Your body contains over 100 trillion microorganisms – and many of those microbes are bacteria. Some bacteria are bad, which your body fights off, while other bacteria are beneficial. Those good bacteria are known as probiotics, and they’re crucial for your health.
You’ve probably heard that probiotics are good, but if you’ve ever wondered, “how do probiotics work, exactly?” we’ll cover what you need to know. Let’s look at what probiotics are, how they benefit your body, and different ways you can take them.
Probiotic Meaning: Good Bacteria 101
Probiotics are yeasts and good bacteria found in your body, especially in your gut (aka your digestive system).
There are many types of probiotic bacteria, and each can have different uses. Some of the most well-known include:
- Acidophilus: Supports digestion, assimilation, and elimination of food.
- Lactobacillus: Found in fermented foods like yogurt. Can help those who have trouble digesting milk products or suffering with diarrhea.
- Bifidobacterium: Found in some dairy products and sometimes used for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms.
- Saccharomyces boulardii: A yeast in probiotics that may help fight digestive issues like diarrhea.
These bacteria help keep you healthy in several ways.
How Do Probiotics Work to Support Your Body?
While researchers don’t know exactly how probiotics work, we know they support your gut health and keep you healthy by:
- Maintaining a proper balance of bad and good bacteria, so your body continues working properly
- Supporting healthy digestion, a healthy weight, and stomach issues like constipation
- Influencing nerves that control digestion to help move food through your gut
- Replacing any good bacteria that’s lost in your body, such as from stress or taking antibiotic medications
- Nourishing the gut for conditions like inflammatory bowel disease, IBS, and diarrhea caused by antibiotics or infection. Some people even use them for skin issues, allergies, and oral, urinary, or reproductive health.
Now that we’ve looked at how probiotics work in the body, here are some ways to add them to your daily life.
Types of Probiotics and Probiotics Foods
You can get probiotics from supplements or from naturally fermented foods.
Probiotic supplements come in capsule, powder, tablet, and even liquid form, but capsules are the most common.
When choosing a probiotic supplement, get as much information as possible. Look on the label or the company website for:
- How many organisms it contains, and a “use-by” date
- The probiotic’s genus, species, and strain
- The recommended dose
- Contact information for the company that distributes the probiotic
- Studies that back up claims for the probiotic
Probiotics foods include:
- Fermented vegetables like sauerkraut, kimchi, and high-quality pickles
- Dairy products like yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, and some soft cheeses (make sure it’s labeled as containing live or active cultures)
- Fermented soy products like tempeh, miso, and natto
- Kombucha, a fermented black or green tea
The Bottom Line
Generally, probiotics are safe for most people to take. But talk with your doctor before starting them to make sure they’re right for you. Probiotics side effects can occur in some people, such as mild gas, bloating, or stomach upset, but those typically subside after a few days.
Good bacteria are important for a healthy gut, healthy body, and overall healthy lifestyle. Probiotics coupled with a healthy diet, regular exercise, and stress management is a great way to support optimal physical and emotional wellness.