Why you probably
shouldn't take probiotics
Have you ever stared a a grocery store shelf overwhelmed?
You're in the health/fitness section and perhaps there's a refrigerator filled with colorful bottles of probiotics. Then, next to the fridge, there's a room temperature shelf holding rows of other probiotics. Some of these bottles might even say they have prebiotics inside as well.
How do you know which one to buy?
How many strains of bacteria is best? Which strains are good for you? How many billion CFU should it have? Does it NEED to be kept cold? Will the capsules survive your own stomach acid? Are brand names better than generic? If you take too many CFUs could it actually cause more harm than good? Should you still supplement with extra probiotics if you already eat probiotics foods like yogurt and kimchi?
These are just a few of the questions that might have crossed your mind.
Then there's the more existential question: will any of these probiotics actually do anything for me?
This blog post seeks to help you navigate these questions and decide whether probiotics are worth the money when it comes to your health.
Let's start by defining "probiotics."
It is now commonly known that a majority of the cells in your body aren’t human cells at all – there is a large percentage of bacterial cells that live in harmony with our cells. These bacteria reside both on and within our bodies, and many of them are actually essential to our overall health and wellbeing – these health-promoting microbes are called probiotics.
There are 3 basic factors we should consider before choosing a probiotic.1
- The first factor to consider is the consumption of the bacteria itself – the goal of taking probiotics is for the bacteria to influence the microflora in the intestine. It is necessary for the bacteria to be tolerant to acid and bile, as it must pass through the stomach before entering the small intestine.
- The bacteria must also have the ability to adhere to the epithelia and mucosal surface of the intestine in order to interact with resident microorganisms and influence bodily functions.
- A third important property of probiotics is antimicrobial activity against pathogens.
Types of Probiotics
There are many different strains of microbes that are commonly used as probiotics.3
And that ... may be an understatement.
Various bacteria within the Lactobacillus genus are associated with health-promoting properties. These bacteria produce enzymes that can break down hexose sugars to short chain fatty acid, which lowers the pH of the enteric environment to a level of acidity that is inhospitable to many pathogenic microorganisms.
Common Lactobacillus Strains:
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Lactobacillus johnsonii
- Lactobacillus fermentum
- Lactobacillus casei
- Lactobacillus paracasei
- Lactobacillus brevis
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus
- Lactobacillus delbrueckii
- Lactobacillus bulgaricus
- Lactobacillus plantarum
Bacteria within the Bifidobacterium genus are also commonly utilized as probiotics. These bacteria are resistant to bile salts, which allows the bacteria to generate their positive effects on health despite the harsh environment.
Common Bifidobacterium Strains:
- Bifidobacterium infantis
- Bifidobacterium animalis
- Bifidobacterium longum
- Bifidobacterium brev
- Bifidobacterium adolescentis
- Bifidobacterium bifidum
Bacteria are not the only microorganisms that can serve as probiotics3 — there are also some yeasts that benefit human health, such as within the genus Saccharomyces. Saccharomyces species have multiple mechanisms of action that can contribute to their efficacy as probiotics, including antimicrobial activity against pathogens and regulating human immune response.
What is the difference between probiotics, prebiotics, and synbiotics?
- PROBIOTICS are the "good bacteria" that reside in your body, mostly in the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract). These bacteria are nonpathogenic and serve to maintain gut health by creating an environment that is less hospitable to bad bacteria.
- PREBIOTICS are in the simplest sense, foods designed to feed the probiotics, promoting the dominance of the good bacteria in your gut while making it less viable for unwanted bacteria. Prebiotics are typically a type of fiber, which is a carbohydrate with chemical links that are not broken down by human digestive enzymes. Instead, they can be digested by probiotic bacteria and promote their growth.
