a “convenience benefit” than a “health benefit”. But unhealthy bathroom habits can actually have serious consequences for your health. (14, 15, 16, 17)

For example, regular constipation (having hard to pass stools or less than three bowel movements per week) increases your risk of a painful and potentially life-threatening hernia, not to mention upping the odds of developing colon cancer. (14, 15)

Having extremely frequent bowel movements (more than three times per day), though, is also not healthy. Regular diarrhea puts you at risk of dehydration, electrolyte imbalances and nutrient deficiencies. (16)

What you want is to pass firm but soft stools, without straining, around once a day. (17) That offers you the best opportunity to absorb all the water and nutrients you need without increasing your risk of damaging your intestinal health.

Probiotics help you keep this healthy one-per-day rhythm by stimulating your enteric nervous system. (18, 19, 20)

Your enteric nervous system is responsible for generating the waves of muscle contractions that push your food from your stomach, down through the intestines, and out into the toilet. Strong, even, regular muscle contractions keep food moving smoothly and your bowel movements regular. (20, 18, 21)

2. Less Bloating and Flatulence

No need to explain how this one is a health benefit! Less belly cramps, bloating, belly aches and gas — I’m sold!

The bacteria in your gut microbiome break down bits of food you don’t absorb for their own food and make gases in the process. Healthy gut bacteria in the right place (in the large intestine, not small intestine) make fewer gases (though, not none!), reducing bloating, belly aches and flatulence.

By helping keep your gut stocked with healthy bacteria (and free of dangerous bacteria — see point 3!), probiotics can limit gas production and ease the associated digestive symptoms. (2, 22, 23)

3. Fewer Gut Infections

I bet you’re not surprised to see probiotic benefit number three — after all, keeping dangerous microorganisms at bay is kind of the whole point of the gut microbiome!

Adding probiotics to your gut helps your microbiome (24, 25):

  • Soak up nutrients and hog all the physical room in your gut, so dangerous microorganisms can’t set up a home
  • Produce organic acids that harm dangerous microorganisms
  • Produce antibiotic molecules to kill invaders

Together, these effects are potent enough to prevent and treat infections like E. coli (which can cause severe diarrhea and a fever) and H. pylori (which can cause stomach pains similar to gastric reflux, gastric ulcers and stomach cancer). (24, 25, 26, 27, 28)

More probiotic microorganisms, less gut infections!

4. Less Systemic Inflammation

Let’s move out of the gut and talk about the health benefits of taking probiotics on the rest of your body.

One of the most important, if not the most important, of these benefits is reducing systemic inflammation in your body.  

When your gut bacteria are out of balance, toxic molecules called lipopolysaccharides (LPS) makes it into your bloodstream, causing system-wide inflammation.

By helping to balance your microbiome, probiotics keep levels of LPS lower, thus reducing inflammation. (29)

Probiotics also help your gut microbiome calm your immune system, reducing inflammation. They do this by activating a group of cells called Treg cells in your gut, which move throughout your body and calm overactive immune cells. (30, 31, 32, 33, 34)

And reducing systemic inflammation is a huge deal for your health! Studies have clearly linked total body inflammation to multiple very serious conditions, including (35):

  • Obesity
  • Heart Disease
  • Diabetes
  • Dementia
  • Osteoporosis
  • Cancer

By easing systemic inflammation, probiotics can reduce your risk of all of these conditions.

5. A Healthier Body Weight

Yep, you read that right! Probiotics can help you lose weight. And help you keep it off, too. (36, 37)

This is probably partially due to the effect on systemic inflammation I just mentioned. Systemic inflammation messes with your metabolism and makes it more likely that you will put on weight and have trouble getting it back off. (38)

There may also be more direct effects as well. Healthy gut bacteria, like those in probiotics, don’t liberate as many calories from your food as unhealthy bacteria do. That means that boosting a healthy gut microbiome with probiotics may result in you getting fewer calories from the exact same meal. (39)

You can read more about the microbiome and the metabolic system in my article here.

