Ultimate Guide To Probiotics

Nutrition Specialist, Esra Kozan
August 22, 2023 13 minutes
  1. Blog
  2. Probiotics For Immunity And Wellness

Did you know that probiotics are small living organisms that can provide numerous health benefits? You can obtain these beneficial bacteria by consuming certain types of foods or supplements.

What are probiotics? 

Probiotics are live microorganisms found in fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, and kimchi. They help maintain a healthy gut microbiome by supporting the presence of good bacteria and discouraging the presence of harmful ones. This impacts your digestion, mental health, and immune function.

How do probiotics work? 

When you consume probiotics, live microorganisms that are good for you are introduced to your gut. They work with existing microbes in your gut to help balance and increase the diversity of your gut flora. 

Furthermore, the helpful bacteria support better digestion and allow your body to more effectively use the nutrients that you consume, promoting a healthy and balanced digestive system. Probiotics can also enhance the immune system by interacting with intestinal immune cells and microflora. 

What are the most common types of probiotic bacteria?

There are many different types of probiotic that offer unique benefits to your health. Some common strains found in food or supplements include Lactobacillus acidophilus, which supports the immune system. Bifidobacterium lactis is known for promoting gut health, reducing gastrointestinal discomfort, and supporting a balanced microbiome. 

Lactobacillus rhamnosus is helpful in alleviating symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and enhancing the body's natural defence mechanisms. Lactobacillus casei has been associated with improved digestion and a strengthened gut barrier. 

Another important strain is Saccharomyces boulardii, a non-bacterial yeast that can prevent diarrhoea associated with antibiotics which can be caused by harmful bacteria. 

What are the benefits of probiotics? 

Probiotics are live microorganisms that benefit your health when you eat it in appropriate amounts. Most probiotics are good bacteria. Probiotics help you:

  • maintain a healthy balance of gut flora 
  • support proper digestion and nutrient absorption 
  • modify the body's immune system
  • contribute to a specific immune response 
  • help the urinary tract protect against bacteria.
  • help alleviate inflammatory bowel disease

By promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria in the urinary system, probiotics may help reduce the occurrence of UTIs.

What are the symptoms of not having enough probiotics?

When the body lacks probiotics, you can experience a variety of symptoms that indicate an imbalance in the gut microbiome. Some common symptoms are:

  • frequent indigestion 
  • bloating 
  • gas 
  • irregular bowel movements 
  • weakened immune system 
  • mood imbalances that cause feelings of anxiety, depression, or increased stress 

Not only can a lack of probiotics affect the gut and brain, but it can also cause skin problems. The gut and skin are interconnected, so imbalances in the gut microbiome can cause acne, eczema, or other skin conditions. 

Moreover, imbalances in probiotics can lead to persistent sugar cravings and difficulty managing weight. That’s because a healthy gut microbiome helps regulate appetite and metabolism.

What is the difference between prebiotics and probiotics? 

The terms probiotic and prebiotic are often used interchangeably, but they are actually quite different. 

Prebiotics are non-digestible fibers that serve as food for the beneficial bacteria in your gut.  They are found in certain plant-based foods such as onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, and bananas, and are not digestible by the human body. They help promote the growth of good bacteria in the gut, which can improve digestion and boost the immune system

Probiotics, on the other hand, are live microorganisms that are beneficial bacteria found in the human gut. They are often used to improve digestive issues such as diarrhoea and constipation, as well as to boost the immune system. They are found in fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut, as well as in probiotic supplements

However, it should be noted that not every fermented food is considered a probiotic food. For a food to be considered probiotic, the beneficial microorganisms it contains must reach the intestine. The beneficial microorganisms in some fermented foods die in the stomach acid and are unable to reach the intestines, which is why they are not considered probiotics. 

Both prebiotics and probiotics can be beneficial for your gut health, but they work in different ways and should be used appropriately. If you are considering taking prebiotics or probiotics, it’s always a good idea to speak with your healthcare provider to determine the best course of action for your specific needs. 

And while prebiotics and probiotics can be beneficial for your gut health, they should not be used as a replacement for a healthy diet and lifestyle. At the end of the day, taking prebiotics or probiotics can’t replace a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, as well as regular exercise, as these are the most important factors for maintaining your overall health and wellness.

What foods are high in probiotics? 