- SYNBIOTICS (Prebiotic + Probiotic) are a combination of probiotics and prebiotics. This formula is carefully constructed to pair probiotics with the ideal type of prebiotic to promote the growth of probiotics, while selectively limiting the growth of other microbes.4
Health Benefits of Probiotics
Digestive & Gut Health
Both traditional Medical Doctors as well as Functional Medicine doctors and Integrative Medicine Doctors seem to be continually more attuned to the importance of the gut. They realize that the gut microbiota is an important part of overall human health.
The microbes in the gut fight off pathogens as well as metabolizing food that human cells are unable to.5 The gut microflora also can produce noninflammatory immune markers that modulate the immune system.
Ingesting probiotics to increase concentration of good bacteria such as Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli can help maintain the integrity of gut barriers and promote a healthy microbiota.
The key questions are: which probiotics? how much of them?
Weight gain or loss is determined by the calories you ingest and the calories you use. To put it simply: you gain weight if you take in more calories than what you actually need. You lose weight if your body burns off more calories than the food you eat. However, it is never quite so easy of an equation when it comes to weight management.
The reason lies in your gut. A large component of digestion occurs in the intestines, and by having a healthy digestive system that breaks down food, the body can efficiently absorb nutrients and excrete waste.6
However, there is a catch. Each person’s digestive system is a little bit different in terms of how efficiently they process the food, which means the calories from the food do not necessarily convert into the calories you absorb. In addition, the composition of your food also affects its digestibility and absorption.
The reason why a fiber-rich diet can promote weight loss is because the fiber is not turned into real calories. The fiber might also promote the growth of probiotics in your gut, that promote weight loss. Probiotics break down fiber that human cells cannot otherwise digest, releasing short chain fatty acids such as acetate, propionate and butyrate as byproducts.
These molecules can influence energy usage and can potentially reduce appetite. Other probiotics can inhibit the absorption of fats from our diet, which in turn lowers calories consumed throughout the day, tipping the scale towards weight loss.
Probiotics can also induce the release of appetite-regulating hormones such as GLP-1 and PYY, and some strains can increase the number of fat-regulating proteins like ANGPTL4.
It’s no secret that cardiovascular disease is one of the top causes of death throughout the world, but evidence suggests that probiotics may be able to improve outcomes in this realm.
Probiotics can actually lower body cholesterol levels by utilizing cholesterol particles in bacterial cells, along with bile salt hydrolase activity, to promote the excretion of deconjugated bile salts from the body.
Probiotics can also reduce the acute-inflammatory response, which in turn, can alter the severity of chronic diseases by communicating with cells in the gut. This can change glucose tolerance, lipid/cholesterol metabolism, and immune function, which all contribute to heart health.
Hypertension is incredibly common in the modern world of high calorie, low activity lifestyles. Blood pressure is considered to be elevated when blood vessels become clogged over time by plaque (fat and cholesterol) buildup and the heart has to work harder to pump blood throughout the body.7
Probiotics can assist in lowering blood pressure by managing cholesterol levels — specifically lactic acid producing bacteria that deconjugate bile salts. This inhibits reabsorption of bile into the body and promotes the excretion of bile and cholesterol, which lowers blood pressure.
Diabetes is a disease in which blood sugar becomes elevated to a level that is considered dangerous because it increases the risk of damaging other body parts such as your eyes or kidneys.
Glucose is ingested through the diet, and the pancreas secretes hormones to regulate these levels. Type I diabetes is a genetic condition in which insulin is not made and therefore the body is not signaled to take the sugar out of the blood.
Type II diabetes is more common, and creates an environment where insulin is not used as effectively to manage blood sugar levels.
One study investigated the effects of probiotics in relation to blood sugar by focusing on 80 hypertensive patients, 12 of which who were prediabetic.8
The study compared hemoglobin A1C levels both when the patient had been fasting and after eating over a period of three months. As a variable, the first group of patients were given probiotic foods, while the other group followed the regular DASH diet (The DASH diet is a dietary pattern promoted by the U.S.-based National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute to prevent and control hypertension. The DASH diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy foods).
