They are everywhere – on top medical websites, on Instagram, on consumer review websites, in yogurt, in weight loss packages and everywhere else. Probiotics are all the rage right now among health savvy people everywhere, and they’ve been for quite some time.
In a world where new developments in science are being made every day, probiotics or something like them were bound to become a hot topic someday. To some people though, they are not to be trusted. Maybe it’s the promise of healing some really terrible diseases or just the idea of bacteria healing diseases (instead of causing them) that makes such people raise their eyebrows.
You’ve probably raised yours too. Truthfully, we all have at some point.
In this article, we give you the low down on what probiotics are, how they work and who they work for best. We also give you tips on how to take probiotics safely and effectively for safer, better results.
Two days before completing her last dose of antibiotics, Ellen, 30, started experiencing severe diarrhoea. She initially assumed it was a result of something she’d eaten, and expected it to stop by the next day. But when the diarrhoea continued for three days, Ellen became worried.
“Nothing I consumed seemed to stick inside my stomach”, she says.
Almost as soon as I ate or drank something, it would come out. – She says.
When she visited her doctor the next weekend and explained her predicament, he didn’t seem surprised in the least.
My doctor told me that the diarrhoea I was experiencing was most likely to be the result of my recent dose of antibiotics.
She says, “He explained the effect of antibiotics on the body and it all suddenly made sense.”
The most confusing part was when her doctor prescribed probiotics to help treat her condition. Despite explaining how effective they’d been found for antibiotic associated diarrhoea in various trials, Ellen remained skeptical.
I have always known bacteria to cause disease. In fact, I’d just been taking antibiotics to stop bacteria. I didn’t understand how taking in more of them was going to treat me instead. – She says.
Her doctor had to go deeper in the explanation about good and bad bacteria, and how probiotics were the good bacteria. Later on, Ellen accepted to start on probiotics and she’s never looked back.
“My health has improved in many ways”, she says. “My diarrhoea is gone, my mood swings are gone and gut is healthier. What more could I ask for?”
In November 2015, 25 year old Mary Jo from New York visited her doctor with one of the worst conditions ever for women – a vaginal infection. What’s worse – she didn’t even know what it was exactly.
All she knew was that it itched so badly. On top of that, the pain had started to make her uncomfortable. She couldn’t go to work, attend school or host friends. A few natural remedies she found on the internet did nothing to help. She knew she had to go to a gynecologist.
She says of her ordeal, “Getting a vaginal infection from God-knows-where is embarrassing enough. Having to show it to a doctor is the most degrading thing ever.”
But she had no other option. After the usual examination, her doctor set a range of pills before her for treatment. He believed that they would be effective for her condition. A few days later, Mary Jo visited the doctor again. The meds hadn’t worked and her pain was getting worse.
This time, he asked her to try probiotics. The only problem was that he didn’t have enough research data to back up his claim.
“I still accepted to go trial and error with the doctor’s plan.”, Ellen remembers. Honestly, I was ready to take on anything that would give me relief.”
By January 2016, Mary Jo no longer had her vaginal itch. Her trial and error plan – the probiotics – had worked its magic and proven its power. Now she spends her free time recommending them to other women in her area.
Table of Contents
- 1 What are Probiotics?
- 2 How Do Probiotics Work?
- 3 How to Take Probiotics for Effective Treatment
- 4 How To Take Probiotics With Antibiotics
- 5 Should you take probiotics?
- 6 The Benefits associated with Probiotics
- 6.1 They’ve Been Found to Treat Certain Conditions
- 6.2 They Boost the Immune System
- 6.3 They Improve Feelings and Mood
- 6.4 They Help with Maintaining Body Weight
- 6.5 They Might Help with Temporary Inflammation
- 6.6 They Improve Nutrient Absorption in The Gut
- 6.7 They Can Help You Fight Bad Breath
- 6.8 They Improve Digestion and Reduce Fatigue
- 6.9 They Get You Better Skin
- 6.10 They Strengthen the Protective Barrier of The Digestive Tract
- 6.11 Probiotics May Have a Lowering Effect on Cholesterol
- 7 The Cons
- 8 Frequently Asked Questions about Probiotics
- 9 Before You Go
What are Probiotics?
Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are thought to have numerous health benefits for the body. According to the World Health Organisation(WHO), probiotics are live microorganisms which when administered in an adequate amount, confer a health benefit to the host.
