Should you take a probiotic supplement?

Probiotics are marketed everywhere!

And, while some products (and their marketing) will lead you to believe that they are the answer for all gut symptoms (and every other ailment)- that’s simply misleading and untrue.

In fact, not everyone needs to supplement with a probiotic.

This guide will help you become savvy on all-things-good-bacteria and help you make wise decisions when choosing a probiotic and living a healthy-gut lifestyle.

What are probiotics?

The short answer is that probiotics are beneficial bacteria.

It gets a little more complicated when you get into the variety of different strains,  the importance of each strain within the microbiome, and how they benefit specific health concerns. (1).

Probiotics are well studied and certain strains have been shown to:

  • Aid in digestion (2)

  • Improve unwanted digestive symptoms (3)

  • Support the immune system (4)

  • Improve mental health (5)

  • Improve skin condition (6)

These are all great benefits!  So the question is, should you take a probiotic?  And if so, how do you choose which one to take?

Well don’t you worry, we’ve got you covered- keep reading to find out the answers to these answers and so much more!

Who should take a probiotic?

Probiotics may be beneficial if you have chronic constipation or diarrhea (7, 8)

Some digestive issues are caused by low levels of beneficial bacteria.  Building up your microbiome can improve digestion and help alleviate symptoms.

Probiotics are also helpful if you’ve had an acute illness resulting in constipation or diarrhea.  They can help restore order in your gut and reduce symptoms.

When it comes to chronic digestive problems, a probiotic alone will not be enough to fix the problem; it will only be one piece of the puzzle.

Probiotics may be beneficial if you struggle with anxiety/depression

Did you know that 95% of your “feel-good-neurotransmitter,” serotonin is produced in the gut (9)?!  Not only that but, your gut and your brain are directly connected through the bi-drectional mechanism of the vagus nerve- all of this defines how your gut health has a direct impact on your mental wellness AND how your mental state can influence symptoms that you experience in the gut (10).

Certain strains of probiotics have been shown to improve mental health and are now called psychobiotics (11).

Probiotics may be beneficial if you have inflammatory bowel disease

Crohns and Ulcerative colitis are autoimmune conditions that cause significant digestive issues.  These inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) are characterized by inflammation in the gut and are accompanied by leaky gut and dysbiosis (12).

Certain probiotics have been shown to improve symptoms and promote remission of IBD (13).

Probiotics may be beneficial if you have chronic skin issues (eczema, psoriasis)

You may be more familiar with the gut-brain axis, but did you know that your gut and your skin are also connected?  An imbalance of good vs. harmful bacteria in the gut can present as inflammatory conditions on the skin (14).  Inflammation and dysbiosis within the body can also exacerbate inflammatory skin conditions (15).

How to choose the best probiotic supplement?

With so many probiotics on the market, it can be near impossible to choose which one’s right for you!  Here’s our top tips for confidently pick out a probiotic without the overwhelm:

  1. Choose specific strains of bacteria that have been well researched for your particular condition. (See below for Specific probiotic strains for specific symptoms.)

  2. Choose a supplement from a reputable brand.  A few of our favorites include: Pure Encapsulations, Designs for Health, Klaire Labs, Microbiome Labs

  3. Look for a high CFU count (Colony Forming Unit), this number tells you how many live bacteria cells are present in each dose.

  4. Look for diversity of strains (in most cases you want more than one strain).

  5. Some conditions, like SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth), can be exacerbated by probiotic supplements, we recommend working with a qualified practitioner in order to find the best supplement for you.

What about taking probiotics with antibiotics?

If you are fairly savvy with gut health, you know that antibiotics- whose role is to rid the body of bacterial infection- can also wipe out beneficial bacteria in your gut (16).

This can cause quite a bit of panic if you have just spent 4-6 months working on FINALLY getting to the root of their chronic bloating and fatigue only to pick up a case of strep throat and get handed a prescription for a round of amoxicillin.

And, while antibiotics are commonly over-prescribed, they definitely have their time and place and don’t need to be completely avoided all together.

Here’s our recommendations for tending to your gut while on an antibiotic:

Specific probiotic strains for specific symptoms

(17, 18)

probiotic strains for specific conditions

Beyond probiotic supplements

Yes, probiotic supplements can be very helpful; however, they are not a miracle pill.

When you’re uncomfortable and experiencing digestive symptoms such as chronic bloating, or when you’re feeling tired all the time with no relief, or maybe you’ve struggled with underlying anxiety for quite some time…

It’s really easy to hold onto hope that probiotics COULD be a cure all.

And, while we hear your frustration and your desire to simply. feel. better…   A probiotic supplement will not solve all of your problems.

Probiotic supplements should be used as a tool- they complement a diet and lifestyle that already supports overall gut health.  

A healthy diet is the best way to build a solid foundation for a healthy gut.  

This looks like filling your meals and snacks with whole foods!

  • unprocessed whole grains

  • fruit

  • vegetables

  • nuts

  • seeds

  • legumes

The good bacteria living in your gut are picky eaters!  Eating a diet that is rich in plant fibers ensures that all these little microbes are getting the nutrition they need to flourish without the continual use of a probiotic supplement (20).

We also recommend adding fermented foods into your diet, including- yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, and kombucha- these foods and beverages naturally contain a wide range of probiotic strains.

It’s important to remember that a probiotic supplement should not replace plant based diversity or probiotic foods in your diet.

The importance of working with a practitioner

Yes, you can find probiotics at every health food store, grocery store, and online vendor.  There are endless brands and combinations that all boast that they are the best and that they are the answer to your health concerns.

Not only can this be confusing, it can also be incredibly expensive as you try one brand after another and still aren’t pleased with the results.

This is exactly why it is important to work with a qualified practitioner.

Working with someone who is trained in the field of integrative and functional nutrition is one of the best things that you can do for yourself to find relief from your digestive symptoms, get to the bottom of your chronic fatigue, and optimize your metabolism.

Registered dietitian nutritionists who are trained in this field are able to help you get to the root cause of your symptoms and help you come up with a sustainable plan to move forward with confidence and long-lasting symptom relief- without the guesswork!

Are you ready to finally find relief from your digestive symptoms and experience the energy and mental clarity you crave?

Click HERE to learn about my nutrition coaching program that will help you get to the root of your digestive symptoms, restore your metabolism, and help you feel amazing in your body.

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