Probiotics 101: How to Choose, Benefits and Limitations

Probiotics 101: How to Choose, Benefits and Limitations

( – Probiotics have become a common household term, their booming popularity earning manufacturers over $42.55 billion in 2019. But how informed are most of us, really, about their use? We did some research and have the details on what probiotics can — and can’t — do for you. Just as importantly, we can show you what to look for when shopping in a market flooded with probiotic products.

The Benefits of Probiotics

Research has yet to delve into probiotics’ full range of benefits, and there’s been some debate over their potential uses, but we do know probiotics can help us fight certain infections. For example, a meta-analysis investigating 8,672 participants found probiotics could reduce the risk of developing antibiotic-related Clostridium difficile (C. diff) infections by about 60%.

A Wuhan University hospital study determined that a number of beneficial bacteria could help fight Helicobacter pylori, or H. pylori, a stomach infection associated with ulcers and a few other serious conditions. The researchers also discovered that certain probiotics could combat specific symptoms associated with the infection:

  • Numerous Lactobacillus (L.) and Bifidobacterium (B.) species can reduce diarrhea.
  • Bacillus mesentericus, Clostridium butyricum, and Streptococcus (S.) faecalis can improve appetite.
  • B. longum combined with L. bulgaricus and S. thermophilus may reduce constipation.
  • B. bifidum combined with B. infantis and several Lactobacillus species can combat changes in taste perception.
  • Saccharomyces boulardii can reduce bloating.
  • Numerous Lactobacillus species, along with B. infantis and S. thermophilus, may help relieve nausea and vomiting.

Probiotics may also improve recovery time from upper respiratory infections when added to an antibiotic course. In some cases, they may even reduce the need for antibiotics altogether.

Probiotic Limitations

There’s still a lot we don’t know about probiotics, and misinformation about their uses abounds. There are numerous strains currently available in yogurts, drinks, and capsules, but we’re still learning their full effects, so it’s important to research products and the people making claims about them.

There are also contraindications. For example, probiotics could be harmful to people who are severely immunocompromised. For these people, probiotics may increase the risks of certain systemic infections.

Which Probiotic to Choose

Currently, there are no official recommendations on probiotic supplementation. You can find live probiotics in some fermented foods. The National Institutes of Health lists yogurt as a source of potentially beneficial cultures. It adds that other fermented foods, such as kimchi, miso, pickles, kombucha, and raw apple cider vinegar, also contain various yeasts and bacteria, but most of them have yet to show any clinical benefits.

If you do want to supplement, Consumers Health Report lists five important factors you should consider before you buy: price, total bacteria, number of guaranteed live bacteria, listed strains, and the purity of those strains. Try to find products that can guarantee a broad variety of strains and a high count of living bacteria. Also, some strains are more sensitive to heat and air than others, so check the label to see if the strains you’re buying require refrigeration after you open the bottle.

We still have a lot to learn about the different strains of probiotics and how they can affect us, so until we do know more, use them purposefully and under your doctor’s supervision. But go ahead and enjoy your kombucha, pickles, kimchi and miso; their benefits may still be less pronounced, but that doesn’t make them any less delicious.

~Here’s to Your Health & Safety!

Copyright 2021,