You may be familiar with probiotics thanks to yogurt commercials on television, or maybe you have done your research and stumbled across the many potential benefits. Either way, you likely know that they are excellent for supporting healthy bacteria throughout your body — but especially in your gut microbiome.
The one drawback is that, unlike many other supplements, you may not know how many probiotics you need each day. The answer to how many probiotics you need is unfortunately not exactly black and white, but with this complete guide, you can learn everything you need to know about including them in your daily routine.
What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics include combinations of healthy bacteria and yeast. These good bacteria can be found in the form of a supplement or in certain foods, especially fermented foods like kombucha or miso.
Your body is host to trillions of live microorganisms like bacteria, fungi, viruses, and protozoa. These living microorganisms create what is known as a microbiome, which is a place where small microbes can survive, coexist, and thrive. Probiotics add to and support this microbiome.
Probiotic bacteria are set apart from regular bacteria when they meet a few criteria. To be considered a probiotic, the organisms must:
- Exist outside of the body
- Be able to survive in your intestines
- Benefit your health
- Be safe to consume
There are two common types of probiotics found in probiotic products, dietary supplements, and enhanced probiotic foods. These are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. These different strains are chosen because they are also naturally occurring in the body. Each of these species incorporates a list of specific probiotic strains, including types like Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum.
Probiotics can also come from healthy yeast. The most common form of yeast used for these supplements is called Saccharomyces boulardii.
Although there is still plenty of research to be done surrounding probiotics, they are generally agreed upon to be a great way to provide extra support for your body’s natural bacteria. These healthy bacteria help provide balance in the body, and they are increasing in popularity due to their many benefits.
How Are Probiotics Different From Prebiotics?
Although the words only differ by one letter, prebiotics and probiotics are not the same. Probiotics are supplements that include the living species of bacteria themselves. Meanwhile, prebiotics support the bacteria that already exist in your body. Prebiotics are like food for the bacteria in your body to encourage growth and help them regenerate.
Essentially, the difference between the two is like the difference between adding plant food to your garden to encourage new plants to grow and adding in whole new plants. Some products incorporate a blend of prebiotics and probiotics, which are called synbiotics.
What Are the Benefits of Probiotics?
People can have a variety of reasons for taking probiotics, as they are beneficial for many reasons. Your body is full of healthy bacteria that play key roles in the function of several systems of the body, from your digestive system to your immune system.
By consuming probiotics, you can provide vital support to your already healthy bacteria, resulting in several positive effects. Taking probiotics regularly may provide the following benefits.
Support Gut and Digestive Health
You may not have ever thought to refer to your gut as an ecosystem, but that is exactly what it is. Inside your intestines are billions of thriving bacteria living off the foods you eat. Not only that, these bacteria are your friends. Gut bacteria have a vital role in your digestive health, helping you to break down the foods you eat and send nutrients into your bloodstream to travel around the body.
If you experience gastrointestinal issues like indigestion, diarrhea, or bloating, there may be an imbalance in your gut bacteria.
This is where probiotics come in.
By teaming up with your gut bacteria, these organisms help you maintain healthy digestion and support functions like nutrient absorption and protein and fat digestion. With a healthy balance of healthy bacteria, you can enjoy better comfort, regularity, and overall gut health.
Supported Immune Function
Although we relate sickness to the effects of bacteria, the reality is a little more nuanced. The truth is that some bacteria, like those found in probiotics, can actually support your body’s ability to fight against sickness.
The healthy bacteria in our body have an important role on the frontlines of the fight against harmful pathogens. These bacteria directly support the body’s initial immune response by regulating the response of the army of dendritic cells, T cells, and other white blood cells.
By taking probiotics, you may be able to reinforce your body’s defense system and support the presence of these important regulatory forces throughout your immune system.
Support Balance in Your Body
Probiotics may also be beneficial after recovering from an illness. Antibiotics kill off the pathogenic bacteria causing your illness, but they also kill off the healthy bacteria in your body. This results in an imbalance to your microbiome and is the reason that many people experience indigestion, diarrhea, or yeast infections after a course of prescribed antibiotics.
After you finish taking an antibiotic, it can take your body some time for the gut biome to regenerate completely. Probiotics can help restore the balance that should exist in your body by speeding up this regeneration process.