Various gut diseases and bodily ailments have been found to be caused by an imbalance in the gut bacteria, especially when harmful bacteria become more in amount and variety than good bacteria. This is when additional good bacteria is needed to balance the situation. Also referred to as ‘good’ or ‘friendly’ bacteria, these probiotics are administered within the gut to stave off the harmful bacteria and rebalance microbial activity.
Probiotics come in many groups, the commonest in use being lactobacilli, bifidobacteria and saccharomyces boulardii. Under each of these groups are multiple strains (or sub-sets) of bacteria that serve different purposes for the body. Some of the commonest strains include Lactobacillus GG, Lactobacillus acidophillus, and bifidobacterium bifidus.
A lot of research has been done and is still being done on probiotic effects for the body, and they’ve been found encouraging for a number of ailments so far.
Today, you can get probiotics from just about anywhere including certain foods and packed supplements.
How Do Probiotics Work?
The body needs to have an adequate amount of good bacteria in its gut to maintain healthy systems. The numbers tend to get really low at times as a result of many factors.
Antibiotics, for example, reduce the number of good bacteria in the body after they are used for treatment, leaving the body vulnerable to pathogen attacks all over again. For the body to get back to proper health, there must an adequate supply of good bacteria.
Probiotics are created to make that possible, and they work by balancing bacterial numbers within the gut. They specifically act against harmful bacteria to reduce their numbers and leave room for good bacteria to flourish.
According to research done on the probiotic mechanisms of action and published in the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, probiotics may act against harmful bacteria in four ways.
- They may take up more of the essential nutrients in the gut, leaving less amounts for the harmful bacteria to utilize and killing them off in the process.
- They may minimize the gut colonization activity of harmful bacteria by binding themselves to more adhesion sites and leaving less space for harmful bacteria to take up.
- They may trigger the release of more cytokines from immune cells, which specifically act against harmful bacteria.
- They may kill pathogens directly by releasing bacteriocins to attack them.
Whichever way the probiotics might go, it is evident that they might have a strong effect on harmful bacteria and its reproduction, rendering them quite promising for a number of ailments.
Note: Probiotics have to be administered to the gut in adequate amounts for them to have any noticeable effect.
How to Take Probiotics for Effective Treatment
Take your probiotics every day. That’s the first rule of the game. If they’re to have any visible effect on your health, regular dosing has to happen.
There is no predefined dosage for probiotics. There are so many probiotic varieties available, with each having varying effects on the body. Still, probiotics have to be consumed in adequate amounts for them to work, so don’t lower your daily intake.
Get your probiotics from the right source
Not every yoghurt or juice brand comes with probiotics as guest ingredients. Only particular brands do, and even then, you cannot trust them completely on their word. The FDA has in the past fined manufacturers for touting their yogurts and juices as having superb health benefits (because of having probiotics) when no research has been done to confirm it.
You can get probiotics into your body by consuming naturally fermented foods such as yoghurt, some cheeses, kimchi, kefir (also known as lactobacillus milk), brine, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, and kombucha.
You can also use probiotic dietary supplements that come packed in form of pills, sachets and the like. Remember to talk to your doctor before using dietary supplements, especially if you’re already on some form of medication.
Read the label of the product you’re buying first and check for its expiration dates. If you can, choose products that are newer to the shelf. The product labelling should also display the genus and species of the probiotics in the product, plus the number of colony forming units (CFUs) present. This will give you an idea of how many probiotics you will be consuming with every intake, and should help you choose the right probiotic strain for the ailment you want to treat.
If you plan to get your probiotics from yoghurt, look for the ‘Live and Active Cultures’ seal on its packaging. The US National Yoghurt Association gives that seal to the yoghurt products and brands it finds to have sufficient numbers of bacteria present.
Look for probiotics with multiple strains of bacteria to improve your chances of healing. Different strains of bacteria offer different effects for the body. Having multiple strains in your body not only increases the bacterial varieties in your gut but also gives the probiotics more ability to defeat harmful bacteria.
If you’re using probiotic supplements, experts recommend that you add them to your drinks or foods rather than swallow them directly.
Don’t take your probiotics directly with hot foods or drinks. The heat has a damaging effect on the live bacteria. This also applies to using water for swallowing probiotic pills.
If you’re using supplements, don’t add the powder to acidic drinks such as citrus fruit drinks or acidic foods. The acid may affect the bacteria’s life and overall performance.