6. Healthier Blood Sugar Levels

Researchers believe the improved blood sugar control from taking probiotics is due mostly to the reduction in systemic inflammation I mentioned above. (40)

Systemic inflammation makes it extremely difficult for insulin to do its job in your body, driving blood sugar up.  Elevated blood sugar levels, long-term, puts you squarely on the path to type 2 diabetes and other metabolic diseases. (40)

7. Less Plaque Build-Up in Your Arteries

Probiotics can modify two of the risk factors for developing plaque in your arteries: high cholesterol and high blood pressure. (41, 42, 43)

Probiotics can bind cholesterol from your food right in your gut, keeping it from getting into your bloodstream. This lowers the total amount of cholesterol in your blood, helping keep it from building up in your arteries and forming a plaque. (43, 44)

Probiotics also help release blood pressure-lowering phytoestrogens (“plant estrogens”) from the food they were in, so that they can be absorbed more efficiently and bring your blood pressure down. (45, 46, 43)

Combined, these two effects of probiotics can help protect your arteries and reduce your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

8. Stronger Bones

Not itching to break a hip when you get older? Probiotics might help you out here, too!

As with nearly everything on this list, part of this benefit comes from the reduction in systemic inflammation that accompanies probiotics. Nipping the inflammation process in the bud can really help protect your bones.

Additionally, probiotics can help make sure your bones have all the nutrients they need to be rigid and strong. Probiotic microorganisms produce folate and vitamins D, C, and K, all four of which are super important for your bone health. Probiotics also help to break down foods in your gut, freeing up minerals like calcium so you can absorb more of them, too. (47)

Less bone breakdown and more bone-building nutrients — an excellent combination for life-long healthy, strong bones.

9. Decreased Autoimmunity

Autoimmune diseases are awful. Caused by your immune system attacking your own healthy tissues, they are painful, debilitating and, usually, really hard to treat.

Probiotics, though, may be able to offer some relief to those struggling with autoimmune symptoms. (48)

Probiotics help prevent your gut from becoming “leaky”, a serious risk factor for developing an autoimmune disease. The reasons for this are a little complicated, but, basically, a leaky gut lets too many foreign molecules into your body. This increases the risk your immune system will become overwhelmed, get confused, and start attacking the wrong things! (Check out my article on autoimmunity and gut health to learn more about how this works.)

If this weren’t enough, probiotics also help your gut microbiome produce specific molecules, called short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) and histamine which can directly quell an overactive immune system. (49, 50)

10. Improved Reproductive Health

Trying to start a family? Or just want to make sure your sexy-time says healthy? Probiotics might come in handy, here, too.

For men, probiotics may be useful because they can reduce plaque buildup in their arteries… all their arteries. Blood flow to the penis is really important for male sexual health, which means so is having healthy arteries for the blood to flow through is, as well. By keeping men’s penile arteries plaque-free and able to let large amounts of blood flow as it should, probiotics can help prevent erectile dysfunction. (51, 52, 53, 54, 55)

For women, probiotics may be able to help prevent vaginal infections. Not only is this important for keeping sex from being cancelled altogether until the infection clears up, studies indicate that it is also important for having a healthy pregnancy. Women with active vaginal infections are at a higher risk of miscarriage. So, preventing infections, perhaps with a probiotic, before conception and during pregnancy is probably a good idea. (56, 57)

11. A Happier Mood

A more balanced mood, fewer feelings of stress and a generally sunnier outlook — all in the power of a probiotic, too!

Research now clearly shows that taking a probiotic can improve your mood, even effectively helping combat serious mood disorders, such as clinical depression. (58, 59)

This is thought to be because a healthy gut microbiome helps regulate the amounts dopamine and serotonin (“happiness hormones”) in your brain. They do this partly by helping the brain produce more of them on its own. But your microbes actually produce some for you, too! Really, they manufacture them for you in your gut, you absorb them, and then use them in your brain to help keep you happy. (60, 61)

Probiotic Side Effects

Probiotic side effects are fairly rare and usually mild. If you do experience side effects taking probiotics, it is usually a slight increase in digestive discomfort, such as mild worsening of your bloating or flatulence. In most cases, these symptoms resolve on their own after a few days, if you continue to take your probiotic normally. (62)

The only serious side effect associated with probiotics — an infection of the bloodstream with the probiotic microorganism — is extremely rare. There are a few conditions that you could have, however, that might make your risk of infection a touch higher.

