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Should You Take Probiotics? Get the Facts Here!

by Sarbjeet Singh 24 Apr 2024
Should You Take Probiotics? Get the Facts Here!

Understanding Probiotics: What You Need to Know

The World of Bacteria

Did you know that the bacteria inside your body outnumber your own cells? Recent studies suggest that the ratio might be closer to equal, but it's still a staggering amount. Whether it's 10-to-1 or 1-to-1, you host a vast community of bacteria, ranging from 39 to 300 trillion in number [1,2].

Your Gut: A Bacterial Haven

Most of these bacteria call your gut home, and while the majority are harmless, some are beneficial, while a few can cause illness [3].

The Power of Good Bacteria

Having the right balance of gut bacteria is crucial for your health. It's been associated with a myriad of benefits, including:

  1. Weight Loss
  2. Improved Digestion
  3. Enhanced Immune Function
  4. Healthier Skin
  5. Reduced Risk of Diseases [4,5].

Introducing Probiotics

Probiotics are a special type of friendly bacteria that offer health advantages when consumed. They are often available as supplements, designed to populate your gut with beneficial microorganisms.

Exploring the Benefits

This article explores the many potential health benefits of probiotics, helping you understand how they can contribute to your overall well-being.

  1. Bacteria
  2. BioRxiv: Bacterial Ratios
  3. PMC: Gut Bacteria
  4. MDPI: Health Benefits
  5. USM: Gut Health


Understanding Probiotics: What Are They?

Definition and Benefits

Probiotics are living microorganisms that offer health advantages when consumed [1]. However, the scientific community often debates the specific benefits and strains responsible for these benefits [2].

Types and Sources

Probiotics typically consist of bacteria, but certain yeasts can also function as probiotics. Additionally, other microorganisms in the gut, such as viruses, fungi, archaea, and helminths, are under study [3].

Getting Probiotics

You can obtain probiotics from supplements or foods prepared through bacterial fermentation. Probiotic-rich foods include yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh, and kimchi [4].

Probiotics vs. Prebiotics

Probiotics should not be confused with prebiotics, which are carbohydrates—often dietary fibers—that nourish the friendly bacteria already in your gut [5]. Products containing both are known as synbiotics [6].

Common Probiotic Bacteria

The most common probiotic bacteria include Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria. Other common types are Saccharomyces, Streptococcus, Enterococcus, Escherichia, and Bacillus [7].

Choosing the Right Probiotic

Different probiotics address various health conditions. Hence, selecting the suitable type or types is crucial. Some supplements combine different species, known as broad-spectrum or multi-probiotics [8].

Research and Caution

While evidence on probiotic benefits is promising, more research is needed. Some researchers caution about potential negative effects and advocate for stringent regulation [9].


In essence, probiotics are living microorganisms that promote health when consumed adequately. They come in various types and can be obtained from both foods and supplements.


  1. Nature Reviews Gastroenterology & Hepatology: Probiotics
  2. Taylor & Francis Online: Debates on Benefits
  3. Microorganisms: Types and Sources
  4. Nutrients: Probiotic-rich Foods
  5. Nature Reviews Gastroenterology & Hepatology: Probiotics vs. Prebiotics
  6. World Gastroenterology Organization: Synbiotics
  7. Microorganisms: Common Probiotic Bacteria
  8. Microorganisms: Choosing the Right Probiotic
  9. Microorganisms: Research and Caution, Potential Negative Effects


Importance of Gut Microorganisms

The gut microbiota, a diverse community of microorganisms residing in the gastrointestinal tract, is instrumental in maintaining overall health and well-being. Here's a breakdown of its significance:

Understanding Gut Microorganisms

  • Definition: The gut microbiota encompasses bacteria, viruses, fungi, archaea, and helminths, with bacteria being the predominant members.1, 2

  • Diversity: Approximately 300–500 bacterial species inhabit the gut, primarily concentrated in the colon.3

  • "Forgotten Organ": The metabolic activities of gut flora resemble those of an organ, leading to its characterization as the "forgotten organ" by some scientists.4

