What Are Probiotics and Do They Work?

It is common knowledge that the human body is comprised of cells, but many people don’t realize how big the amount of bacteria in the body is, most of them living in the gut. There is no need to panic, though, because having the right type of bacteria, is actually important for regular digestion, weight loss, and many other health benefits.

Speaking of good bacteria, the chances are high you have already heard of, or even used probiotics, but maybe you still aren’t quite sure what they are, what their purpose is or how they result in health benefits. Not to worry! Throughout this post, you’re going to learn more about probiotics and find out the extent of their benefits.

What are Probiotics?


Not so long ago, in 2001 probiotics were defined for the very first time by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Health Organization. The definition of probiotics is that they are live microorganisms which, when administered in sufficient amounts, give health benefits to the host. But, what does this mean? Basically, the term probiotics is now used to refer to supplements and foods that contain friendly bacteria, and help colonize your gut with microorganisms that improve your health. While probiotics are largely bacteria, a type of yeast can also serve this purpose.

When discussing this subject, it is crucial to know the difference between probiotics and prebiotics. It is not uncommon for people to come across the term prebiotic and assume it is just another word that refers to probiotic, but that is not true. As mentioned above, probiotics are live bacteria that help your digestive system, but prebiotics are fibers, non-digestible carbohydrates that promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in your gut. In other words, prebiotics help feed the good bacteria that are already in your stomach.

Probiotic bacteria are numerous, but we can classify them into two groups: Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus, and each category has its subspecies and each of these species also has multiple strains. What’s more, different probiotics benefit different health areas. That explains why healthcare professionals and nutritionists emphasize the importance of choosing the “right” type or strain of probiotic. It is safe to say there is a lot we still don’t know about probiotics, which is why numerous studies about this subject are still ongoing.


Probiotics are beneficial for everyone, but they are generally recommended for individuals who experience digestive problems, and people who take antibiotics in order to replenish good bacteria and establish a microbial balance. It is also not uncommon for people who want to lose weight or strengthen immunity to use probiotics regularly.

Despite the fact that probiotics are good for your health, they are linked to one of the biggest misconceptions suggesting that you should take them daily just like you take your multivitamins. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, if you don’t have any particular reason to think your digestive health is impaired, or if you don’t have some specific goal you want achieve with the help of probiotics, then you don’t really need to take it on a daily basis.

Here are some telltale signs that you could benefit from a regular intake of probiotics:

  • You’re taking medications, especially antibiotics
  • Digestive issues
  • Dry, itchy skin or some skin conditions – what’s going on in your gut also affects the skin
  • Weak immunity
  • Chronic fatigue and low energy levels
  • Symptoms of anxiety and depression


Since probiotics are great for keeping digestion running smoothly and strengthening your immune system, people usually wonder whether they are like a colon cleanse, particularly because probiotics also populate your gut with good bacteria. Colon cleansers help flush toxins and fecal matter out of the body. However, these cleansers also flush good bacteria along with their unfriendly counterparts.

Therefore, probiotics do keep you healthy, but they don’t function as a cleanse, and they don’t even have the same purpose. That said, since cleansing may cause an imbalance of good and bad bacteria, then taking probiotics can help get your digestive system back on track.


Laxatives are taken to relieve constipation and probiotics can have the same effects. In fact, one of the most common uses of probiotics via diet or supplements is to tackle constipation. However, to achieve this effect, it matters what type of probiotic bacteria you consume. According to a study whose findings were published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, probiotics improve gut transit time, stool frequency and consistency, but the Bifidobacterium kind is the most effective in this area. This means that if you want to use probiotics to fight constipation, which is a common use, then you should strive to consume this specific kind of probiotics. What’s more, probiotics have an advantage over laxatives because they don’t cause lazy gut, a problem that occurs when the digestive system becomes reliant on the extra help it gets from laxatives. Moreover, probiotics don’t carry the risk of dehydration and aren’t linked with the side effects associated with laxatives.


Antibiotics and probiotics are two different worlds. While antibiotics destroy bacteria, the latter are bacteria! Doctors prescribe antibiotics to fight different infections, and they do their job effectively, but in the process, they also kill the good types of bacteria in your gut. This leads to an imbalance in your stomach, which is why you experience diarrhea. In fact, diarrhea is one of the most common side effects of antibiotics. These pills are also linked to other adverse effects such as gas, cramping, and bloating. To fight these uncomfortable symptoms, most doctors advise their patients to take probiotics during their antibiotic treatment. Taken through diet or via supplements, probiotics improve immunity and counter the effects of disease-causing bacteria, while also preventing some of the side effects of antibiotic medications.

You’re probably wondering whether probiotics may hinder the effects of antibiotic medications. The answer is no since they protect you from side effects of the antibiotics, you are less likely to discontinue use of these medications which makes them more effective.

Probiotics are live organisms that populate your gut with healthy bacteria. They are well-known for the ability to improve digestive health and immunity, and their support for weight loss, among many other things. In order to get the most out of the probiotics you consume through diet or supplements, it is necessary to ensure you’re taking the right kind as different types of these good bacteria contribute to different health effects.

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