What Are Probiotics and How Do They Work?

Table of Contents show

What Are Probiotics and How Do They Work?

So you’ve probably heard about probiotics, but do you really know what they are? Well, let me break it down for you. Probiotics and types of probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are good for your health, especially your digestive system.

They can be found in certain foods and supplements, and are often referred to as “friendly” or “good” bacteria. These microscopic organisms work to balance the natural bacteria in your gut and help keep your digestive system functioning smoothly.

But that’s not all they do! Probiotics have also been linked to other potential health benefits, like boosting your immune system and improving mental health. Sounds pretty cool, right? Let’s dive deeper into the world of probiotics and explore all the wonderful things they can do for you.

Health Benefits of Probiotics

Improving Digestive Health

Probiotics, also known as “good bacteria,” are living microorganisms that can provide numerous health benefits when consumed in adequate amounts. One of the key advantages of probiotics is their ability to improve digestive health. These beneficial bacteria help maintain a healthy balance of microflora in the gut, preventing the overgrowth of harmful bacteria that can lead to digestive issues. By promoting a diverse and balanced gut microbiome, probiotics aid in the digestion and absorption of nutrients, reducing the occurrence of bloating, gas, and constipation.

“Considering the impact of probiotics on digestive health and immunity is crucial for making informed decisions about health nutrition.”

Boosting Immune System

An impressive advantage of probiotics is their ability to strengthen the immune system. Research has shown that certain strains of probiotics, such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, can enhance the production of immune cells and improve the body’s defense against infections. By modulating the immune response, probiotics help reduce the risk of respiratory infections, allergies, and autoimmune diseases. Additionally, probiotics have been found to stimulate the production of antibodies, providing an additional layer of protection against harmful pathogens.

Preventing and Treating Diarrhea

Probiotics have been extensively studied for their role in preventing and treating diarrhea, a condition characterized by loose or watery stools. Antibiotic-associated diarrhea is a common side effect of antibiotic use, as these medications can disrupt the balance of bacteria in the gut. By restoring the microbial balance, probiotics can significantly reduce the incidence and duration of diarrhea caused by antibiotics. Moreover, probiotics have shown promising results in the treatment of infectious diarrhea, including those caused by viruses or bacteria like Clostridium difficile.

Reducing Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic gastrointestinal disorder characterized by symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, and altered bowel movements. Probiotics have emerged as a potential treatment for IBS by alleviating these distressing symptoms. Studies have indicated that probiotics, especially strains from the Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus genera, can help regulate bowel movements, reduce abdominal pain, and improve overall quality of life for individuals with IBS. While more research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms behind this benefit, probiotics provide a promising approach for managing IBS symptoms.



Managing and Preventing Urinary Tract Infections

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are a common health issue, particularly among women. Probiotics offer a potential solution for managing and preventing UTIs. The bacteria strains found in certain probiotics, particularly Lactobacillus, have the ability to colonize the urinary tract and prevent the growth of pathogenic bacteria. By maintaining a healthy balance of bacteria in the urinary tract, probiotics can help reduce the risk of UTIs and minimize the recurrence of these infections. However, it is important to note that more research is needed to determine the optimal strains and dosages for UTI prevention.

Promoting Mental Health and Cognitive Function

Emerging research suggests that probiotics may have a positive impact on mental health and cognitive function. The gut-brain connection, also known as the gut-brain axis, demonstrates the intricate communication between the gut and the brain. Probiotics influence this connection by modulating the production of neurotransmitters and inflammatory markers, which play a crucial role in mental health. Studies have indicated that probiotic supplementation can improve symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress. Furthermore, there is evidence to suggest that probiotics may enhance cognitive function, including memory and attention. Although more studies are needed, these findings open up exciting possibilities for the use of probiotics as adjunct therapies for mental health disorders.

Types of Probiotics



Lactobacillus is one of the most well-known and extensively studied genera of probiotics. It is naturally found in the gastrointestinal tract, urinary tract, and vaginal region. Various Lactobacillus species, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus rhamnosus, have been shown to provide numerous health benefits. These strains are known for their ability to promote digestive health, boost the immune system, and prevent vaginal infections. Lactobacillus is commonly found in fermented dairy products like yogurt and kefir.