Although all participants in this study had a reduction of blood sugar levels, those who were taking probiotics had a percent hemoglobin A1C level reduction over twice as much as those were on the DASH diet alone.
“A huge proportion of your immune system is actually in your GI tract,” says Dan Peterson, assistant professor of pathology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
“The immune system is inside your body, and the bacteria are outside your body.” And yet they interact. For example, certain cells in the lining of the gut spend their lives excreting massive quantities of antibodies into the gut.
“That’s what we’re trying to understand—what are the types of antibodies being made, and how is the body trying to control the interaction between ourselves and bacteria on the outside?”
We know the immune system is responsible for detecting foreign antigens on or within the body and eliciting a response to protect the body. However, if the immune response becomes compromised, it can lead to tissue damage and other disease. The gut microbiota plays a large role in modulating the immune system.
Probiotics ferment undigested carbohydrates and produce short chain fatty acids which lower the pH of the intestinal environment, thus reducing the growth of bad bacteria in the gut.9 They also compete against the bad bacteria for residence in the intestinal epithelium and protect the mucosal barrier, fortifying the integrity of the intestinal lining.
Cell to cell communications are also essential in the immune system as the body needs to recognize a situation and elicit the appropriate immune response. Probiotics modulate the functions of the immune cells such as dendrites, T and B lymphocytes and macrophages through influence over toll-like receptors.
With 80 percent of our immune system residing in the gut, the presense and diversity of the bacteria there, helps determine how we feel, physically and mentally.
When gut bacteria are properly in balance and your gut is happy, you have a strong population of beneficial bacteria supporting your immune system.
When your bacteria levels are out of sync, digestive issues, immune imbalance and weight fluctuations can occur, along with negative symptoms including gas, bloating, constipation and stomach upset, to sleep and mood disturbances, and food sensitivities.
There are many hormones and peptides that are excreted from the gut, such as GP-1 and gastrin, that influence kidney function and blood pressure.10
Gut hormones secreted from the enteroendocrine cells throughout the gastrointestinal tract influence digestion and gut motility, which allows the body to successfully extract nutrients and energy from food and discard waste accordingly.
By maintaining a healthy gut microflora, the body can create hormones as necessary to promote overall health.
The body has an amazing way of communicating between cells to function as a complete whole, and the microbial influence in our body from the microflora residing in our gut is no different. Cognitive functions are tasks that we are able to perform due to the effective neural connections that allow signals to flow smoothly throughout the brain and body.11
Cognitive impairment occurs when neural tissues are damaged by reactive oxidant species or inflammation that increases over time. Probiotics are thought to lower the inflammatory response as well as potentially increasing levels of antioxidant agents which can promote cognitive health.
The body is composed of trillions of cells all working symbiotically to keep one larger organism alive. Beginning at the atomic level, expanding out through the cellular level and systemic levels, there is effective communication throughout the body that both consciously and subconsciously monitors the health of the overall being.
Over time, these systems become worn from the consistent use, and we develop ailments and conditions common amongst the older generations. As a person ages, the microbial environment in the gut also adapts, which is not always beneficial to the body as a whole.11
By ingesting probiotics or prebiotics, the gut microbiome can be altered to favor beneficial bacteria once again. As a result, the whole body has a positive regulation from this output.
The neural, immune and endocrine systems are involved in a specific pathway called the gut-brain axis, allowing bidirectional communication between the gut and the brain.12
The microbes residing in the gut can produce precursor neurotransmitter molecules that travel to the brain through this pathway where the neurotransmitter is transformed into its mature, functional state.
Utilizing probiotics to maintain an environment dominated by health-promoting bacteria can increase levels of mood-boosting neurotransmitters, thus improving mood.
Memory decline is a normal part of aging and can be a result of neuroinflammation disrupting neural signals in the hippocampus, the brain structure responsible for learning and memory.13
As we age the microbial balance within our gut is overrun by pathological bacteria, resulting in a decrease of good bacteria that produce short-chain fatty acids.