Health Functions of Gut Flora

  • Vitamin Synthesis: Gut flora manufactures essential vitamins such as K and certain B vitamins.5

  • Metabolic Processes: It metabolizes dietary fibers into short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) like butyrate, propionate, and acetate, crucial for gut wall nourishment and metabolic functions.6, 7

  • Immune Support: SCFAs stimulate the immune system and fortify the gut wall, aiding in preventing the entry of harmful substances and subsequent immune responses.8, 9

Link to Disease

  • Impact of Diet: Unbalanced gut flora is associated with various diseases, including obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, colorectal cancer, Alzheimer's, and depression.10, 11

  • Research Studies: Numerous studies have underscored the link between unbalanced gut flora and the onset of these diseases.12, 13, 14, 15

Maintaining Balance

  • Role of Probiotics and Prebiotics: Probiotics and prebiotic fibers play a vital role in restoring the balance of gut flora, ensuring optimal functioning.16


The gut flora, comprising diverse microorganisms, plays a critical role in various bodily functions. Maintaining a healthy balance of gut microorganisms is essential for overall health and well-being.

Impact on Digestive Health

Probiotics, extensively studied for their effects on digestive health, offer potential solutions to various gastrointestinal issues.

  1. Antibiotic-Associated Diarrhea (AAD):

    • Probiotic supplements have shown promise in alleviating AAD, which often occurs due to the disruption of natural gut bacteria caused by antibiotics [1].
  2. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS):

    • Probiotics may aid in managing IBS symptoms such as gas, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea. While research outcomes vary, multi-strain probiotic supplements, particularly when taken for extended periods, appear to offer the most significant improvements [2,3].
  3. Challenges and Questions:

    • Despite positive findings, uncertainties persist regarding the optimal probiotic treatment for IBS. Questions regarding symptom improvement, effective probiotic strains, dosages, durations, and variations across IBS types remain unanswered [4].
  4. Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD):

    • Preliminary studies suggest potential benefits of probiotics in managing inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. However, further research is necessary to confirm their efficacy [5].
  5. Helicobacter pylori Infections:

    • Probiotics have been investigated for their potential to combat Helicobacter pylori infections, implicated in ulcers and stomach cancer. While early findings are promising, additional research is required for definitive conclusions [6,7,8].
  6. Considerations and Consultation:

    • If experiencing persistent digestive issues, considering probiotic supplementation under healthcare provider guidance is advisable [9].


Probiotics offer potential benefits for managing various digestive problems, including antibiotic-associated diarrhea, IBS, and possibly inflammatory bowel diseases. While promising, further research is needed to refine treatment protocols and confirm efficacy.


  1. BC Journal - Probiotics and AAD
  2. PMC - Probiotics for IBS
  3. MDPI - Probiotics and IBS
  4. Journal of Infection - Unanswered Questions
  5. - Probiotics for IBS
  6. PubMed - Probiotics and IBD
  7. PubMed - Probiotics and H. pylori
  8. PubMed - Probiotics and H. pylori
  9. PubMed - Probiotics Consultation


Impact on Weight Loss

Research suggests a correlation between gut bacteria composition and obesity, indicating the potential influence of gut microbes on body weight.

  1. Gut Bacteria and Obesity:

    • Studies indicate variations in gut bacteria between individuals with obesity and those who are lean, highlighting the role of gut microbes in weight regulation [1].
    • Microbial changes in the gut during infancy and adulthood are linked to the development of obesity [2].
  2. Role of Gut Bacteria:

    • Many researchers assert the significance of gut bacteria in determining body weight, underscoring its potential as a weight management factor [3].
  3. Probiotics and Weight Loss:

    • Certain probiotic strains show promise in aiding weight loss, although further investigation is warranted [4].
    • Studies caution against premature conclusions, emphasizing the need for more comprehensive research due to existing uncertainties [5].
  4. Considerations for Probiotic Use:

    • Important considerations include determining the specific probiotic strains, appropriate dosage and treatment duration, long-term effects, and individual factors such as age, gender, health status, and lifestyle [6].
  5. Research Findings:

    • In a study involving participants with central obesity, daily intake of Lactobacillus gasseri led to a significant reduction in belly fat over 12 weeks. However, cessation of probiotic use resulted in fat regain within a short timeframe [7].
    • Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Bifidobacterium lactis are also suggested to support weight loss, although further research is essential to validate these findings [8].