Once you’ve added your probiotic supplements to drinks or food, consume them immediately. Storing them will not do much for probiotic survival after they’ve been released from their original packaging.
Accompany your probiotics with foods that support their action, also known as prebiotics. Prebiotics are non-digestible components of foods that facilitate a conducive environment for probiotics to live and work in.
Prebiotics work to minimise the effect of these acids and make the gut more ideal for probiotics to operate in. Some of these foods include bananas, Jerusalem artichoke, onions, asparagus and more. Research also shows that taking probiotics along with prebiotics such as healthy fats aids in their transportation within the gut.
Always follow the storage guidelines displayed on the product or supplements packaging. Some probiotics require packaging in air tight containers while others have to be kept in refrigerators before use.
Don’t lose your patience or expect overnight improvement in your condition. Wait for the probiotics to work on their own. Remember, probiotics are live organisms that have to grow, feed, develop and die after some time too. Just make sure you take enough with each dosage, and then wait to see the effect take shape.
How To Take Probiotics With Antibiotics
If you are already using antibiotics, using probiotics may or may not be harmful to you. In some cases, and for some ailments, the combination of antibiotics and probiotics is recommended.
Still, it might not work for your case. Talk to your doctor before combining probiotics with an existing dosage of antibiotics.
Taking probiotics with other medicines or forms of treatment
Some drugs such as antifungals are not recommended to use alongside certain probiotics such as saccharomyces boulardii, courtesy of their negative effect on the yeast in the probiotics.
Probiotics may also interact with immunosuppressive drugs, resulting in unnecessary side effects.
Should you take probiotics?
Oh yes you should! We know that after hearing all this positive information about probiotics, you must be asking yourself, “should I take probiotics instead?” And all we can say is, yes, you should.
Probiotics have been found to be helpful for the body in more ways than one. Our daily health depends largely on our guts’ existing microbial composition, with a good balance between good and bad bacteria being essential. Our lifestyles alone facilitate the growth of harmful bacteria in the gut, in addition to all those medications that can’t seem to leave good bacteria in peace. (looking at you, antibiotics!)
For the most part, most of our bodily illnesses result from having a higher concentration of bad bacteria in the gut than good bacteria. This highlights the need for consuming more good bacteria, if only to supplement the body’s efforts.
The Benefits associated with Probiotics
They’ve Been Found to Treat Certain Conditions
Some probiotic strains have been found, in various clinical trials and research programs, to have a healing effect on a number of ailments.
Ailments such as antibiotic associated diarrhoea, infectious bacteria, ulcerative colitis and lactose intolerance are some of the diseases for which probiotics have been found to be partly effective.
Others include irritable bowel disease, vaginal infections and inflammatory bowel disease.
For eczema and some allergies, the effect of probiotics has not been confirmed by researchers yet. Some patients have seen improvements in their conditions after using probiotics though.
Note: Different strains have different effects for diseases; where one strain may be effective, another may have no effect.
They Boost the Immune System
You’ve probably heard people say they are taking probiotics to boost their immune system. Well, whatever you’ve heard is true. Because of their regulation effect on the immune system’s cytokines and their ability to inhibit the development of harmful bacteria, probiotics can be a very effective immune system booster. You know what else that means for you and your body? Less chances of contracting the disease in the future.
They Improve Feelings and Mood
An unhealthy gut results in disease and a whole lot of bad emotions. But here’s the good news: serotonin, the chemical is known for triggering happiness and good feelings is largely manufactured by good gut bacteria. Just take the right strain of probiotic and you’ll be on your way to a better mood.
They Help with Maintaining Body Weight
Probiotics have been shown to have an effect on body weight loss too. A study done on a number of women showed that those that took probiotics every day for a number of weeks lost weight faster than those that didn’t.
They Might Help with Temporary Inflammation
If you are wondering whether probiotics might do for those inflammations on your skin, there is good news in store for you. Research published in the Gut Microbes journal showed particular probiotics to be effective at relieving temporary inflammation after an 8 week period.
They Improve Nutrient Absorption in The Gut
When an accumulation of bad bacteria occurs in the gut, the absorption of essential nutrients may be affected during digestion. The result? Nutrient deficiencies and poor health. Probiotics help alleviate this situation by inhibiting the action of harmful bacteria, which indirectly improves the absorption of the essential nutrients our bodies need.
