Over the last decade, probiotics have exploded onto the marketplace. At one time, there were only a handful of probiotic supplements at your natural food store, and now there are hundreds of choices. Probiotic drinks, yogurts, and even sodas are also increasing in popularity.
One of the most common questions I hear from my clients is: Should I take probiotics everyday?
This is a legit question, but the answer isn’t as straightforward as you might expect. The research on probiotics and their effects on human health is constantly growing.
If you are wondering, “should I take probiotics everyday?” you first need to know how probiotics work and who can benefit from taking them. Let’s explore what current science tells us about probiotics.
What exactly are probiotics, anyway?
Probiotics are live microorganisms that provide a beneficial effect when taken in adequate amounts. The most common types of probiotics are bacteria and yeasts, similar to the ones that are native to your gut.
Originally, probiotics were thought to be most beneficial for people with digestive issues or were typically only recommended alongside antibiotic therapy. However, more and more research demonstrates the usefulness of probiotics for a wide range of health issues. Probiotic supplements may help with allergies, skin rashes, immune support, and even mental health(1- 4).
How do probiotics really work?
Probiotics work by temporarily modifying the balance of microbes in the gut. This, in turn, leads to changes within the gut that can provide beneficial effects throughout the entire body.
Did you notice the word “temporary”?
That’s no mistake. The probiotic supplement you are taking is not permanently taking up residence in your gut, no matter the claim on the label (5).
If you are a nutrition geek like me, I know this is blowing your mind. When I learned that probiotics don’t actually “re-colonize” the gut, I was utterly shocked. (I mean, it literally says “colony-forming-units” or “CFUs” on the label, what the heck?!)
So this leads us to ask: should I take probiotics everyday?
Because probiotics don’t recolonize the gut, you should take a daily probiotic when using them for a specific purpose.
But does that mean you need to take a probiotic everyday for the rest of your life? No.
Does that mean everyone needs to take a daily probiotic for a healthy gut? Also no!
How to find the right probiotic for you
Are you ready to learn an amazing hack about probiotics that most health professionals don’t even know?
Probiotics are strain-specific.
Ok, what does that even mean?! It means that probiotics are so numerous and so unique that the strain is what determines if it is right for you.
If you’ve been asking yourself, “should I take probiotics everyday?” finding the right strain is your first step.
And if you have no clue what a strain is, don’t worry! I’m going to break it down for you below.
Lactobacillus (genus) acidophilus (species) La5 (strain)
Above is the full name of a Lactobacillus probiotic. Lactobacillus is a very common genus that you probably recognize. The next word there, acidophilus, is the species, and following that, you see “La5.”
“La5” denotes the bacterial strain, and it largely determines the effects of Lactobacillus acidophilus. Because there are dozens of Lactobacillus-based probiotics, knowing the strain is a crucial piece of info that you need to find the right probiotic for your special circumstances. Helpfully, strains are most often listed as a combination of letters or numbers.
Different strains of probiotics do very different jobs. Some strains tend to slow gut motility (AKA transit time), an excellent effect if you have diarrhea. But some might speed up motility—perfect for IBS-C but not so great if you have IBS-D or ulcerative colitis!
The next time you are shopping for a probiotic, ignore all the flashy marketing on the front of the box. Instead, flip it over to check the ingredients. If it doesn’t list that third name, the strain, it’s difficult to know if it will work for you, and you may be wasting your money.
Now that you know the importance of probiotic strains, how do you choose one that’s right for you?
It gets a little trickier here, but you have some options.
The first is to do your own research, and I’m a huge proponent of digging into research papers as much as possible. Go to Google Scholar or PubMed and type in your concern (IBS, Crohn’s disease, celiac, etc.) and “probiotics,” and see what pops up. New research is frequently published on the use of strain-specific probiotics for both GI and systemic conditions.
Some studies might feel overwhelming or not applicable. Just do your best and see what you can find—you’ll be surprised at how much you understand. If the study lists a specific strain that is beneficial for your condition, often called a therapeutic strain, see if you can find a commercial probiotic that contains the strain.
You can also ask a trusted nutrition professional who knows their way around probiotic supplements. Choosing appropriate probiotics based on strain and a sufficient number of viable bacteria is something I help my clients with all the time. Book a (free) clarity call here and we can talk about how I can help you!
Recap: Should I take probiotics everyday?
The answer is yes if you are using probiotics to help support a unique need. Because probiotics don’t permanently recolonize the gut, taking them everyday helps ensure they will actually work.
BUT (and this is a big but…) not everyone needs probiotic supplements. There is even some evidence showing that, in some cases, probiotics may make things worse (6)!
In my next few posts, I’ll cover practical, in-depth details about probiotic supplements, especially for people with gastrointestinal issues like IBS, IBD, and celiac disease. Because, as I said, this stuff is complex!
Stay tuned to learn even more amazing facts about probiotic supplements, like when, exactly, you should take probiotics, if you should take probiotics with antibiotics, and which probiotics are best for IBS and other gut problems.