Some of the most common fermented foods that naturally contain or have probiotics added to them include yogurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, pickles, miso, tempeh, kimchi, sourdough bread, and some aged cheeses like cheddar, gouda, and cottage.

Let's take a look at some of these foods and their effects:


Yogurt is a great probiotic food because it has an appealing taste and texture. It is produced from milk that has been fermented by probiotics, mainly lactic acid bacteria and bifidobacteria. The number and type of bacterial species vary depending on the brand of yogurt you buy. You can pay more for brands with specific probiotics, but be sure to choose yogurt that has "live” or “active” cultures to get the most benefit. 


Kefir is a fermented probiotic milk drink originally from the Caucuses. It is produced by combining kefir grains with cow or goat milk. Kefir is a rich and diverse source of probiotics that help balance the gut microbiome.


Kombucha is a fermented tea that is high in tea polyphenols and acetic acid, both of which may suppress the growth of unwanted bacteria.


Sauerkraut is a type of fermented cabbage with nutritional and health benefits that far exceed the benefits of fresh cabbage. The probiotics found in sauerkraut can help improve the bacterial balance in your gut, helping create a healthy gut lining.


Tempeh is a fermented soy product that is a popular plant-based substitute for meat. Tempeh is usually made from fermented soybeans, wheat, or both. The microflora living in tempeh forms a protective layer in the intestine and protects it against pathogens and strengthens your immune system. However, if you have a soy allergy, you should avoid tempeh. 


Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish made from salted fermented vegetables. It is usually made using cabbage, sugar, salt, onions, garlic, ginger, and red pepper. A specific strain of Lactobacillus found in kimchi may boost the immune system, making it a great food to protect the health of your urinary tract. 

What are natural probiotics? 

Natural probiotics are generally fermented foods or fermented dairy, such as yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut, among others. 

It's important to note that not all fermented foods contain probiotics, as some are heated or pasteurized during processing, which can kill the beneficial bacteria. Look for foods that contain live and active cultures to ensure that you are getting the benefits of eating probiotics.

How do I know I need probiotics? 

To determine if probiotics could be beneficial for you, it's important to recognize certain signs and factors that may indicate an imbalance in your gut microbiome. If you experience frequent digestive issues like bloating, gas, diarrhoea, or constipation, it could be a sign that your gut bacteria is out of balance. Similarly, if you have a weakened immune system or experience recurrent infections, probiotic supplements may be useful for boosting your body's defences. 

If you've recently taken antibiotics, probiotics can also help restore balance to your gut microbiota and prevent digestive disturbances. Individuals with a history of poor dietary habits, high levels of stress, or chronic use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can also consider incorporating probiotics and dietary supplements into their routine to support their compromised gut health.

Is it healthy to take a probiotic daily? 

Taking a probiotic daily can be healthy for some people, but it depends on factors such as underlying health conditions, the type of probiotic, and the reasons for taking it in the first place. For those who can benefit, probiotics are generally safe and can help balance the gut microbiome, which supports digestion and immune function. This is especially true for individuals with digestive issues, a history of antibiotic use, or those who want to boost their immune system. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends a daily intake of probiotics as part of a balanced diet to support gut health and digestion.

However, it's important to select the right probiotic strains and to speak with a healthcare professional, because some people may experience side effects or the probiotics can interact with other medications they are taking. Additionally, there may be certain health conditions or probiotic products where daily intake isn't necessary or appropriate.

When is the best time to take probiotics? 

Timing can be important when taking probiotics. Some probiotic strains may survive better when taken before or after a meal. For example, Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains may survive best through your digestive system when taken up to 30 minutes before a meal. However, some research suggests that taking probiotics consistently and on a regular basis may be more important than timing. Additionally, taking probiotics with specific foods, such as oatmeal or low-fat milk, may optimize the effects of probiotics by improving the survival of the bacteria in the digestive tract. It's important to follow the manufacturer's instructions for taking probiotics and to talk to your healthcare provider before starting any new supplement regimen.

Is there a way to test probiotics?  

Assessing the effectiveness of probiotics is a complex process due to the vast variety of probiotic strains and individual differences in gut microbiota. Researchers conduct clinical trials and studies to evaluate the impact of specific probiotic strains on various health conditions. These studies usually involve measuring changes in gut microbial composition, improvements in digestive health, modulation of the immune system, or the alleviation of specific symptoms. 