If you have the following conditions, probiotics might be a bit riskier for you and you should speak to your doctor before taking them: (63)

  • A very weak immune system (if you have an HIV infection or are undergoing chemotherapy, for example)
  • Short bowel syndrome
  • A central venous catheters
  • Cardiac valve disease  

So, Are Probiotics Safe?

The short answer here is: yes! Scientists and doctors all generally agree that probiotics are very safe to take. (62)

The only exception could be if you have one of the conditions I mentioned above or if they are given to very, very young infants (whose immune system isn’t fully formed, yet). (63)

If you have any concerns about taking a probiotic, please speak to your doctor, pharmacist or nutritionist. They can talk to you about your concerns and your medical history and determine whether probiotics are a good fit for you, personally, or not.

Best Probiotic Supplements

It would be really nice if each and every one of these health benefits came from the exact same probiotic microorganism. Unfortunately, each member of your gut microbiome has a unique role in helping you stay healthy. So, different microorganisms are more effective at providing specific health benefits than others.

Why Probiotic “Strains” Are Important

Most probiotic supplements on the market today only give you their probiotic species information rather than their strain.

What’s important to know, though, is that probiotic strains dictate their effect, meaning that one strain of a probiotic can have a completely different effect on your body than another probiotic strain. (64) A supplement that only tells you its probiotic species vs its strains isn’t giving you a whole lot of information and it’s very, very possible that the supplement could be totally useless for what you’re trying to achieve.

I’ve written an entire article on this topic and highly suggest reading it if you’re currently taking a probiotic supplement. It will give you a completely different outlook on probiotics and show you exactly what to look for.

Below, I’ve listed the probiotic strain(s) with the strongest evidence for each health benefit, along with reputable probiotic supplements where applicable.

Best Probiotics for Digestive Health

Most probiotic and digestive health research has focused on irritable bowel syndrome. This is a functional digestive disorder with severe, but common, digestive symptoms, including constipation, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, gas and bloating.

To date, the best probiotic strains found for relieving IBS symptoms was the combination of:

  • Bifidobacterim breve (DSM 24732)
  • Bifidobacterium infantis (DSM 24737)
  • Bifidobacterium longum (DSM 24736)
  • Lactobacillus acidophilus (DSM 24735)
  • Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus (DSM 247634),
  • Lactobacillus paracasei (DSM 24733)
  • Lactobacillus plantarum (DSM 24730)
  • Streptococcus thermophilus (DSM 24731).

This exact combination has been tested in three double-blind, randomized, controlled trials and a single open-label trial, and all four found significant improvements in IBS symptoms. (65, 66, 67, 68)

Whether each of the strains would be helpful by themselves is not really known. But, that’s okay! You can actually buy this exact combination yourself under the brand name Sigma Tau VSL#3.

Lactobacillus plantarum 299v has also been shown to improve the symptoms of IBS and can be found in Jarrow’s Ideal Bowel Support supplement. (69)

Best Probiotics for Weight Management

The probiotic strain with the strongest evidence supporting its use to reduce weight is Bifidobacterium lactis B420. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized trial, B. lactis B420 helped overweight and obese patients lose 4% of their body weight in 6 months. (70) You can get this probiotic strain in Metagenics’ Ultraflora Control supplement.

To maintain weight and prevent new weight gain, studies suggest that the eight strains from Sigma Tau VSL#3 may be a better bet. (71)

Best Probiotics for Healthy Blood Sugar Levels

If you’d like your probiotic supplement help you to regulate your blood sugar levels, Lactobacillus acidophilus La5 and Bifodobacterium lactis Bb12 are the two best strains available. Multiple studies confirm these bacteria are able to lower blood sugar and A1c levels, even in those already struggling with diabetes. (72, 73)

A supplement containing both these strains is Standard Process Prosynbiotic.

Lactobacillus casei Shirota can also attenuate the development of insulin resistance when humans consume a high fat diet, which is known to be detrimental to the microbiome and human health. (74)

You can find this strain in the Yakult line of products.

Best Probiotics for Your Arteries

To reduce your cholesterol and protect your arteries, studies point to Lactobacillus reuteri NCIMB 30242. This probiotic microorganism was able to lower people’s total cholesterol by 9% and their LDL, specifically, by over 11%. (75)

You can buy this strain in Microbiome Plus Gastrointestinal Probiotics L Reuteri NCIMB 30242 GI Digestive Supplements.

