Probiotics are "friendly" live bacteria and yeasts that line your digestive tract. Many people think of bacteria negatively, but probiotics are actually the opposite. Your body has a symbiotic relationship with these important microorganisms, which collectively make up your body's microbiome and help keep you healthy. "Probiotics" is an umbrella term for all the different beneficial bacteria your body relies on, and each strain or type of bacteria offers unique benefits.
What are Probiotics Benefits?
Collectively, probiotics provide vital support for Digestive health, immune health, nutrient absorption, neurological health, and emotional wellbeing. In fact, nearly 70% of your immune system is located in your digestive system and almost every system in your body relies on balanced gut health to function optimally.
These good gut bacteria also produce enzymes that encourage healthy digestion and support your body's ability to absorb nutrients. But stress, pollution, a less-than-optimal diet and other lifestyle factors can all disrupt the balance of your body's microbiome. Supplementing with probiotics can help restore that balance, replenishing the good bacteria in your gut, supporting immune system function and helping maintain total-body wellness. You can also feed the good probiotics already in your digestive tract with prebiotics, a type of fiber you can get from certain prebiotic foods or in prebiotic supplements that nourishes healthy bacteria to help it flourish
There are other parts of the body where friendly bacteria thrive as well. Certain probiotics only live in your mouth and help promote oral health. These friendly oral bacteria help balance other bacteria that may cause bad breath. Others live in your urinary tract, reproductive system and even on your skin to help keep your skin healthy, which is why probiotic skincare is increasingly available.
Probiotics are also important for targeting the individual health needs of both men and women. Lactobacilli strains have been studied for their role in supporting and maintaining vaginal and urinary tract health. Lactobacillus is also a great probiotic supplement for men to support urinary tract and bladder health. These strains may protect the urogenital tract by excreting biosurfactants that help keep tissues clean and healthy. You'll often find specific formulations of probiotics for women to support healthy bacteria. The best probiotics for men can differ greatly from the best probiotic for women, so shop wisely. You'll even find probiotics for dogs and other pets because it isn't just humans that need microbiome balance to stay healthy.
Often Paired With...
People often take prebiotics alongside probiotics due to their synergistic relationship. Prebiotics serve as fiber-rich food for good bacteria to feed on so they continue to flourish and promote digestive health. Probiotics are also often paired with digestive enzymes like lipase and lactase to promote overall gastrointestinal health and help prevent symptoms like gas, bloating and abdominal discomfort.
Ways to Get Probiotics
Probiotic supplements come in capsule, liquid, powder, tablets and chewable forms. You can also get probiotics from your diet. Foods rich in probiotics include lots of fermented options, such as kimchi, sauerkraut, pickled cucumbers, kombucha, miso, tempeh, kefir and yogurt.
How to Take Probiotics
Probiotics are measured in CFU, or colony-forming units, which is an estimate of the number of viable (live) bacterial cells in the product. There isn't a magical number of CFU that everyone should consume because individual microbiomes vary so much. It's always a good idea to see what your doctor recommends. When you're just starting out, try a probiotic with 2 to 3 billion CFU to see how your body responds before increasing your CFU. Probiotic foods and probiotic supplements are available with various CFU amounts, including 0-9 billion CFU, 10-24 billion CFU or over 25 billion CFU, but some can contain up to 66 billion CFU.
The best probiotic for you won't necessarily have the highest CFU count. It's also important to consider the specific bacteria strains included in the probiotic supplement you choose and how they support your health goals. For instance, the Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria strains are usually good starting points because they're the most common in your gut and they're highly-researched. The acidophilus probiotic strain, which you may have noticed on the label of Greek yogurt, is actually a type of Lactobacillus.
Always follow the directions on your probiotic supplement label. Some probiotics supplements are enteric-coated or designed for delayed release, which may impact how and when you should take them. Experts say the best time to take probiotics is either first thing in the morning, right before bedtime or 20 minutes after eating. Read your label for instructions specific to your product. If possible, choose the time of day you are most likely to remember to take your probiotic supplement since the benefits of probiotics are best achieved with consistent use. Most people don't experience side effects with probiotics, but the most commonly-reported complaints include a temporary increase in gas and bloating, constipation and increased thirst. These effects typically subside after a few weeks of continued use.