Q: What Are Probiotics?
A: There are literally trillions of microorganisms in the human digestive tract. Some are beneficial, some are harmful, and some are neutral. Probiotics are the good type of bacteria that promote a balanced internal environment. This is important because up to 80 percent of your immune system is found in your digestive tract.
Q: Aren’t bacteria bad for me?
A: There are many different types of bacteria, and it’s true we often hear about the harmful types. However, some types of bacteria—such as probiotics—are good for you and provide many health benefits for your digestive system and your whole body.
Q: What are the benefits of probiotics?
A: Probiotics provide a wide range of benefits.‡ By helping to maintain a balanced intestinal environment, probiotics enhance digestion and help relieve occasional digestive upset.‡ They also help ferment soluble fiber in the gut, which in turn produces a short-chain fatty acid called butyric acid that helps nourish healthy colon cells and promote bowel regularity.‡ In addition, probiotics are vital to a healthy immune system because they produce compounds and acids that support healthy immune function.‡ Further, probiotics help the body absorb valuable nutrients from our food during digestion and play a key role in manufacturing needed vitamins such as B12 and K.‡
Q: How exactly do probiotics work in the body?
A: Probiotics are microorganisms that provide a health benefit when consumed in adequate amounts.‡ When bacteria are out of balance in the digestive system, probiotics or “good” bacteria can help restore that balance by populating the intestines.‡
Q: Why do I need probiotics?
A: Although each of us has a unique gut microbial environment, everyday factors such as diet, stress, travel, exposure to illness and even the use of certain medications can diminish the number of healthy bacteria in the digestive tract and upset our internal balance. This allows unhealthy microbes to flourish and may lead to intestinal issues such as occasional diarrhea and constipation, as well as a decline in healthy immune function. Taking a daily probiotic supplement can help replenish good bacteria and restore a healthy bacterial balance.‡
Q: Can’t I get enough good bacteria from yogurt and other foods?
A: Although probiotics are found in certain fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, cottage cheese, sauerkraut and miso, many of these products do not contain enough probiotic cultures or the correct strains to provide health benefits. In addition, while live probiotic bacteria can occur naturally in non-pasteurized foods, most dairy products are pasteurized in the United States.
Q: What should I look for in an effective probiotic supplement?
In clinical trials, certain factors have been shown to greatly impact the effectiveness of probiotic supplements, including the quantity and strains of bacteria in each capsule. When choosing an effective probiotic supplement, read labels carefully to ensure the following:
- High Culture Count. This refers to the total amount of bacteria per serving. Look for a probiotic supplement with at least 15 billion cultures in a single capsule.
- Multiple Strains. Look for a supplement with at least 10 different strains of bacteria including clinically-studied strains that benefit digestive health.‡ Look for high amounts of Bifidobacteria to support the large intestine (colon) and Lactobacilli to support the small intestine and urogenital tract.‡
- Delayed-release Capsules. Look for a delayed-release delivery system to ensure the probiotics can survive harsh stomach acids and reach your intestines where they will benefit you most.‡
- Potency and stability guarantee. The potency, or amount of live cultures, should be guaranteed through the product expiration date under recommended storage conditions—and NOT just at the time of manufacture.
Q: Are high-potency probiotics safe?
A: Probiotics are safe at high doses. In animal models, which are the standard for safety studies of high dosage, no lethal dose has been achievable. Multi-strain probiotics have been safely consumed at levels well over 900 billion live cultures per day in humans.
Q: Are probiotics safe for children?
A: Yes. Infants actually receive their first beneficial bacteria during the birthing process, and supplying additional probiotics throughout the early years has been shown to provide significant benefits for overall digestive and immune health.‡ Powdered formulas and chewable tablets are available for infants and toddlers.
Q: Are there any side effects of taking probiotics?
A: In some people, probiotics can cause gas and bloating initially. However, by decreasing your daily dose for at least one week and taking a probiotic every other day instead of daily—or by taking half a capsule daily (open capsule and take with liquid)—the symptoms will subside as your digestive tract adjusts to a new balance. At that time, you can resume normal daily dosing.
Q: Why are strains so important?
Because certain strains of bacteria are more prevalent in certain parts of the digestive tract, it is important to choose a probiotic supplement with multiple strains to provide a wide range of benefits over the entire digestive system.‡
Q: Why do I hear so much about Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria?
A: In a healthy intestinal tract, Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli are abundant. Bifidobacteria are most prevalent in the large intestine (colon). Lactobacilli are the most prevalent good bacteria in the small intestine and vaginal tract; they are especially important for women because they produce beneficial compounds that promote yeast balance.‡ A good rule of thumb is to look for a multiple-strain probiotic with lots of L's for the little (small) intestine, and B's for the big (large) intestine.
Q: Is there anything else I should look for on my probiotic supplement label?
A: A few other important things to consider are:
- Clear information on the label. This should include Supplement Facts, dosing information, and simple directions for use/storage.
- A trusted manufacturer. Choose supplements manufactured by reputable companies who have a history of good clinical evidence and support for their products. Contact details such as a website or toll-free number should be featured prominently on the box and/or bottle.
"Best Used By" & Batch or Lot Code. This information should be printed on each individual container and serves as a reference number for the plant to track production information.
The material on this page is for consumer informational and educational purposes only, under section 5 of DSHEA.
Disclaimer: Nothing in this website is intended as, or should be construed as, medical advice. Consumers should consult with their own health care practitioners for individual, medical recommendations. The information in this website concerns dietary supplements, over-the-counter products that are not drugs. Our dietary supplement products are not intended for use as a means to cure, treat, prevent, diagnose, or mitigate any disease or other medical or abnormal condition.