They Can Help You Fight Bad Breath
If you still ask yourself why your bad breath won’t go away, blame the bad bacteria piling up in your gut. In addition to factors such as poor hygiene, bad bacteria are another major cause of bad breath in most people today. Probiotics help minimise their activity and their number, dealing with bad breath in the process.
They Improve Digestion and Reduce Fatigue
In addition to all the other benefits probiotics may have for the gut, they also facilitate better digestion of food in the long run. What’s more – their effect on digestion also reduces the excessive fatigue that usually results from poor digestion.
They Get You Better Skin
This should have come first! Probiotic supplements are highly recommended for people suffering from rough skin. An unhealthy gut will always display its effects on the skin in form of rashes pimples and more. Taking probiotics helps to balance the good bacteria that help with this situation.
They Strengthen the Protective Barrier of The Digestive Tract
If you’ve heard of fungemia (the result of fungus getting into the bloodstream from the gut) and bacteremia (the result of bacteria seeping through the gut into the blood stream), you know how damaging they can be to health. Bad bacteria continuously weakens your digestive tract, making it vulnerable to such ailments.
Probiotics May Have a Lowering Effect on Cholesterol
Bad cholesterol is not only bad for your weight; it also poses a risk for your blood pressure levels. You need proper balance between good and bad bacteria within your gut to avoid this situation, and probiotics are the best way to start.
Probiotics are not regulated by the FDA for medicinal use. They could be good or bad for use. In other words, you don’t have that background protection offered by the ‘FDA approved’ stamp on a product.
Probiotics tend to be expensive in the long run. If you are treating your ailment on a budget, the best probiotics may be hard to get access to.
Even though probiotics have to be alive during administration to the gut, it’s hard to confirm whether they can always stay alive long enough before getting into the gut.
Their low ability to survive within the intestinal ecosystem and all its existing stomach juices long enough to fight pathogens tends to affect their performance.
Most research backing the effectiveness of probiotics for body health is currently inconclusive. This means that some strains of bacteria commonly used as probiotics may have limited or no benefits at all for your body health.
Taking probiotics may result in bacteria-host interactions that are harmful to health
Probiotics can have mild to severe side effects on your health.
Frequently Asked Questions about Probiotics
Use CTRL+F (Win) or CMD+F (Mac) to search for topics, we have covered all the most commonly asked questions about probiotics in these FAQs. If we missed something out, let us know via the comments section and we will keep updating this list.
Can you take too many probiotics?
Yes, you can. You can overdose on antibiotics especially if you take them when in good health. You can know if you’ve overdosed when you experience bloating and gas. If you have an ailment, over dosing may not happen.
What is the best time to take probiotics?
The best time to take probiotics is right after a meal, 30 minutes max. The strong acids that make up the gut limit probiotic action the moment they are consumed. Taking the probiotics after eating food provides a buffer for the probiotics against the acids, enabling them to fulfill their functions better.
What are the best probiotic foods?
If you are planning to take probiotics from natural foods, some of the best probiotic foods to consider include kimchi, some cheeses, sauerkraut and some yoghurts. You can also consider probiotic supplements, which you can add to foods before eating.
How long does it take for probiotics to work?
The duration of time taken before probiotics can have any effect on your body depends on a number of factors including existing gut conditions, a number of bacteria in your daily intake, the development process of bacteria and more. Probiotics are living organisms that go through development processes and require certain conditions (food water, nutrients etc.) to develop. If these factors are unavailable, their functioning may be hampered, and that affects how quickly any healing work may be done.
Who cannot take probiotics?
Anyone undergoing chemotherapy or organ transplantation should not use probiotics. Their immune systems have already been weakened by their treatment, and probiotics may only aggravate their health further. The same applies to individuals with gastrointestinal tract issues and those having abnormal heart valves.
When to take probiotics in pregnancy
You can take probiotics during pregnancy at any time. Probiotics are perfectly okay to take during pregnancy and haven’t been found to correlate with any pregnancy malfunctions, miscarriages, low birth weight or C-section. Go on and take your probiotics; they also have benefits for your body.
Before You Go
Probiotics are here to stay. Despite inconclusive research results from various researchers about their effectiveness for some bodily ailments, probiotics have still been found good for treating a number of others.
To be sure whether probiotics are the right option for your health, talk to your doctor first. He/she should be able to confirm whether a certain strain of probiotic might offer some form of relief.
For a healthier body and stronger immune system, we recommend probiotics any day. Just make sure you follow the guidelines above on how to take probiotics safely.