If you’re more concerned about lowering your blood pressure to protect your arteries, Lactobacillus helveticus strains, particularly Lactobacillus helveticus LBK-16H and Lactobacillus helveticus CM4, are good choices. (76, 77) When these strains are combined with milk, they produce blood pressure lowering peptides. See the chart below for the impressive benefits seen with L. helveticus strains. (78)

lactobacillus

Lye, Huey-Shi, et al. “The improvement of hypertension by probiotics: effects on cholesterol, diabetes, renin, and phytoestrogens.” International journal of molecular sciences 10.9 (2009): 3755-3775.

Unfortunately, there do not appear to be any products on the market (yet) that contain these exact strains of Lactobacilluls helveticus.

Best Probiotics for Your Bones

The Lactobacillus helveticus species seems to be very helpful for bone health. (79) Unfortunately, studies rarely report the actual strain used. And, when the do, the strains are not identical in every positive study, suggesting many Lactobacillus helveticus species may be effective.

This is our current problem within probiotics research — researchers haven’t been great about keeping track of the strains they’ve used thus far, and many studies focus on species versus strains. However, recent research indicates that it is the strain level that is most important in determining the effect of the probiotic and now researchers are starting to document their strain choices in their research to better help us, as consumers, know which strains might benefit us.

So let’s hope there will be some follow-up studies on probiotics for bone health (and other conditions!) that detail the strain used so that companies can start using these strains in their supplements for a healthier way to treat health conditions.

Until we have more data about individual strains, it’s tough to say whether supplementing with simply any Lactobacillus helveticus strains would be helpful. However, if you’re looking for bone health benefits and are okay with knowing that it’s somewhat unknown whether this particular strain would help or not, you can try Life Extension’s Florassist Mood, which contains Lactobacillus helveticus R0052.

In studies on mice, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (found in the Culturelle supplement, among others) and the strain combination found in VSL #3 have also proven to be useful for bone health. (80)

Best Probiotics for Autoimmune Conditions

The best probiotic for preventing and managing autoimmune conditions appears to depend on the exact autoimmune condition you’re looking to address.

For example, rheumatoid arthritis appears to respond to Bacillus coagulans GBI-30 6086 or a combination of Lactobacillus rhamnosus Gr-1 and Lactobacillus reuteri RC-14. (81, 82)

Ulcerative colitis, on the other hand, improves with Escheria coli Nissle 1917, Lactobacillus plantarum 299v, the combination of the nine strains of VSL#3, and Bifidobacterium longnum BB536 (83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90), while psoriasis responds to Bifidobacterium infantis 35624. (91)

Unfortunately, we don’t have clinical trials for many autoimmune disorders at all. Since the effective probiotics are so different between disorders, it’s also really difficult to extrapolate and make educated, helpful suggestions without studies.

It is best to talk to your doctor about which probiotic strains she thinks might be helpful for you and your autoimmune disorder, personally. This is absolutely critical if you are taking immunosuppressants to control your symptoms, as this could put you at higher risk of infections with probiotic microorganisms. Do not start taking a probiotic if you are on active immunosuppressants without speaking to your doctor.

If you happen to be dealing with symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis or psoriasis and have gotten the okay from your doctor, supplements you might want to check out are:

Best Probiotics for Your Mood

Human trials suggest Lactobacillus helveticus R0052 and Bifidobacterium longum R0175 are an effective strain combination for improving mood and reducing anxiety. (92)

You can get both of these probiotics in a single supplement with Pure Encapsulations Probio Mood or Life Extension Florassist Mood.

Best Probiotics for Women (Reproductive Health)

Lactobacillus rhamnosus Gr-1 and Lactobacillus reuteri RC-14 are, currently, the best strains researchers know of for preventing bacterial vaginosis and women’s reproductive health. (93, 94, 95, 96, 97)

You can get these strains in Jarrow Formulas Fem Dophilus Probiotic Supplements.

Best Probiotics for Men (Reproductive Health)

Since one of the key reproductive benefits you can reap from probiotics as a man is improved artery health (and penile blood flow) the best probiotics here are the same as those for artery health: Lactobacillus reuteri NCIMB 30242 and Lactobacillus helveticus spp. (98, 99, 100, 101, 102)

A supplement on the market that contains one of these strains is Microbiome Plus Gastrointestinal Probiotics L Reuteri NCIMB 30242.