Bifidobacterium is another important genus of probiotics that plays a critical role in maintaining gut health. These bacteria are predominantly found in the large intestine and contribute to the fermentation of dietary fiber. Bifidobacterium strains, including Bifidobacterium bifidum and Bifidobacterium longum, have been associated with various health benefits. They help improve digestion, alleviate symptoms of lactose intolerance, and enhance the immune system. Bifidobacterium is commonly found in fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi.

Saccharomyces boulardii


Saccharomyces boulardii is a unique probiotic strain that differs from the typical bacterial strains. It is a non-pathogenic yeast that has been extensively researched for its beneficial effects on gut health. Saccharomyces boulardii has been shown to reduce the severity and duration of diarrhea, including antibiotic-associated diarrhea and infectious diarrhea. This strain also exhibits anti-inflammatory properties and helps restore the balance of intestinal microflora. Saccharomyces boulardii is commonly available in the form of supplements.

Streptococcus thermophilus


Streptococcus thermophilus
Streptococcus thermophilus

Streptococcus thermophilus is a probiotic strain known for its role in the fermentation of dairy products. It is commonly used in the production of yogurt and cheese. While Streptococcus thermophilus may not provide the same extensive health benefits as other probiotic strains, it contributes to the breakdown of lactose in dairy products, making them more easily digestible for individuals with lactose intolerance. Additionally, this strain may have anti-inflammatory effects and help support a healthy gut environment.

Food Sources of Probiotics

Types of probiotics: Yogurt

Yogurt is perhaps the most well-known and widely consumed food source of probiotics. It is made by fermenting milk with live bacterial cultures, typically Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. Some varieties of yogurt may contain additional probiotic strains like Bifidobacterium lactis or Lactobacillus acidophilus, providing enhanced health benefits. When selecting yogurt as a probiotic source, it is essential to choose plain, unsweetened varieties without added sugars or artificial additives.


Kefir is a fermented milk drink that originates from the Caucasus region. It is similar to yogurt but has a thinner consistency and a slightly tangy taste. Kefir is made by combining milk with kefir grains, which are live cultures composed of bacteria and yeast. The fermentation process produces a rich source of probiotics, including Lactobacillus kefiri and Bifidobacterium species. Kefir is not only a potent probiotic but also a great source of vitamins, minerals, and protein.


Sauerkraut is a traditional fermented cabbage dish that has been enjoyed for centuries. It is made by finely shredding cabbage and fermenting it with salt or lactic acid bacteria. During fermentation, the natural sugars in cabbage are broken down into lactic acid, creating a tangy and sour taste. Sauerkraut is an excellent source of probiotics, particularly the Lactobacillus plantarum strain. It is rich in vitamins C and K, as well as fiber, making it a nutritious addition to meals.


Kimchi is a Korean side dish made of fermented vegetables, usually Napa cabbage and radishes, combined with a variety of seasonings and spices. This traditional Korean dish is not only flavorful but also packed with probiotics. The fermentation process enhances the growth of lactic acid bacteria, including the beneficial Lactobacillus species. Kimchi is known for its distinct spicy and tangy flavors and is often served as a side dish or used in various Korean recipes.


Miso is a traditional Japanese seasoning made from fermented soybeans, rice, or barley. It is commonly used in Japanese cuisine to add depth of flavor to soups, marinades, and dressings. Miso is a natural source of probiotics, particularly the Bacillus subtilis strain. This fermented paste offers a unique combination of savory and salty flavors, making it a versatile ingredient in cooking. It is important to note that miso is high in sodium, so it should be consumed in moderation.


Tempeh is a traditional Indonesian soy product made by fermenting whole soybeans with the help of a mold called Rhizopus oligosporus. During fermentation, the soybeans are bound together into a firm cake-like structure. Tempeh is not only a rich source of protein and essential nutrients, but it also provides probiotics. The fermentation process increases the bioavailability of nutrients in soybeans and introduces beneficial bacteria, such as Bacillus subtilis, into the final product. Tempeh has a nutty flavor and a firm texture, making it a popular vegetarian and vegan protein option.

