Probiotics: Definition, Types, Health Benefits, Side Effects, Risks, and Other


Probiotics the bacteria in your body were once thought to outnumber your body’s cells by 10 to 1. But a recent study suggests the ratio is closer to 1 to 1. This means you have about 39-300 trillion bacteria living inside you. Either way, that’s a huge number. Most of these bacteria live in your gut. Most are harmless, some are helpful, and few can cause disease. Having the right gut bacteria can lead to many health benefits, including:

  • Weight loss
  • Better digestion
  • Stronger immune system
  • Healthier skin
  • Lower risk of some disease

Probiotics are a type of friendly bacteria that are good for your health when eaten. They are often taken as supplements to help increase the number of microorganisms in your gut. For more research you can also visit Healthline. 

What are Probiotics?

They are live microorganisms that provide health benefits when taken. However, scientists often disagree on what the benefits are and which strains of bacteria are responsible. They are usually bacteria, but certain yeasts can also act as probiotics. Other microorganisms in the gut, like viruses, fungi, archaea, and worms, are also being studied. You can get probiotics from supplements and from foods made by bacterial fermentation. Probiotics foods include yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh, and kimchi. Probiotics are different from prebiotics, which are carbs-often dietary fibers that feed the good bacteria already in your gut. Products that contain both prebiotics and probiotics are called synbiotics. Synbiotics usually combine friendly bacteria with food for the bacteria (the prebiotics) in one supplement. The most common probiotics bacteria are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria. Other common types are Saccharomyces, Streptococcus, Enterococcus, Escherichia, and Bacillus. Each type has different species, and each species has many strains. On labels, you’ll see probiotics identified by their specific strain, which include the genus, species, subspecies, if there is one, and a letter-number strain code. Different probiotics help with different health issues, so it’s important to choose the right type or types of probiotics. Some supplements, called broad-spectrum probiotics or multi-probiotics, combine different species in one product. While the evidence is promising, more research is needed on the health benefits of probiotics. Some researchers warn about possible negative effects and suggest caution and strict regulation.

What are the Types of Probiotics?

The most commonly consumed probiotics are species from two main groups. These groups are also the most studied types or probiotics.

Bifidobacteria: This group of bacteria is often used in foods and supplements. They are believed to:

  • Support the immune system
  • Limit the growth of harmful bacteria in the intestine
  • Help break down lactose into the essential nutrients the body can use

Lactobacillus: This group of bacteria products lactase, an enzyme that breaks down lactose, or milk sugar. They also produce lactic acid, which helps control bad bacteria. Lactic acid also serves as muscle fuel and helps the body absorb minerals. Lactobacillus bacteria are naturally found in the:

  • Mouth
  • Small intestine
  • Vagina

Common Species of Probiotics:

Probiotics species are genetic subtypes within a genus. Each species has a different effect on the body. You will see the names of probiotics species on food or supplement labels, combined with the genus name. For example, the genus Bifidobacterium or Lactobacillus is often shortened to B. or L. and combined with the species name, such as acidophilus. This results in the name L. acidophilus. This is how it will appear on food or supplements labels. Here are six common species of probiotics you’ll find on food and supplement labels:

  • animalis: This species is an ingredient in Dannon yogurt’s Activia product. It helps with digestion and fights harmful bacteria in food. It is also thought to boost the immune system.
  • breve: This species lives in the digestive tract and the vagina. In both places, it fights off infection-causing bacteria or yeast. It helps the body absorb nutrients by fermenting sugars and breaks down plant fiber to make it digestible.
  • lactis: This species comes from raw milk. It is an ingredient in Nestlé’s probiotics infant formula, called Good Start Natural Cultures. It is also used as a starter for:
  • Buttermilk
  • Cottage cheese

Other Cheese:

  • longum: This species lives in the gastrointestinal tract. It helps break down carbohydrates and can also act as antioxidants.
  • acidophilus: This species is found in the small intestine and the vagina. It aids digestion and may help fight off vaginal bacteria. You can find it in yogurt and fermented soy products, such as miso.
  • reuteri: This species is found in the intestine and mouth. One study showed that it reduced the oral bacteria that cause tooth decay. It is also thought to help the digestive system.

What are the Health Benefits of Probiotics?