While further research is required to elucidate the mechanisms and optimize probiotic interventions, preliminary evidence suggests that certain probiotic strains may contribute to weight loss efforts.


  1. PMC - Gut Bacteria and Obesity
  2. MDPI - Gut Microbes and Obesity
  3. PubMed - Gut Bacteria and Body Weight
  4. MDPI - Probiotics and Weight Loss
  5. MDPI - Uncertainties in Probiotic Use
  6. PubMed - Considerations for Probiotic Use
  7. PubMed - Study on Lactobacillus gasseri
  8. PubMed - Probiotic Strains for Weight Loss


The Rise of Psychobiotics

  1. Understanding the Gut-Brain Axis:

    • Recent research has uncovered the interconnectedness between the gut and the brain through a system known as the gut-brain axis, which links the central and enteric nervous systems, the latter governing digestion [1].
  2. Introduction to Psychobiotics:

    • Certain microbes residing in the gut have been identified as influential in affecting brain function through the gut-brain axis, leading to the emergence of the field of "psychobiotics" [2, 3].
  3. Applications in Cognitive and Neurological Disorders:

    • Psychobiotics show potential in the treatment of cognitive and neurological disorders, including autism, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease [4].
  4. Ongoing Research:

    • Current research is focused on identifying the specific microbes involved in psychobiotic effects and understanding their mechanisms of interaction with the brain [5].
  5. Potential Alternatives to Psychotropic Drugs:

    • Some researchers propose that supplementing with certain strains of probiotics could be an alternative to psychotropic drugs for managing mental stress, loneliness, and grief, particularly during events like the COVID-19 pandemic [6].


Early investigations into psychobiotics offer hope for their potential to alleviate cognitive and neurological disorders, signaling a promising avenue for future research and therapeutic interventions.


  1. American Heart Association - Gut-Brain Axis
  2. PubMed - Introduction to Psychobiotics
  3. Journal of Food and Drug Analysis - Psychobiotics Research
  4. Cell - Psychobiotics in Cognitive Disorders
  5. PubMed Central - Ongoing Research on Psychobiotics
  6. PubMed - Alternative to Psychotropic Drugs


Other Health Benefits of Probiotics

  1. Inflammation Reduction:

    • Probiotics have been found to reduce systemic inflammation, which is linked to many chronic diseases [1].
  2. Mental Health Improvement:

    • Certain probiotic strains, such as Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterium longum, have demonstrated effectiveness in reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety, particularly in individuals with clinical depression [2].
  3. Cholesterol Management:

    • Several probiotics show promise in lowering total and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, although further research is needed to clarify their effectiveness [3].
  4. Blood Pressure Regulation:

    • Probiotics may lead to modest reductions in blood pressure, potentially contributing to cardiovascular health [4].
  5. Enhanced Immune Function:

    • Specific probiotic strains have been associated with improved immune function, which may lower the risk of infections, including the common cold [5, 6].
  6. Skin Health Promotion:

    • Probiotics have shown potential in managing skin conditions like acne, rosacea, and eczema, indicating a possible role in skin health maintenance [7].
  7. Anti-aging Potential:

    • Limited evidence suggests that probiotics could contribute to anti-aging effects by enhancing cellular replication, although further research is required to substantiate these claims [8].

These findings represent only a fraction of the potential health benefits attributed to probiotics, with ongoing research uncovering additional therapeutic effects.


In addition to their established benefits in weight loss, digestion, and neurological disorders, probiotics offer a range of potential advantages, including improved heart health, enhanced immune function, and alleviation of depression and anxiety symptoms.