Probiotics vs. Prebiotics

Definition and Differences

Probiotics and prebiotics are often mentioned together, but they serve different purposes in promoting gut health. Probiotics refer to the live bacteria that provide health benefits when consumed in adequate amounts, as previously discussed. On the other hand, prebiotics are a type of dietary fiber that are not digested by the body but are fermented by the beneficial bacteria in the gut. Prebiotics act as food sources for probiotics, stimulating their growth and activity in the digestive system.

Complementary Effects on Gut Health

Gut Health
Gut Health

Probiotics and prebiotics work synergistically to support a healthy gut microbiome. While probiotics introduce beneficial bacteria into the gut, prebiotics provide the nourishment these bacteria need to thrive and multiply. The combined consumption of probiotics and prebiotics, also known as synbiotics, can enhance the colonization of beneficial bacteria and improve the overall balance of microflora in the gut. By working together, probiotics and prebiotics help maintain a healthy gut environment, support digestion, and strengthen the immune system.


Safety and Side Effects of Probiotics

Generally Recognized as Safe

Probiotics are generally recognized as safe for most individuals, including healthy adults and children. The strains of bacteria commonly used in probiotic supplements and foods are naturally present in the human body and have a long history of safe consumption. However, it is important to choose reputable brands and products that undergo rigorous testing and quality control to ensure safety and effectiveness.

Possible Side Effects

While probiotics are well tolerated by most people, some individuals may experience mild side effects, particularly during the initial period of probiotic supplementation. These side effects can include digestive discomfort, such as bloating, gas, or an upset stomach. These symptoms typically resolve on their own within a few days as the body adjusts to the introduction of new bacteria. If side effects persist or worsen, it is advisable to consult a healthcare professional.

Precautions for Certain Populations

Although probiotics are considered safe for most individuals, certain populations should exercise caution when consuming probiotics. Infants, especially premature infants or those with weakened immune systems, may be susceptible to infections from certain strains of bacteria.

Pregnant women and individuals with compromised immune systems should consult their healthcare providers before starting probiotic supplementation. Additionally, individuals with severe underlying medical conditions, such as severe pancreatitis or heart valve disease, should seek medical advice before using probiotics.

Choosing and Using Probiotics

Reading Labels and Identifying Strains

When choosing probiotics, it is important to read labels carefully and identify the specific strains of bacteria present in the product. Different strains of bacteria have different effects on the body, so it is essential to select strains that target specific health concerns.

Look for products that list the genus, species, and strain of bacteria, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus DDS-1 or Bifidobacterium lactis HN019. Additionally, consider the potency of the probiotic, which is indicated by the number of colony-forming units (CFUs).

Types of probiotics: Dosage and Timing


probiotics: Dosage and Timing
probiotics: Dosage and Timing

The appropriate dosage of probiotics can vary depending on the individual’s health condition and the specific strains being used. It is best to follow the recommended dosage provided by the manufacturer or consult with a healthcare professional for personalized advice. Probiotics are commonly taken with meals to enhance their survival through the acidic environment of the stomach. However, certain strains may be more effective when taken on an empty stomach. Always read the instructions provided with the probiotic product                                                                       for optimal dosage and timing.

Storage and Shelf Life

Probiotics are living organisms, so proper storage is crucial to maintain their viability and efficacy. Most probiotic supplements should be stored in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. Some probiotic products, particularly ones that require refrigeration, may need to be stored in the refrigerator to prolong their shelf life. It is essential to check the expiry date on the product and discard any expired or compromised probiotics to ensure their potency.

Probiotics and Antibiotics

Effects on Gut Microbiota

Antibiotics are medications used to kill or inhibit the growth of bacteria, but they can also have unintended effects on the gut microbiota. While antibiotics target harmful bacteria, they may also kill or disrupt the beneficial bacteria in the gut. This disruption can lead to imbalances in the gut microbiome, resulting in digestive issues and increased susceptibility to infections. Probiotics can help mitigate these negative effects by replenishing the beneficial bacteria and restoring the balance of microflora in the gut.

Timing and Strategies for Combining Usage

The timing of probiotic supplementation in relation to antibiotic use is crucial for maximum effectiveness. It is generally recommended to take probiotics during or immediately after a course of antibiotics. This approach helps counteract the negative impact of antibiotics on the gut microbiota and minimize the risk of antibiotic-associated diarrhea. However, it is important to allow sufficient time between doses of antibiotics and probiotics to avoid potential interactions that may reduce the effectiveness of the antibiotic.