Additionally, scientists may use in vitro tests to simulate the interactions between probiotics and gut microbes to gain insight into their potential effects. However, it is vital to recognize that not all probiotics are equally effective, and results can vary depending on factors like dosage, delivery methods, and the health conditions of the individual in question. When considering probiotics, it is crucial to choose scientifically proven products containing well-researched strains with demonstrated health benefits.

How do I take a probiotic supplement? 

Adding a probiotic supplement to your daily routine is pretty straightforward, but there are certain things to consider to make it more effective. First, it's important to select a probiotic supplement of high quality from a reliable brand that contains viable and clinically-proven strains of beneficial bacteria. When you start taking probiotics, begin with a lower dosage to allow your body to adjust gradually to the probiotics. Once you've adjusted, increase your dosage gradually, as recommended by the product or your healthcare provider. 

To keep the probiotics alive, store the supplement in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight. Many probiotics work best when taken with meals to survive stomach acid and have a better chance of reaching the gut. However, always follow the instructions on the supplement's label for the best timing and frequency for consumption. Although probiotics are generally safe for most people, those with underlying health conditions or weakened immune systems should consult a doctor before starting any supplementation routine.

The Effects of Probiotics on Urinary Tract Health 

Some probiotic microorganisms can improve physicochemical conditions, such as when they modulate intestinal bacterial metabolism and enzymes. There is growing evidence that certain species and strains of probiotics can protect against potential health problems.

Probiotics also influence the formation of immunoglobulins and thus modify the body's immune system. They can also contribute to a specific immune response that helps the urinary tract protect against bacteria that cause certain kinds of diseases or infections.

For example, some research suggests that a group of probiotics called lactobacilli can help treat and prevent urinary tract health issues. 

In summary, probiotics may protect the urinary tract against different health problems by preventing harmful bacteria from attaching to cells in the urinary tract, or by producing powerful antibacterial substances in urine.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Can I use probiotics to help treat a medical condition?

There is evidence to suggest that probiotics can be helpful for treating certain medical conditions, including digestive issues, immune system regulation, and preventing diarrhoea caused by antibiotics. However, it is important to note that the effectiveness of specific probiotics can vary, and it is recommended that you seek advice from a healthcare professional before using them to treat medical conditions.

How do I take a probiotic supplement?

When selecting a probiotic supplement, it's important to choose a product from a reputable company that has clinically proven strains. Begin taking lower dosages of probiotic supplements, and gradually increase your dosage as advised. 

How effective are probiotics?

The effectiveness of probiotics is influenced by several factors such as the strain, dosage, and existing health conditions of the individual in question. While some individuals may notice significant benefits, others may not observe any noticeable impact. Scientific research supports certain probiotics for particular uses, but more studies are required to fully understand their effectiveness.

What is the best probiotic for gut health?

When it comes to gut health, the best probiotic for you may depend on your individual needs. Some common strains, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium lactis, and Lactobacillus rhamnosus, are often recommended for promoting gut health. However, it's important to choose a probiotic that aligns with your specific health goals. To get a more personalized recommendation for which probiotic you should take, it's best to consult with a healthcare professional.

Are there any risks related to probiotics?

For the most part, probiotics are safe for people who are in good health. However, some individuals may experience slight side effects such as bloating or gas. It is important to note that in rare cases, people with weakened immune systems or certain health conditions should avoid probiotics to prevent the possibility of infections.

Can kids take probiotics too?

Certainly!  However, it is essential to select appropriate formulations based on their age and seek advice from a pediatrician. Probiotics may help improve gut health, immunity, and specific health issues in children, but their dosage and strains must be adjusted to meet their requirements.

Who should not take probiotics?

People with severe immune system disorders or conditions that increase their risk of infection should steer clear of probiotics. Additionally, pregnant or breastfeeding women should always consult a healthcare provider before using probiotics.

Do I need to take probiotics after I take antibiotics?

If you've recently taken antibiotics, taking probiotics can help restore the good bacteria in your gut that may have been impacted. However, it's important to wait a few hours after taking antibiotics before taking probiotics to ensure that they don't interfere with the effectiveness of the antibiotics. We recommend consulting a healthcare professional to determine the best timing and type of probiotics for your situation.

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