Supplementing with probiotics can improve energy by creating short-chain fatty acids that increase the synthesis of glutathione, an antioxidant that can reduce neuroinflammation.
Sources of Probiotics: Food vs Supplements
In general, the most healthful method of obtaining macro and micronutrients essential is to ingest them in their natural form.
Supplements should almost always be used as "a last resort" unless your doctor tells you otherwise.
This same concept holds true when it comes to probiotics, and luckily there are a variety of foods naturally rich in probiotics, as well as foods that have been fortified with probiotics to make it easier for consumers to manage their microbiome.14,15,16
10 Food Packed with Probiotics:
- Dairy products – such as aged cheeses and yogurt
- Sauerkraut – a side dish made from fermented cabbage
- Tempeh – a popular meat substitute made from fermented soybeans
- Greek yogurt – known to be one of the healthiest yogurts, they can sometimes contain live active cultures
- Kimchi – a delicious, fermented veggie dish popular in Asian culture
- Kombucha – fermented tea that is both bubbly and good for gut health
- Green olives – full of probiotics when brined in salt water
- Miso – you’ve likely heard of miso soup, but this fermented grain can be utilized in many recipes
- Apple Cider Vinegar – a little apple (cider vinegar) a day, keeps the doctor away!
- Pickles – another salty kitchen staple that — when fermented — is an excellent source of probiotics
A common thread among many of the foods on this list is that they are fermented. Fermentation is the anaerobic metabolism of carbohydrates that certain microbes utilize for energy generation.
While it is preferred to ingest essential nutrients from natural food sources, supplements can be a great help for those who are unable to get everything they need during meals.
Supplements help by isolating the active component and packaging it in an easy-to-take capsule or pill, so that people can be healthier. Almost every vitamin and mineral can be found in supplement form, and now probiotics and prebiotics are also able to be ingested in this manner.
Probiotics in the supplemental form contain the highest concentration of good bacteria in one serving. However, absorption is not always consistent.
Who should take probiotics?
The Short Answer: It truly depends on which category you fall into, and how healthy you are right now.
- Healthy person with sufficient prebiotic intake: NO
A person with a balanced diet packed with nutritious fruits and vegetables should naturally create a healthy gut microbiome without the use of probiotics.17 As long as the diet is packed with fiber, the good bacteria already in the body will dominate due to an abundance of their preferred food source. If a person gets a sufficient level of probiotics and prebiotics from their diet, it would still be safe to ingest probiotics, however with little proven efficacy, it may be a waste of money.
- Person with gut and digestive issues: YES
Evidence suggests that probiotics can improve outcomes and decrease diarrhea, possibly through activation of the immune response or through the fortification of the mucosal membrane in the intestines.18 While the mechanism of this improved outcome is unclear, people could try to ingest probiotics and prebiotics to resolve their digestive issues.
- Person using antibiotics: YES
Antibiotics are moderately unselective, so when you must take an antibiotic for an illness, some of your good bacteria will inevitably be targeted along with the pathogen of interest. In this situation, probiotics and prebiotics could be used as a short-term solution to restore the gut microflora, but some studies suggest that taking probiotics after antibiotics may prolong the return of the normal gut microbiota.
In order to make this solution long term, it is best to eat a well-rounded diet full of nutrients and fiber.
- Person during or after traveling: YES
When you leave the routine of daily life, the diet can be drastically altered as you may be forced to prioritize convenience over health. It is often difficult to ingest enough prebiotic food during travel, leading to starvation of the good bacteria in the gut. In this situation, it is recommended to take probiotics and prebiotics to maintain the integrity of the gut microflora.
Side Effects of Probiotics
Though side-effects are rare, there are possible consequences of introducing bacterial strains into your body due to the fact that they are live organisms.19
- Potential Infection Risk
Although the absence of pathogenic qualities is necessary when selecting bacteria for probiotics, there is a small risk that ingesting probiotics can lead to infection. This risk is more severe in people with compromised immune systems and can lead to endocarditis and septicemia.
