Do Probiotics Really Work?

Probiotics are taking over the shelves and increasing in popularity. We're quickly finding them added to many foods and even cosmetics. A healthy amount of "good" bacteria is beneficial to our health but do probiotics really improve gut health?


Do Probiotics Really Work?

We have all heard that "gut health" impacts many things, such as our immune system, gastrointestinal disorders, and mental health. When it comes to improving our gastrointestinal health, it is often recommended to take a probiotic supplement. It is becoming as common as taking your morning multivitamin, but how much is it really helping?

What is Gut Health?

Your gut refers to your gastrointestinal system (digestive tract). Your gastrointestinal system takes the food you eat and breaks it down into nutrients that can be absorbed and used for many biological processes. A big piece of this process is the gastrointestinal environment that you have. In your gastrointestinal system, you have the microbiome. The microbiome is the healthy variety of bacteria, viruses, and fungi that help aid with digestion, fight infection, and keep unhealthy bacteria in check. Our body needs a healthy balance of microbiome to function at its best.

What is a Probiotic?

Probiotics are strains of healthy, live "good" bacteria. You can find probiotics naturally in many food sources, such as fermented foods and yogurt, as well as in supplements. Probiotic supplements are becoming increasingly popular and claim to improve gut health. Probiotic supplements have a variety of strains of bacteria and differing amounts of bacteria that claim to help support a healthy gut microbiome.

But, Do They Actually Work?

There aren't many standardized tests or studies on the efficacy of probiotics. Probiotics are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, so companies do not have to test or prove that the ingredients marketed on the bottle are what you're actually getting. There's also no evidence that probiotic supplements can survive the acidic environment of our stomachs to reach the intestines, where most of the microbiome work is done.

A healthy gastrointestinal system has trillions of different strains of bacterium, and our digestive system thrives on the variety of bacteria to keep a balanced ecosystem. Probiotic supplements contain a limited array of strains in comparison and thus may not be effective at all. Some studies have even shown that taking a probiotic supplement may reduce the diversity of your microbiome, contributing to many health problems. Maintaining a healthy diet with a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, and proteins has been shown to be the most reliable way to improve your gut health.

So, Why Take a Probiotic Supplement?

While most of the population may get enough probiotics by eating various food sources, some may benefit from taking a probiotic supplement. Research supports that those with different gastrointestinal ailments may find a reduction in symptoms with a probiotic supplement.

Benefits from a Probiotic Supplement

Those who may benefit from a probiotic supplement include those with the following:

  • Ulcerative Colitis
  • Crohn's Disease
  • IBS
  • Clostridioides difficile Infection
  • Those receiving antibiotic treatment 
  • Allergies 
  • Eczema 

If you have a gastrointestinal disorder and are considering adding a probiotic to your regimen, it's best to consult with your provider first.

Ways to Improve Your Gut Health

For the general population, it is best to improve gut health with nutrition and lifestyle choices. A diverse diet of nutrients helps contribute to the variety of bacteria in our microbiome. Fermented foods have been referred to as nature's probiotics, and many fermented food options exist, such as kimchi, sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, and kombucha.

Decreasing your intake of processed foods and artificial sweeteners will avoid disrupting the good bacterium in your body. Avoiding unnecessary antibiotics and medications will help keep your healthy microbiome intact.


What's the deal with probiotics?: Mayo Clinic Health System

Keeping your gut in check: National Institutes of Health-U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Probiotics: What you need to know: National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health-U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Six years of experience in various specialties of nursing: High-risk Antepartum, Postpartum, Neonatal, OBGYN, Medical-surgical, PACU, and Inpatient Spinal Cord Rehabilitation.

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