  1. FFHD - Inflammation Reduction
  2. ScienceDirect - Mental Health Improvement
  3. MDPI - Cholesterol Management
  4. PubMed - Blood Pressure Regulation
  5. PubMed - Enhanced Immune Function
  6. Taylor & Francis - Immune Function Enhancement
  7. MDPI - Skin Health Promotion
  8. Innovare Journals - Anti-aging Potential


COVID-19 and Probiotics: Exploring Potential Strategies

The emergence of the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, has led researchers to investigate potential strategies for fighting and treating the infection. Probiotic supplementation and dietary interventions targeting the gut microbiome have been proposed as one such strategy, with preliminary research suggesting several possible mechanisms:

  1. Immune Modulation and Inflammation Control:

    • COVID-19 is associated with a dysregulated immune response characterized by a cytokine storm, leading to excessive inflammation and tissue damage. Probiotics have shown promise in modulating immune function and reducing inflammation, potentially mitigating the cytokine storm and promoting recovery [1].
  2. Gastrointestinal Symptom Management:

    • Gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhea, nausea, and abdominal pain, have been reported in COVID-19 patients. Probiotics may help alleviate these symptoms and support gastrointestinal health during infection [2].
  3. ACE Receptor Blockade:

    • Probiotics may interfere with the entry of SARS-CoV-2 into gastrointestinal cells by blocking angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) receptors. This could potentially reduce viral replication and prevent infection [3].
  4. Gut-Lung Axis Regulation:

    • The gut-lung axis represents a communication pathway between the gut microbiome and the lungs. Imbalances in gut flora are linked to respiratory diseases, suggesting that optimizing gut health through probiotic supplementation may bolster lung function and enhance resistance to respiratory infections like COVID-19 [4].

However, it's important to note that these hypotheses are still in the early stages of research, and further studies, including clinical trials, are needed to validate their efficacy and safety. Additionally, not all probiotic strains may exert the same effects, and the ability of probiotic supplementation to sufficiently alter the gut microbiome to combat COVID-19 remains uncertain [5].


Current research suggests that enhancing the gut microbiome with probiotic supplementation and dietary interventions may hold promise as a complementary approach to treating COVID-19. However, extensive data collection and rigorous clinical trials are essential to confirm these hypotheses and establish the effectiveness of probiotics in combating the SARS-CoV-2 infection.


  1. PMC - Immune Modulation and Inflammation Control
  2. Gastro - Gastrointestinal Symptom Management
  3. Nature - ACE Receptor Blockade
  4. Frontiers - Gut-Lung Axis Regulation
  5. BMC - Uncertainty Regarding Probiotic Efficacy


Safety and Side Effects of Probiotics

Probiotics are generally regarded as safe and well-tolerated by most individuals. However, it's essential to exercise caution and be aware of potential risks, especially when selecting and consuming probiotic products.

Choosing Probiotics Wisely

  1. Regulatory Variations:

    • Regulations regarding probiotics vary significantly across different countries. In the United States, probiotics are sold as food ingredients, drugs, or dietary supplements, each subject to different regulatory frameworks. It's crucial to be mindful of these differences and exercise caution when selecting products [1].
  2. Quality and Claims:

    • With the increasing popularity of probiotics, some companies may make unsubstantiated claims about their products' benefits. It's essential to look for reputable companies that adhere to best practices, such as third-party testing, to ensure product quality and efficacy [2].
  3. Consulting Healthcare Providers:

    • Seeking guidance from healthcare providers can help in making informed decisions about probiotic supplementation. They can recommend safe and effective products based on individual health needs and considerations [3].

Probiotic Side Effects

  1. Digestive Symptoms:

    • Common side effects of probiotic supplementation, particularly in the initial days, may include mild digestive issues such as gas and abdominal discomfort. However, these symptoms typically resolve as the body adjusts to the probiotics [4].
  2. Risk for Certain Populations:

    • Individuals with compromised immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS or other immunodeficiency conditions, should exercise caution when taking probiotics. Probiotic supplements may pose a risk of dangerous infections in these populations [5].