- Digestive Discomfort
In the event that too many bacteria aggregate in the small bowel — the result be diarrhea and the formation of intestinal lesions — and this mechanism is mostly due to dehydroxylation and deconjugation of bile salts, which can degrade the mucus lining of the intestines.
- Immune System
The immune system serves to fight infections using a complex biocommunication system. One protein group used as messengers in cell communication are called cytokines. Some probiotics can induce the production of cytokines, and side effects such as fever, arthritis and autoimmune disease can occur if this production is overstimulated.
The general risk of taking probiotics is low, but it is important to acknowledge the safety risks of ingesting probiotics, especially if you may be more susceptible to infection.
Do Probiotics Really Affect the Microbiota?
Though the theory is sound, it is unclear just how influential probiotics can be on the microbiota, especially when looking at healthy individuals.20
The gut microbiome and the human body exist symbiotically, both benefiting each other and assisting in the other’s survival. Each individual is different, so it is difficult to determine the causality associated with changes in the gut microbiome and disease state.
Probiotics are small in number compared to already existing resident bacteria, however if the probiotics are able to survive the journey through the acidic stomach and avoid the growth inhibition from bile salts, they are able to grow their colony and influence the entire gut microbiome to select for good bacteria rather than harmful bacteria.
Although probiotics appear to have an effect on the gut microbiota, it is difficult to determine the extent to which probiotics colonize the intestinal mucosa, and for how long. Probiotics may influence microbial colonization by competing for nutrients in the gastrointestinal tract.21
Scientists can investigate microbes in the stool before and after probiotic treatment, which can indicate probiotic survival throughout the digestive tract, but it is difficult to draw conclusions because microbial composition in the stool could be different than probiotics in the intestine.
Transient probiotic colonization throughout the intestine can be influential on gene expression and metabolic pathways. These probiotics can improve overall health by enforcing the integrity of the gut and decreasing inflammation.
Probiotics and the Treatment of Adult Gastrointestinal Disorders
Evidence suggests that probiotics can be utilized in the treatment of adult gastrointestinal disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome, infection-associated diarrhea, and ulcerative colitis.
Multiple studies suggest there may be positive effects when utilizing probiotics to treat C. difficile infections.22
In a review comparing 5 placebo-randomized controlled trials, they compared 4 probiotics: S. boulardii, L. plantarum, L. rhamnosus, and a 4-strain combination probiotic.
Participants took probiotics or placebo with an antimicrobial drug at different doses. Overall, S. boulardii may have had a positive effect on lessening and preventing reoccurrence of diarrhea.
Smaller trials with the 4-strain cocktail and L. plantarum may also have had beneficial effects, but L. rhamnosus had an increased diarrhea reoccurrence compared to placebo.
As more research is conducted, the benefits of specific probiotics will have more conclusive findings.
How to Choose the Right Probiotic for You
Ever walk into a grocery store or nutrition store and just stare at the wall of multi-colored bottles advertising everything from 10 Billion CFU to 100 Billion CFU, and 5 strains to 20 strains?
If you are deciding to try probiotics for the first time and you feel overwhelmed by the options, you are not alone. There are thousands of probiotics available today, and the market is only growing. When choosing a supplement, it is important that you make sure the product you’re buying is high quality.
Here are a few things you should consider when choosing probiotics:
There are hundreds of different bacterial species that reside within the gut microbiota alone. When choosing a probiotic there are two options: a single-strain capsule or a multi-strain capsule.23 A benefit of choosing a single-strain capsule is isolating a probiotic known to exert effects on a specific health condition. For example, probiotics containing S. boulardii are thought to reduce diarrhea in people with irritable bowel syndrome. Another benefit of utilizing a single strain is eliminating competition for resources.
Multi-strain probiotics can provide a broader range of benefits, but this is usually nonspecific. This can be a good option for someone to take daily, as it can promote health in a general sense.
