Probiotics are live cultures with health-promoting properties. They are added to some foods like yogurt (although not all yogurt will contain live cultures), naturally found in fermented foods like sauerkraut, or in supplements.
Gut health means you have a healthy balance of beneficial and diverse microbes in your gastrointestinal tract (called your microbiome). At a minimum, your microbiome helps your body digest food properly and absorb essential vitamins and minerals, but it also plays a role in preventing (or promoting) certain diseases, regulating mood, maintaining metabolic health, and more. 1
Gut health is complex, and whether probiotics can help depends on many variables, including your individual microbiome and the health condition you’re hoping to address.
In this article, we’ll examine the research behind these supplements and whether taking a daily probiotic makes sense for you. Book an appointment with a registered dietitian today specializing in gut health and use your insurance!
What Are Probiotics?
Probiotic supplements (or those found in food) are beneficial bacteria that mimic what’s found in your GI tract. Each person has hundreds to thousands of microbes in the gut, and the balance of these species helps keep you and your gut healthy. 2
Taking probiotics is a way to add to the population of beneficial bacteria. There are many different strains of beneficial bacteria, and each one differs in what it does. For example, one strain may be backed in research for its influence on inflammation and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), while another may support healthy immune function.2
In other words, grabbing just any probiotic off the shelf may not be enough because it may not be the right strain for your health goal.
Should I Take Probiotics Every Day?
Whether you should take probiotics every day depends on your individual needs. The research is constantly updating and changing as we learn more and more about the human microbiome and probiotics. You could spend hours each day analyzing the most recent studies.
Taking a probiotic daily may be recommended for people with specific health conditions or to support your microbiome while taking antibiotics, but you may not need it forever. Like vitamins are designed to fill a nutrient gap, probiotics can support the diversity and balance of beneficial bacteria in your microbiome.
Working with a dietitian who specializes in gut health can help you decide if a daily probiotic is right for you. It’s also important to recognize that probiotics should be a part of a holistic approach to gut health. Nutrition, sleep, movement, and stress resilience are also essential components of optimal gastrointestinal health.
Nourish offers personalized nutrition counseling and accepts most popular insurance carriers. If you are interested in getting help with your nutrition goals, consider booking a virtual appointment with a Registered Dietitian.
Benefits of Taking Probiotics Daily
With all of the above in mind, there are certain health conditions where a daily probiotic could be helpful. It would take a much longer article to list all the situations where probiotics could be beneficial, but here are a few examples:
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
IBS is characterized by abdominal pain, bloating, and altered bowel habits like constipation or diarrhea. There are many studies on IBS and probiotic use, and the specific type of probiotic needed may depend on your individual symptoms.3
For example, a meta-analysis revealed that B. coagulans effectively reduced IBS symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, and straining.4 Another study found that multi-strain probiotics could help with abdominal pain, gas, and overall symptom scores.5
Constipation unrelated to IBS can be challenging to manage, but probiotics may help. Several studies suggest that probiotics from food or supplements could alleviate symptoms. Probiotics, especially B. lactis, may reduce gut transit time (how long it takes for food to move through your body). They also can increase the frequency of bowel movements and improve consistency. 6
Antibiotics can be lifesaving, but they can also wreak havoc on your gut microbiome. Taking a probiotic during and after antibiotic use is essential to help restore the balance of beneficial bacteria. Certain probiotics, such as L. rhamnosus GG or S. Boulardii, may reduce antibiotic-associated diarrhea. 7 8
Traveler’s diarrhea is an infection caused by consuming contaminated food or water while traveling. A probiotic that includes S. boulardii, L. acidophilus, or B. bifidum could lower your risk.9
Certain strains of bacteria can support healthy pH levels in the urogenital tract to reduce the risk of yeast infection, bacterial vaginosis (BV), or urinary tract infections (UTIs). By lowering pH, these microbes, especially Lactobacillus, create an inhospitable environment for harmful bacteria.10
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
IBD is an umbrella term that includes the autoimmune conditions Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis. Probiotics, such as VSL#3, a combination probiotic, may help by addressing inflammation in the intestinal wall that contributes to symptoms like diarrhea and abdominal pain.11
Is it Safe to Take Probiotics Daily?
Most probiotics are considered safe to take daily, but it’s important to discuss any supplement use with your healthcare provider. There are cases, such as immuno-compromised individuals, where daily probiotic use may not be recommended.
It’s also important to recognize that everyone is different. What works for one person may not work for another, so don’t assume all probiotics won’t help if you’ve tried one product. It may mean you need to dig a little deeper into the research and learn what strain is best for your condition.
How to Choose a Probiotic
There are several factors to consider when choosing a probiotic:
Look for high-quality brands
Your probiotic doesn’t have to break the bank, but cheaper products aren’t always better, and you’ll lose money if they don’t work. Professional-grade products are often a smart choice, but you can also check independent reviews like Consumer Labs or ask your healthcare professional.
Choose a product that has been tested for safety and potency
Third-party testing isn’t mandatory, but many quality brands will have their products tested and verified by independent labs.
Check colony-forming units (CFUs)
CFUs are the number of bacteria in each serving. Ideally, most products should have at least 1 billion CFUs for effectiveness (although this isn’t always the case, and your dietitian can help you decide).
Be wary of proprietary blends
A proprietary blend is like a secret recipe owned by the supplement brand. It can include ingredients like herbs or botanicals, but in probiotic products, a proprietary blend may consist of several strains of bacteria that promote a specific outcome like an "immune blend" or "women's health blend."
The problem with proprietary blends is that the formulation is unavailable to the consumer (although you could always call and ask). While these can be beneficial, if you aren’t given information on the individual strains and their amounts, it’s hard to determine if they will be effective.
A Dietitian Can Help
Now that you understand that the science behind probiotics is a bit more complex than it appears, it’s normal to feel a little overwhelmed—but a dietitian can help.
A gut health registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) has the training and expertise to help you find the right probiotic for your body. They can also help you create a plan to get the most benefit from daily probiotic use that also includes other lifestyle changes to address your health concerns.
Book an appointment with a registered dietitian today with Nourish through insurance.
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