Here are some potential health benefits of probiotics. Such as:

Importance of Microorganisms for Your Gut:

The complex community of microorganisms in your gut is called the gut flora, gut microbiota, or gut microbiome. The gut microbiota includes bacteria, viruses, fungi, archaea, and helminths, with bacteria making up the majority. Your gut contains a complex ecosystem of 300-500 bacterial species. Most of the gut flora is found in your colon, or large intestine which is the last part of your digestive tract. Interestingly, the metabolic activities of your gut flora are similar to those of an organ. Because of this, some scientists call the gut flora the “forgotten organ.” Your gut flora performs many important health functions. It produces vitamins, including vitamin K, and some B vitamins. It also converts fibers into short-chain fats like butyrate, propionate, and acetate. These fats feed your gut wall and perform many metabolic functions. These fats also stimulate your immune system and strengthen your gut wall. This helps prevent harmful substances from entering your body and triggering an immune response. Your gut flora is very sensitive to your diet, and studies show that an unbalanced gut flora is linked to many diseases. These diseases are thought to include obesity, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, colorectal cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and depression. Probiotics and prebiotics fibers can help balance your gut flora, ensuring that your “forgotten organ” functions well.

Impact on Digestive Health:

Probiotics are widely studied for their effects on digestive health. Research suggests that probiotics supplements can help cure diarrhea caused by antibiotics. When people take antibiotics, especially for long periods, they often get diarrhea even after the infection is gone. This happens because antibiotics kill many of the natural bacteria in the gut, allowing harmful bacteria to grow. Probiotics may also help with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a common disease disorder. They can reduce gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and other symptoms. However, research on the effectiveness of probiotics for IBS is mixed. One review found that seven studies showed improvements with probiotics, but four did not. Multi-strain probiotic supplements seem to help most with IBS, especially when taken for longer than 8 weeks. But there are still many unanswered questions, such as:

  • Will IBS symptoms improve with probiotics?
  • Which probiotics or probiotic mixture are most effective?
  • What dosage and duration of probiotic treatments are best?
  • Do different types of IBS need different probiotic treatments?

Early results are promising, but more large trials are needed before doctors can confidently prescribe probiotics for IBS. Some studies also show benefits of probiotics for inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, but more research is needed to confirm this. Probiotics may also help fight Helicobacter pylori infections, which can cause ulcers and stomach cancer. If you have digestive problems that won’t go away, a probiotic supplement might be worth considering. However, be sure to consult your healthcare provider first.

Impact on Weight Loss:

Some research suggests that people who are obese have different gut bacteria compared to those who are lean. Studies show a link between gut microbes and obesity in both infants and adults. Changes in gut microbes are believed to contribute to developing obesity later in life. Many scientists think that gut bacteria play a role in determining body weight. While more research is needed, certain probiotics strains seem to help with weight loss. However, researchers caution against jumping because there are still many unknowns:

  • Which specific probiotic strains are best to use?
  • What is the right dosage and duration of treatment?
  • What are the long-term effects of probiotics treatments?
  • How do age, gender, health conditions, and lifestyle affect the results?

In one study, 2010 people with central obesity (excess belly fat) took the probiotic Lactobacillus gasseri daily. They lost an average of about 8.5% of their belly fat over 12 weeks. When they stopped taking the probiotic, they regained belly fat within 4 weeks. Research also suggests that Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Bifidobacterium lactis may aid weight loss and help prevent obesity, but more studies are needed to confirm this.

The Rise of Psychobiotics:

In the last ten years, research has revealed that the gut and brain are interconnected through a system known as the gut-brain axis. This axis connects the body’s central nervous system with the enteric nervous system, which controls digestion. Studies indicate that specific microbes in the gut can influence the brain through this axis, impacting both health and disease. These bacteria are part of a new area of study called “psychobiotics.” Research suggests that they may be beneficial in treating cognitive and neurological disorders such as autism, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. The specific microbes involved and their mechanisms of interaction with the brain are currently subjects of active research. Some researchers propose that, for certain individuals, taking certain strains of probiotics might be a preferable option over psychotropic drugs for managing mental or psychological stress, loneliness, and grief during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Some other Health Benefits of probiotics, including:

This is just a small part of probiotics’ benefits; as ongoing studies suggest a wide range of potential health effects.

What are the Safety and Side Effects of Probiotics?

Probiotics are usually well tolerated and considered safe for most people. However, regulations vary among probiotics, so it’s important to be cautious when selecting a product.