Probiotics and Gut Health

Balancing Gut Flora

Probiotics play a vital role in maintaining a balanced and diverse gut microbiota. A healthy gut microbiome is characterized by the presence of beneficial bacteria that promote digestion, produce essential nutrients, and support the overall function of the gastrointestinal system. The regular consumption of probiotics can help restore and maintain this balance. By introducing beneficial bacteria, probiotics inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria and create an environment that fosters optimal gut health.

“Considering the impact of probiotics on digestive health and immunity is crucial for making informed decisions about health nutrition.”

The Gut-Brain Axis

The gut-brain axis is the intricate bidirectional communication system between the gut and the brain. This connection involves various pathways, including the nervous system, immune system, and endocrine system. Emerging research suggests that probiotics can influence the gut-brain axis and have a positive impact on mental health. Certain strains of probiotics have been shown to modulate the production of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine, which are involved in regulating mood and emotions. Probiotics may also reduce inflammation and oxidative stress in the brain, contributing to improved mental well-being.

Effects on Digestion and Nutrient Absorption

Probiotics play a significant role in digestion and nutrient absorption. They help break down complex carbohydrates, fibers, and other indigestible components that the body cannot process on its own. By fermenting these substances, probiotics release compounds that can be utilized by the body for energy and other essential functions. Additionally, probiotics enhance the absorption of nutrients from food, ensuring that the body receives the maximum benefit from the nutrients consumed.

Types of probiotics: Probiotics and Women’s Health

Vaginal Health and Yeast Infections

Probiotics and Women's Health
Probiotics and Women’s Health

Probiotics have been widely studied for their role in supporting vaginal health and preventing yeast infections. The vaginal region naturally contains a diverse array of bacteria, primarily Lactobacillus species. These bacteria produce lactic acid, creating an acidic environment that prevents the growth of harmful microorganisms. When this delicate balance is disrupted, yeast infections can occur. Probiotic strains like Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus rhamnosus can help restore the normal vaginal flora,                                                                           reduce the risk of yeast infections, and alleviate                                                                                   symptoms.

Types of probiotics: Pregnancy and Infant Health

Probiotics have shown promise in promoting a healthy pregnancy and supporting infant health. During pregnancy, the gut microbiota undergoes changes, and imbalances can contribute to certain pregnancy-related conditions. Probiotic supplementation during pregnancy may help maintain a balanced gut microbiome and reduce the risk of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and other complications. Additionally, probiotics have been found to be beneficial for infants, particularly in preventing and managing common issues like colic and eczema. However, pregnant women and parents should consult with healthcare professionals before using probiotics during pregnancy or for infants.

Types of probiotics: Probiotics and Weight Management

Influence on Metabolism

Probiotics may have a positive influence on metabolism and weight management. Research suggests that certain strains of probiotics can affect energy balance by regulating appetite, promoting the breakdown of stored fats, and reducing inflammation. These effects can contribute to weight loss or weight maintenance. However, it is important to note that individual responses to probiotics can vary, and their effectiveness in weight management may depend on factors like diet, lifestyle, and overall health.

Effects on Appetite and Food Cravings

Probiotics may play a role in regulating appetite and reducing food cravings. Some studies have shown that certain probiotic strains can influence the production of hormones related to hunger and satiety, such as ghrelin and leptin. By modulating these hormone levels, probiotics may help promote feelings of fullness and reduce the desire for unhealthy, calorie-dense foods. Incorporating probiotics into a balanced diet and lifestyle may aid in controlling appetite and supporting weight management efforts.

Support for Healthy Weight Loss

While probiotics alone are not a magic solution for weight loss, they can be a helpful addition to a comprehensive weight loss plan. Alongside a balanced diet and regular physical activity, probiotics can support healthy weight loss by improving digestion, enhancing nutrient absorption, and regulating appetite. By promoting a healthy gut microbiota, probiotics create an environment that optimizes metabolic processes and contributes to overall well-being.

“Considering the impact of probiotics on digestive health and immunity is crucial for making informed decisions about health nutrition.”

You May Also Like