Support Healthy Skin
Just like your gut, your skin is its own complete ecosystem of microscopic life. Not only does the skin support billions of microbes, but it also is a living organism itself. As a result, the skin and these microbes have a symbiotic, or mutually beneficial, relationship. Healthy bacteria can help keep the skin hydrated and soothed.
How Much Probiotics Do I Need?
Many medical professionals support the use of probiotics and encourage taking a certain amount each day.
It's not often that you hear daily recommended amounts measured by the billions, but when dealing with tiny living microorganisms, that is the case. Probiotics are measured in what are called colony-forming units. Because the term “probiotics” refers broadly to an expansive amount of species of living bacteria, there is no easy way to quantify how many probiotics you should take.
At the same time, people take probiotics for a long list of reasons, making it harder to quantify an exact number. Even though probiotics are not required for your health, some medical professionals have recommended taking somewhere between 10 to 20 billion CFUs per day for adults and between 5 and 10 billion for children.
Should I Take Probiotic Supplements?
If you want extra support for your overall health and wellness, you can certainly consider taking probiotics. With few risks associated and many potential benefits, there are plenty of reasons why it could be a good decision.
Everyone is different, so your body may not react the same to probiotics as others. Different products use different species of probiotics — therefore, you might not always see the results you would expect depending on how your body responds to various species.
If approved by your doctor, it may take some time and even some trial and error to find which probiotic supplement works best for you.
Where Can I Get Probiotics?
Although probiotics are becoming more widely available as a supplement, not everyone likes to take pills, while some just prefer to choose more fun options. Fortunately, there are plenty of great-tasting foods that help contribute to a healthy gut biome and promote overall wellness.
You can obtain probiotics from a variety of foods, including the following sources of probiotics.
- Fermented foods, like sauerkraut, pickles, and kimchi
- Kombucha tea
- Sourdough bread
- Cottage cheese
If you see the phrase “live active cultures” on an ingredient label, the product contains some form of probiotic. Check the ingredients to determine what species of probiotics is inside.
If you prefer to take your probiotics as a supplement for the sake of ease, you can do that too. Supplements can come in the form of capsules, pills, powders, and liquids. Explore your options to decide what fits best into your routine.
How Can I Maximize My Probiotic Intake?
The good news is that you don’t need to do much in order to help your probiotics do their job.
However, you do have to treat probiotic supplements carefully in order to ensure they maintain their full effectiveness. After all, they are alive.
Some strains of probiotics can be vulnerable to environmental conditions like heat, light, humidity, and even oxygen. For some strains, the cultures may die if exposed to any of these conditions for too long.
To protect your probiotics, you may want to put them in the refrigerator. Obviously, it makes sense to refrigerate yogurt and cottage cheese, but even supplements in pill form may benefit from going into the fridge for best protection. Be sure to check the instructions on your products to figure out how to best store them so you can maximize their effectiveness.
Also, keep in mind that your probiotics may not work right away or may take longer than you might expect to start working. Patience is important when considering your body’s response to probiotics. It may take some time for probiotics to start building up healthy bacteria and restore balance in your body, so do not be too quick to write them off as ineffective.
Can I Take Probiotics More Than Once a Day?
Probiotics are recognized as a safe way to support digestive health, but what about several times a day? Ultimately, how many times a day you take probiotics depends on a couple of factors.
Since the recommended daily intake for adults is between 10 and 20 billion CFUs, you should avoid going over it. However, if you only had 5 billion CFUs around breakfast time, you theoretically can have the same amount three more times throughout the day. The reality is that there is not a clear common consequence to taking too many probiotics.
If you are taking too many probiotics, you may start to see some unpleasant side effects, like abdominal discomfort or some extra gas. If these start to become an issue, you should consider cutting back on your daily intake.
Aside from these small side effects, probiotics are not considered to be harmful. Unless you have an allergy or special circumstance, you should not worry too much about taking too many probiotics. If you want to start incorporating probiotics into your daily routine, talk to your healthcare provider to discuss whether the cultures are a good idea for you.
Support the Healthy Bacteria in Your Body
Altogether, probiotics are a great way to support several of the key systems in your body, promote balance and restore healthy bacteria. More and more people are starting to embrace the potential benefits of these microorganisms, and with few possible side effects, it's easy to see why.
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Probiotics: What is it, Benefits, Side Effects, Food & Types | Cleveland Clinic