Choosing Probiotics:

As you navigate through the wide array of probiotics available today, it’s common to feel overwhelmed. You’re not alone, many people find it challenging to decide. In the United States, probiotics are sold as food ingredients, drugs, or dietary supplements. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates these categories differently, but most foods and supplements can be marketed without prior approval. Because of this some companies capitalized on the popularity of probiotics by selling supplements labeled as probiotic and making claims that aren’t supported by evidence. Probiotic regulations vary greatly worldwide, so ordering from other countries carries risks. Unregulated products like food items, cosmetics, and supplements are readily available abroad, but their safety isn’t guaranteed. To ensure you choose high-quality supplements, look for companies that follow best practices, such as third party testing. The safest approach is to discuss your choice with your healthcare provider or seek their recommendations. They can suggest products they know to be safe and effective.

Side Effects of Probiotics:

In the initial days of starting a probiotics supplement, you might experience digestive side effects like gas and milk abdominal discomfort. However, as your body adjusts, these symptoms typically improve. For individuals with weakened immune systems, such as those with HIV, AIDS, and certain other conditions, probiotics can potentially cause serious infections. If you have a medical condition, it’s important to consult your healthcare provider before starting any probiotic supplement.

What are the Risks of Probiotics?

Probiotics are generally safe for most people to use. When side effects occur in healthy individuals, they are usually minor such as bloating, gas, and stomach discomfort. In rare cases, people with underlying health conditions have developed serious infections after using probiotics. If you have a compromised immune system or are pregnant, consult your doctor before taking probiotics. B. infants are sensitive to several commonly used antibiotics, including ciprofloxacin, tobramycin, and vancomycin. If you are taking antibiotics, talk to your doctor about the potential effects of probiotics. Don’t use probiotics as a substitute for any medications prescribed by your doctor.

What to Know About Probiotics and COVID-19?

Some researchers suggest that improving the gut microbiome through probiotic supplements and diet may help fight and treat infections with the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19. COVID-19 can weaken the body’s immune defense through a “cytokine storm” which is an excessive release of inflammatory cytokines. This is believed to be a major cause of worsening health and even death. Since gut bacteria have been shown to boost the immune system and fight inflammation, researchers think probiotics might help speed up recovery from COVID-19 by reducing this “cytokine storm.” People with COVID-19 often report gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and loss of appetite. Some researchers believe probiotics could help prevent coronavirus by blocking the ACE receptor, which SARS-CoV-2 uses to enter the body and infant gastrointestinal cells. Another proposed connection between COVID-19 and probiotics involves the “gut-lung axis,” a system of communication between the gut and lung tissues. Imbalances in gut bacteria are linked to lung cancer and respiratory infections, so correcting these imbalances might improve lung health and help protect against SARS-CoV-2. Research also suggests that probiotics may enhance antiviral activity in general, improving immune, lung, and anti-inflammatory responses to help clear SARS-CoV-2 infection. However, these ideas are still theoretical. Researchers say more studies are needed to confirm them. One study advises caution, noting that not all probiotic strains will have the same effects. It questions whether probiotic supplementation can significantly change the gut microbiome to combat COVID-19.


What are the uses of probiotics?

Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are good for your body. These species already exist in your body, along with many others. Probiotics supplements increase the number of these friendly microbes. They help fight off harmful types and strengthen your immune system against infections.

What foods are probiotics?

Here are some fermented foods that naturally contain probiotics, and some ways to try them with your family.

  • Yogurt
  • Kefir
  • Milk
  • Soy
  • Coconut
  • Water
  • Sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles,
  • Miso, tamari,
  • Tempeh (soy)
  • Kombucha
  • Sour cream, cottage cheese, aged cheese

What fruits are high in probiotics?

  • Bananas
  • Custard apples
  • Watermelon
  • Grapefruits
  • Almonds

How to make probiotics at home?

They are found in every fermented food, so you can ferment almost anything. You can use cabbage, radish, carrot, parsnip, garlic, parsley, dill, bell pepper, ginger, beetroot, cucumber, eggs, eggplant, blackcurrant leaves, asparagus, and more. Classic combinations include cucumbers with garlic, dill, and blackcurrant leaves.

What is the natural source of probiotics?

The most common fermented foods that naturally contain probiotics or have probiotics added to them include yogurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, pickles, miso, tempeh, kimchi, sourdough bread, and some cheese.

Is honey a natural probiotic?

Honey is both a prebiotic and a probiotic. Products that contain prebiotics and probiotics are referred to as synbiotics.   

Is cured a probiotic?

The concept of it has led to the widespread consumption of foods containing probiotic microbes, like curd and yogurt. In many homes in southern India, homemade curd is consumed daily.

Is lassi a probiotic?

Both chaas and lassi offer the benefits of probiotics, which are beneficial bacteria that help with digestion and boost the immune system. Regularly drinking these beverages can improve gut health and overall well-being.

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