Probiotic supplements offer potential health benefits, but it's essential to be mindful of safety considerations. Digestive symptoms may occur initially but often resolve with continued use. However, individuals with underlying medical conditions should consult healthcare providers before initiating probiotic supplementation to ensure safety and suitability.


  1. NCCIH - Regulatory Variations
  2. ScienceDirect - Quality and Claims
  3. Cleveland Clinic - Digestive Symptoms
  4. Taylor & Francis Online - Risk for Certain Populations


Challenges in Probiotic Research

Probiotic research has made significant strides in understanding the impact of gut microbiota on human health. However, researchers face several challenges in unraveling the complexities of probiotics and their effects on the human body.

Identification of Gut Microbiota

  1. Incomplete Knowledge:

    • Despite extensive research, scientists have yet to identify all individual microbial species residing in the human gut. Understanding the full spectrum of gut microbes is essential for elucidating their roles in human health. 1
  2. Advancements in Identification:

    • Recent breakthroughs, such as the discovery of nearly 2,000 previously unknown gut bacterial species, represent progress in categorizing the diverse microbial population in the human gut.

Association with Health Effects

  1. Complex Associations:

    • Associating microbial species, subspecies, and strains with their specific effects on human health poses a significant challenge. The interplay between gut microbes and health outcomes is intricate and multifaceted.
  2. Conflicting Results:

    • Despite numerous studies assessing probiotic benefits for various health conditions, conflicting results are common. Inconsistent methodologies and data analysis techniques contribute to contradictory research findings. 2, 3

Standardization of Research

  1. Methodological Variability:

    • Variations in processing and analyzing probiotics data worldwide lead to inconsistencies in research outcomes. Standardizing research methodologies is crucial for generating reliable and comparable results. 4
  2. Diverse Microbial Landscape:

    • The human gut microbiome exhibits vast diversity among individuals and populations. Standardizing research approaches becomes challenging due to variations in microbial composition and environmental factors.

Overcoming Challenges

  1. Advancements in Metagenomics:

    • Computational analysis of microbial genomes (metagenomics) enables researchers to tackle the complex task of characterizing and understanding the gut microbiome.
  2. Integration of Evidence:

    • Researchers must synthesize a plethora of conflicting evidence from numerous studies to develop clear therapeutic recommendations for probiotic use. Standardizing research practices and data interpretation is crucial for this endeavor. 5


Researchers are challenged with identifying all the microbiota in the vast and changing microbiome of the human gut. They also need to establish a system for standardizing research results to develop clear therapeutic recommendations for probiotic uses.

Probiotics: Not a Gut-Health Cure-All

While probiotic supplements can be a helpful addition, they're not a magic bullet for gut health. Your daily diet and exercise play a major role in nurturing the good bacteria in your gut.

That said, probiotics offer potential benefits with minimal downsides. If you're interested in boosting your gut health, they're worth considering.

Talk to your doctor first to ensure you choose the right strains and dosage to avoid any side effects.

Curious if probiotics can help with a specific condition? The World Gastroenterology Organization Global Guidelines offer recommendations for probiotics, conditions, and dosages .

Start slow and choose wisely. Always opt for reputable brands and consult your doctor for personalized advice.



The information provided in this blog is for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

The content presented here reflects the opinions of the authors and contributors and does not necessarily represent the views of any affiliated organizations or institutions. We make no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, about the completeness, accuracy, reliability, suitability, or availability of the information contained in this blog for any purpose.

Any reliance you place on such information is therefore strictly at your own risk. In no event will we be liable for any loss or damage arising from the use of this blog or the information provided herein.

Additionally, we do not endorse any specific products, treatments, or procedures mentioned in this blog. Mention of products or services does not constitute endorsement.

The inclusion of links to external websites does not imply endorsement or approval of the content, opinions, products, services, or information offered at those sites.

We encourage readers to conduct their own research and consult with healthcare professionals before making any healthcare decisions.

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