Probiotics in hand

Photo by Copyright, ISAPP 2019.

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host. The word probiotic is often used incorrectly to refer to any live microorganisms—but an international group of scientists convened by ISAPP agreed that the term should be restricted to microorganisms that have been tested and shown to provide a health benefit.

Your body contains 38 trillion microbes that make up your microbiota and assist in keeping you healthy—and probiotics can play a supportive role in these processes. Probiotic bacteria are found in a variety of different products, including foods, dietary supplements, infant formulas, pharmaceuticals, and other products (such as tampons and skin creams, that can also deliver probiotics).

What can probiotics do for health?

Research has shown that probiotics can support health in a variety of different ways. In general, they may assist with your immune function, aid your digestion, keep harmful microorganisms in check, produce vitamins, and aid in nutrient absorption. Specifically, there’s evidence that certain probiotics can:

  • Reduce antibiotic-associated diarrhea
  • Treat infectious diarrhea
  • Improve mild to moderate irritable bowel syndrome and other digestive symptoms
  • Help manage symptoms associated with poor digestion of lactose
  • Reduce colic symptoms and reduce risk of eczema in infants
  • Decrease some common infections, including those of the respiratory tract, gut, and vaginal tract

When you’re choosing a probiotic, it’s important to remember that strains are different—so you need to pick a strain that gives the benefit you want. Amount also matters, so be sure the product contains the level of probiotics needed for the desired health benefit.

Will probiotics work for me?

Like all strategies for promoting health, a specific probiotic strain might not work for everyone. Scientists think the factors that might influence whether a probiotic works for you could include your unique diet, the existing microbes in your digestive tract, and your unique physiology. One strategy for figuring out whether a probiotic is right for you is to try a product for about a month. If you don’t see a benefit, then perhaps it’s not the right one for you. Prebiotics and some fermented foods are alternative ways to address health through the gut.

Are probiotics safe?

Probiotics are safe for most people, but talk to your doctor first if you suffer from an immune disorder or short bowel syndrome, or have a serious illness. You should also check with a medical professional before giving probiotics to an infant.

See here for resources that can help you find a probiotic product to address your needs.

Amounts Matter with Probiotics

Make sure your product contains the level of probiotics needed for the intended health benefit.

Check out this infographic on how to read probiotic labels to find out how many live microorganisms (measured in colony-forming units) are present.

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Should Healthy People Take Probiotics?

This infographic explains the scientific evidence for probiotic use in healthy individuals.

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What’s Important When Choosing a Probiotic?

There are many probiotic products on the shelves—read this handy checklist for choosing one that meets your needs.

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Know the Real Science

Those who talk about probiotics don’t always get their facts straight—see our infographic that dispels some of the most common probiotic myths.

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Probiotics: the Cheat Sheet

See here for an overview of exactly what probiotics are, where to find them, and what they can do for your health.

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ISAPP Videos

Check out these ISAPP educational videos, created by our science translation committee to answer the most common questions about probiotics.

What is a probiotic?
Health benefits of probiotics
Are all probiotics the same?
How to choose a probiotic

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