For most of my life, I thought of probiotics as something I’d only drink if I lost a bet. Then stress-induced irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) turned my intestinal tract into a nonstop river of shit—we’re talking weeks of everything I ate shooting straight out my butt in liquid form. The internet said probiotics were my best non-pharmaceutical bet to help my digestive system calm down, so I swallowed my pride (and my first kombucha ever) and kinda sorta saw the light. My IBS wasn’t cured, but probiotics did help me spend less time on the toilet wide-eyed with terror, and more time doing what’s really important in life—watching TV with my family.
Although most studies have shown few, if any, negative side effects, it is important to keep in mind that research on probiotics is still in a preliminary phase. There may be some risk for people who have certain health conditions. As with any supplement, it is essential that before you begin to take a probiotic supplement, that you speak with your physician first to help to ensure that you will not be putting your health at risk.
Twenty-one volunteers were given a course of antibiotics and then split into three groups. The first group were left to let the microbiome recover without any interventions, the second group were given probiotics and the third were given a fecal transplant of their own gut bacteria which was collected before the antibiotic treatment. The study found that the probiotics easily colonized the gut of the second group, but worryingly, rather than aiding the return of the normal gut microbiome, the probiotics actually significantly delayed it for months compared to both the group that had no intervention and the people who received a transplant of their own gut bacteria.
The bottom line: Stick to trusted whole food sources of probiotics if you don’t know a probiotic supplement brand you trust. “Kimchi, pickled beets, Greek yogurt and sauerkraut are great sources of probiotics. If you don’t like them, throw them into a food you do like, like a smoothie, and add your favorite fruit to help mask the flavor,” Taub-Dix says.
The large intestine is home to hundreds of trillions of bacteria. Fortunately, most are neutral or even beneficial, performing many vital body functions. For example, they help keep “bad” bacteria at bay, play a role in immunity, help us digest food and absorb nutrients and may even have anticancer effects. But will consuming them as probiotics in foods or capsules make a notable difference to your health—especially if you are already healthy? Here’s a look at the evidence.
We are clearly getting to the strain level by going beyond “Saccharomyces boulardii” and to “Saccharomyces boulardii CNCM I-745”. They did a great job by actually putting it on the label so you don’t even have to contact the company to see exactly what strain you’re getting. (P.S. this is a well-researched strain that I highly recommend, especially for preventing antibiotic-associated diarrhea.)
As with other types of supplements, scientists are still discovering the full potential of probiotics. However, when taken regularly, it is believed that they help support digestive health by helping maintain the balance of beneficial and non-beneficial bacteria in your digestive tract. Having a natural balance of good bacteria in the digestive tract can help defend against occasional digestive issues. In addition, probiotics play an important role in supporting immune health, since 70% of the body's immune system is found in the digestive tract.∗