Unfortunately, as you’re seeing throughout this article, the Lactobacilluls helveticus strains need to be detailed in the research being done so that consumers can be sure that the strains used in their supplements are actually helping their condition.

Probiotic-Rich Foods

Not sure you’re feeling the idea of taking a full-blown probiotic supplement? You can also get probiotics from your food. In general, the foods richest in probiotics are going to be fermented foods. (103)

Humans have been making and consuming fermented foods since the development of civilization. (104) By fermenting foods, we were able to preserve our food for later consumption without it going bad.

Probiotic-rich foods include:

  • Kombucha
  • Yogurt
  • Kimchi
  • Sauerkraut (refrigerated, if you’re buying it in the supermarket)
  • Kefir
  • Miso
  • Pickles or pickled vegetables (again, refrigerated)
  • Kvass

Much of the “hype” around fermented foods these days has been in regard to their probiotic content. However, fermented foods have a whole lot more going for them than “just” probiotics.

As part of the fermentation process, fermented foods produce other beneficial compounds such as short-chain fatty acids and antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory end-products. (105) This is in addition to any vitamins, minerals, and nutrients they contain as a whole food.

Probiotic Foods vs. Supplements

To begin this section, I’ll simply say that neither is “better” than the other; really, you should be consuming both!

Fermented foods that contain probiotic cultures provide a host of benefits, including (of course) probiotic bacteria and the other beneficial compounds I just mentioned above.

Fermented foods are typically studied as a whole food rather than their specific probiotic strains or beneficial compounds, so when researchers see humans benefit from fermented food consumption, it is unclear as to whether they are responding to the probiotics or the other healthy compounds contained in the food (or both, which is the most likely scenario).

With probiotic supplements, we can be more specific in the strains we are choosing, thus conferring specific benefits. As you’ve seen throughout this article, certain strains are useful for particular conditions, so if there is something specific you’d like help with it’s usually best to take a strain that has shown to be beneficial for that condition (in addition to regularly consuming fermented food).

That said, companies are adding well-researched strains to fermented food products, so it may be possible to get the best of both worlds. For example, the Lactobacillus casei Shirota strain (found in the Yakult probiotic drink) is a highly-researched strain that is useful for many different conditions, such as dysbiosis and weight gain prevention. (106, 107)

Ideally, I like to see my clients consuming both fermented foods and probiotics for maximum benefit, especially if they have specific health complaints or family history that they’d like to address.

If you’re completely healthy and you have no health conditions that you’re looking to prevent or improve, just consuming fermented foods may be all you need. But looking at the research on specific probiotic strains, it becomes very clear to me that you gain a lot of benefit from adding probiotic supplements to your routine in addition to regular fermented food intake, especially if you’ve got a health condition or a propensity to develop a health condition.

How Often Should I Take Probiotics?

Probiotics, whether they be in supplement or food form, should be consumed on a daily basis. When you take probiotics exogenously, they don’t stick around in the gut for a long time. Because of that, it’s important that you are regularly consuming them for maximum benefit.

So include fermented foods with your meals and set a reminder to pop your probiotic pill each day!

What if I Don’t Tolerate Probiotics?

Do you feel sick when you take probiotics? Perhaps you get digestive discomfort, or maybe you get high histamine reactions like flushing or hives.

If you don’t tolerate probiotics for any reason, it’s a sign that you may have dysbiosis (imbalanced gut bacteria) that needs to be addressed.

It’s imperative that you balance your microbiome for optimal health; just taking probiotics won’t get rid of all the bad bacteria in your gut in most cases if it’s already overrun (although they do really help!).

Want to know how to tell if you have imbalanced gut bacteria? Read my article on the topic here.

Wrapping It Up

Probiotics have a host of benefits, including promoting digestive health, regulating your immune system and protecting your metabolic health.

Probiotics are safe, with a minimal chance of side effects. They are also effective, as long as you choose the right probiotic strain for the health benefit you are looking for.

Fermented foods are also a great way to get probiotics in your diet (although you lose the benefit of knowing you’re taking a strain that is specific to your health condition). For best results, eat fermented foods and take a probiotic supplement regularly.

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