1674572956 Gettyimages 1186803936

How probiotics can improve your gut health in 2023

You may have heard the term “gut health” is buzzing around the internet. It’s a big topic in the health world—and one thing that’s almost always part of that conversation is probiotics. Walk through any health food store or pharmacy and you’ll likely see rows of probiotic supplements that promise to improve digestion and your general health. And they’re not cheap, often costing $20 or more per bottle. In fact, the probiotic push is so high that the market is expected to reach $73.8 billion by 2024.

What are probiotics?

Simply put, probiotics contain live bacteria that are meant to help populate “good” bacteria in your gut microbiome. The idea behind probiotics is that a healthy gut microbiome can be conducive to better overall health and specific conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome or even vaginal yeast infections. But the science behind these bugs is still controversial and many studies are underway to fully understand how they work.

To shed some light on the subject, I asked gastroenterologist and gut health expert, Dr. Will Bulsiewicz, tapped to explain how probiotics work and help you figure out if they’re right for you.

What do probiotics do?

When it comes to probiotics, it’s important to understand that there are several different strains of probiotics, all of which may have different effects on your body. So while it’s hard to explain how each strain works, the concept behind the popular probiotics on the market is similar — to populate your gut with healthy bacteria.

“The theory with probiotics is that they mimic the effects of our intact microbiota. In other words, just like our healthy gut microbes, these probiotics should optimize our immune system, reduce inflammation, inhibit the growth of pathogenic bacteria, fix leaky gut set and restore intestinal barrier integrity, restore intestinal motility, even improve mood,” said Dr. Bulsiewicz said.

You can buy probiotics in supplement form, but they’re also found naturally in foods—especially foods that are fermented. Examples of probiotic-rich foods include yogurt, kefir, kombucha and sauerkraut.

Since you can get probiotics from food, you may be curious as to why you would even want to take a supplement. In addition to the convenience factor, one benefit of probiotic supplements is that you can choose products with targeted strains for certain problems with a supplement. On the other hand, if you eat fermented foods, you can still get probiotics, but you may not know exactly which strains or how many.

So if you are looking for probiotics for a specific reason (eg. IBS or constipation) then you may benefit from investigating specific bacteria that may help. For example, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG is a probiotic strain that researchers have found particularly helpful for diarrhea. Another thing to note is that probiotic supplements do not need to be approved by the FDA before being sold. Otherwise, for general benefits, eating probiotic-rich foods like yogurt every day can do the trick.

Who should or should not take probiotics?

Although technically anyone can take them, there are certain groups of people who can benefit the most from probiotics. For example, they have been studied for the potential to help with a wide variety of ailments such as diarrhea and urinary tract infections, to name just a few. And they are considered relatively safe for most people.

“Probiotics have been widely used for decades now by the general population, and the safety record has been excellent in both health and disease,” said Dr. Bulsiewicz.

fermented foods rich in probiotics

Fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kimchi are natural sources of probiotics.

Getty Images

There are also certain groups of people who may be vulnerable to problems or complications from taking probiotics, which is why you should always consult your doctor before starting any supplement, including probiotics. According to Dr. Bulsiewicz, some studies have found an increased risk of complications for people with severe acute pancreatitis who took probiotics, and some people with motility disorders have had problems with severe brain fog, gas, and bloating.

“This may sound scary, but think of the millions of people who have been taking probiotics on a daily basis for decades now, and that these possibilities are extremely rare at most. For me, the main question with probiotics is not their safety. The main question is whether the benefit of the probiotics is worth the cost, which is often $40 to $60 per month,” Dr. Bulsiewicz said.

Are probiotics worth the money?

The science on probiotics is promising, but there’s just a lot we don’t know. For example, scientists don’t know for sure which specific strains of probiotics are most helpful and how much you actually need to take to see benefits. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, there are not many in-depth or detailed studies on probiotic safety.

According to Dr. Bulsiewicz, even though probiotic use is widespread and relatively safe, he is unsure that most supplements actually do what they claim.

“The bottom line is that you want and should expect results from your probiotics. Unfortunately, many don’t get results, and are left confused and frustrated for having spent so much money. To increase the chance of success with a probiotic, you choose the strain and amount that has been proven in study to work for whatever medical condition you’re trying to address,” Dr. Bulsiewicz said.

The best way to do this is to consult with your doctor and or a dietician or nutritionist to find out which bacteria can be beneficial for you. This way you don’t waste precious time and money taking supplements may not even target the issue you hope to improve.

Questions about probiotics

Do probiotics stop diarrhea?

Yes, recent studies suggest that probiotics can help diarrhea. Research also suggests that it can help stop diarrhea one day faster.

Do Probiotics Cause Acne?

Any medication or supplements have side effects. One side effect of probiotics is acne. Research has found that probiotics can cause acne for some, but this is rare. Always talk to your doctor or dermatologist before starting probiotics.

Do probiotics help with infections?

Infections can disrupt the balance between the “good” and “bad” bacteria that live in our bodies. Probiotics can help balance these types of bacteria and in return help with some infections. For example, yeast infections are sometimes treated with probiotics. Talk to your doctor to find out if probiotics are a good option for you.

Do Probiotics Cause Bloating?

While many can take probiotics to help with gas, indigestion, and bloating, probiotics can cause an increase in these symptoms. Probiotics may cause bloating in some, but this usually goes away within a few weeks of use.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider about any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goals.

Related Posts