- High Potency vs. Low Potency
Since bacteria are so small, they are often quantified in CFUs, or colony forming units, as opposed to counting individual microbes. This unit of measurement used to express potency in probiotics signifies the number of bacteria in a sample that is able to divide and form its own colony.
It is expected that not all bacteria in a supplement will survive the shelf life and journey to the intestines, so generally a larger quantity than clinically necessary will be included to ensure that there are enough bacteria — this can range from 1 to 100 billion CFUs per dose, depending on the type of probiotic.24 There also cannot be too many bacteria in one sample to where the resources are depleted quickly.
Overall, the potency of probiotics is less important than the quality.
- Prebiotic Ratio
Probiotics are live cultures, and like any form of life, these bacteria need nutrients to survive. Prebiotics are the food that probiotics ingest, and it is important that there are enough prebiotics to feed the probiotics in order to take full advantage of the capsule.25
If there are not enough resources, the bacteria will die. Although there is no set number of prebiotics you should take daily, most probiotics contain less than 200 mg prebiotics — whereas in reality you should get much more than that per day, even up to 3000 mg or more.
- Price Tag
Probiotics can be purchased at a range of prices, from as expensive as $100 to as cheap as $15. It is important to remember that a heavy price tag does not necessarily indicate that the product is more effective than more affordable competitors.
Instead, you should ignore the price tag and check the source of the probiotics — as long as the bacterial strains have been sourced from a quality manufacturer, such as Chr. Hansen, Dupont, DSM or UAS lab, then you can feel comfortable making the purchase.
- Delayed Release Capsules
Most probiotics are ingested orally, so the capsule must travel through the esophagus and stomach before reaching the small intestine where the largest population of gut microorganisms reside. In order to survive the acidity of the stomach, the probiotics must be contained in a capsule that remains intact until it passes into the small intestine where an increased pH stimulates the breakdown of the capsule and release of the probiotics.26
This is essential so that when the bacteria reach your intestine, they are still alive and are able to function in a manner that promotes health.
How Probiotics are Manufactured
There are multiple factors to be considered when manufacturing probiotics:
- High yield and stability
- Absence of allergens
Chr. Hansen is a top probiotic manufacturer whose products are guaranteed to be top quality. 27 Their production process is as follows:
A probiotic strain is carefully selected and screened for identification, stability and viability. The bioprocessing team then designs a protocol customized for growing and harvesting the specific strain before production is scaled.
- Production of Finished Goods
Strains are shipped for processing and tested to ensure there is the correct strain composition, potency and packaging type.
- Perfecting Probiotic Solutions
Experts will oversee the production process to ensure live cultures are maintained and that the product will be effective when reaching consumers.
How to Store Probiotics: Fridge or Shelf?
While there are general similarities amongst all bacteria, each species has unique sensitivities and tolerances to different environments. Unlike regular pharmaceuticals, probiotics contain living organisms, so it is necessary to consider where you store that bottle of supplements so that you don’t accidentally kill your good bacteria before they have even been ingested.
Many microbes used as probiotics can be killed by heat, so especially for those living in warmer climates, the microbes may not survive after sitting on the shelf.28
Refrigeration of probiotics keeps the bacteria cold, slowing down their metabolic processes and thus prolonging their lifeline. When they are ingested, the body heats up the bacteria, allowing them to grow and divide in their normal replication cycle and prepare to colonize and influence the human body.
It is important to read the label on your probiotic supplement to see if it needs to be stored in the refrigerator or if it can remain viable at room temperature. Modern technology has allowed manufacturers to modify some probiotic strains to survive at room temperature, whereas other must be stored in the cold.
Review of Probiotic Supplements
Align Probiotic Products29
Align products have been around for 20 years, providing a reliable source of probiotics. The product lists the bacterial strain B. longum and guarantees 1 billion live bacteria per CFU until the “best buy” date. They recommend storing at room temperature and have been recommended by doctors.
