Probiotics - Do they really work?


The human gut microbiome does so many wonderful things for us, and yet our modern environment is killing our friendly gut bugs in many different ways, leaving behind the resilient and not so friendly microbes. With the beneficial microbes missing from the gut the balance gets tipped, and the harmful microbes in your gut can try to take over and run the show. This can lead to gut dysbiosis – an unhealthy, unhappy gut. Key killers of healthy, balanced, diverse microbiomes are the excessive use of antibiotics, diets composed primarily of processed foods, and inactive or sedentary lifestyles. So how can we protect and nurture our gut microbiome?

Probiotics! Probiotics are live microbes that provide health benefits when they are present in your gut.1 These helpful bugs are one of our main allies against microbiome diversity depletion. Probiotics can be found naturally in your intestines, are present in some foods such as yogurt, or can be taken in pill form. Though they can be present naturally in some people, in others they are missing or present only in very small numbers. To replenish your stock of healthy, gut-friendly microbes you can eat foods that naturally contain probiotics and take a daily probiotic supplement. Probiotic supplements contain live cultures of the beneficial microbes your gut needs to function at the top of its game. When your probiotic microbes are happy and healthy they can work hard to do the same for you.

Increasing probiotics in the gut has been shown to help push your microbiome community back into a healthy balance.2 Maintaining a healthy balance can lead to reduced inflammation in the gut, a stronger immune system, and improved digestion.3 When probiotics are present in the gut they release metabolites and vitamins that can then get to work keeping your gut healthy!4 It is important to remember, though, that while probiotics can help to reintroduce and maintain a healthy balance of microbes in the gut, they cannot provide a healthy gut all on their own. They function best as part of a team – your personal gut wellness team! Other members of the team should include a healthy diet of whole foods, regular exercise, and plenty of sleep. When these things all come together in a balance that works for you, your gut will feel more balanced, too.

So if you find yourself asking, “do these things really work?” just imagine all the microbes in your bowl of yogurt, or in your supplement spilling out into your gut and keeping the bad guys in check, all while performing important functions that help you digest your meals and keep your gut in tip-top shape.

  1. Clinic, C. (2015). Probiotics. Retrieved from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/drugs/14598-probiotics
  2. Harvard Health Publishing. (2014). The benefits of probiotics bacteria. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-benefits-of-probiotics
  3. Hill C, Guarner F, et al. (2014). Expert consensus document: The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics consensus statement on the scope and appropriate use of the term probiotic. Nature Reviews Gastroenterology & Hepatology 11, 506–514. doi:10.1038/nrgastro.2014.66
  4. Hemarajata, P., & Versalovic, J. (2013). Effects of probiotics on gut microbiota: mechanisms of intestinal immunomodulation and neuromodulation. Therapeutic Advances in Gastroenterology, 6(1), 39–51. http://doi.org/10.1177/1756283X12459294