Garden of Life Probiotics30
Garden of Life probiotics are targeted at women to improve vaginal and urinary tract health. This is a multi-strain capsule with 50 billion microbes per CFU, including multiple Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species.
Layer Origin Nutrition Probiotics34
Layer Origin Probiotics are designed to maximize synergy between probiotic strains and HMO prebiotic content. This capsule contains a hugely beneficial number of prebiotics compared to competing brands, including 1000 mg of Human Milk Oligosaccharide – the prebiotic that allows infants to develop their immune system from scratch. This allows the 10 clinically proven strains of probiotics at 100 billion CFU per serving to ingest their favorite food and promote health. This product is stable at room temperature, and the delayed-release capsules guarantee optimal results compared to other products.
1MD probiotics contain 51 billion CFU of 11 strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species, as well as 100mg prebiotic fiber. They are a delayed release capsule that helps the probiotic reach the intestine. At over $40 per bottle, they are in firmly in the higher price range.
Trunature (Costco brand) probiotics contain 12 strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species with 10 billion viable cells. The product also contains 50 mg of prebiotics in the form of XOS. The capsules retail for under $19.00 per bottle.
UltraFlora probiotics guarantee a viable blend of Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium lactis. This probiotic aims to support gut and immune health and must be stored in the refrigerator. They are often sold via practitioners.
Why You're Probably Wasting Your Money on Probiotics
Although probiotics can be beneficial in immunocompromised patients, they likely are not as effective in the long run as eating probiotic-rich foods with fiber.
Everyone has a different gut microbiome composition, so probiotics cannot be considered a “one size fits all” solution. It is possible that upon doing further research there will be an increased development in personalized probiotics that can promote health in a way tailored to the individual, but until that happens, it is likely a waste of money to depend on commercially made products to improve gut health.
If you are already healthy, it is far more important to ingest quality prebiotics to feed the bacteria that already reside in your gut.
Which Probiotics are Mostly Useless and Can Actually Be Harmful?
Probiotics are only useful when prebiotics are also ingested.35 They can help to restore the gut microflora after taking antibiotics, but some research suggests that this can prolong the return of the normal gut microbiota.
Probiotics can also lead to infection in rare cases if the person is immunocompromised.
What to Take With Your Probiotic?
There are a variety of probiotic sources that can be ingested through our diet and supplements, but the best manner of taking probiotics is through incorporating more fruits and vegetables into your diet.36
Each time you ingest a fruit or vegetable it is covered in bacteria that are feeding off the natural fiber found in the food. This is the natural form of a synbiotic – you are intaking the probiotic and prebiotic at the same time. By eating a consistently healthy diet of fruits and vegetables, the bacteria residing on the foods can combine with the microbes already in your gut, which can alter and maintain the microbial environment, allowing the good bacteria to maintain residency in the microbiome and promote human health.
When to Take Probiotics for Highest Efficacy?
The goal of taking probiotics is to influence the gut microbiome to be filled with health-promoting bacteria. The way to do this is to take probiotics with prebiotics, so that the probiotic bacteria are able to grow and divide, having the best chance to positively influence the microflora.
Should Probiotics be Taken with Vitamins?
If you do not inherently ingest adequate amounts of probiotics and vitamins from your diet, there is no evidence that consuming vitamin and probiotic supplements at the same time will decrease or increase the efficacy of either product.37
However, just as probiotics are most effective when ingested within natural forms, vitamins are also less effective when in the supplemental form. It is recommended to stock your diet with a variety of fruits and vegetables to obtain your vitamins in a natural form for the best outcomes.
Although there are many potential health benefits to probiotics, the most important takeaway is to focus on maintaining a healthy gut microbiome. Evidence suggests that the gut microbiota influences the health of the whole body, but maintaining a balanced diet of fruits and vegetables, probiotic-filled foods and fiber, will promote health in the long run. Probiotics may be a quick fix to a poor diet, but a balanced diet is better.