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Susan Brooks-Dammann/Stocksy

Crohn’s disease is an autoimmune disorder with no known cure. Because it causes inflammation in your intestines and digestive tract, Crohn’s is often referred to as an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Characterized by episodes of flare-ups and remission, the treatment for Crohn’s is geared toward helping you manage your symptoms.

Some treatment methods include anti-inflammatory drugs or surgery that removes or repairs damaged areas of the digestive tract. Lifestyle changes, including dietary changes, are also typically employed.

If you live with Crohn’s, you may have considered using probiotics as one of your lifestyle changes. Probiotic supplements, which are live, helpful bacteria, are often employed to “restore” the balance of someone’s gut health. And because one of the characterizations of Crohn’s is a disturbance of normal gut bacteria, it makes sense — in theory — that probiotics would help.

The answer, unfortunately, is not as simple as that. While probiotics are generally considered safe for most people, there’s debate around just how much they can actually help with Crohn’s symptoms.

Bacteria tend to get a bad rap. When we think of bacteria, we likely think of an infection. However, not all bacteria are bad.

Many bacteria have evolved along with humans in a mutually beneficial relationship, such as the bacteria living in your digestive system. Scientists are beginning to understand how complex these partnerships are between healthy humans and the bacteria inside their guts.

In a healthy gut, there’s a delicate balance of different bacteria. Healthy gut bacteria, called intestinal microflora, play an important role in immunity and digestion. Probiotics contain many of the same or similar microorganisms that naturally live in human bodies, which means that, in theory, they can also help with immunity and digestion.

While research around the benefits of probiotics is still relatively new, probiotics are typically considered helpful, because:

  • they may help maintain or improve the beneficial microorganisms in your gut
  • they may positively influence your immune system

Can probiotics actually help with Crohn’s symptoms?

Individuals with an IBD, like Crohn’s, typically have less beneficial and anti-inflammatory bacteria than individuals without IBD, so the theory that probiotics can improve and populate that missing bacteria makes sense.

However, research conducted on the benefits of probiotics in treating Crohn’s symptoms has not shown consistent results. While there may be some promise when it comes to treating the symptoms of ulcerative colitis, another IBD, with probiotics, studies around Crohn’s aren’t as conclusive.

Additionally, because there are many kinds of probiotics, it’s still a mystery as to which kinds are most beneficial for individuals with IBDs.

If you’re considering adding probiotics to your diet to help with your Crohn’s symptoms, talk with your doctor first.

When taken as recommended, probiotics are generally considered safe. However, because there haven’t been many studies that actually look into the long-term safety or side effects of probiotics, it’s hard to say for sure that they’re completely safe for everyone.

To date, there’s not one probiotic product that’s approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This means that companies can make claims regarding the ingredients of their products that aren’t always verified.

If you choose to buy probiotics, research the companies you’re buying from, as well as the ingredients and type of probiotics they’re selling.

In addition, there’s a risk of probiotics producing harmful effects in some cases involving extremely ill or immunocompromised people. In these cases, probiotics may:

  • cause infections
  • transfer antibiotic resistance genes between microorganisms in the digestive tract

There are many foods that may help improve the bacteria in your gut the same way probiotics can.

Yogurt is one of the most well-known sources of natural probiotics. Other natural sources of probiotics include:

  • kefir
  • kombucha
  • sauerkraut
  • tempeh
  • natto
  • miso
  • kimchi

Again, while probiotic supplements and probiotic-rich foods are most likely safe and helpful for individuals without Crohn’s, there’s very little research around the benefits of fermented foods for people living with Crohn’s.

For most people, probiotics are generally considered safe. They may help maintain or increase the helpful bacteria in your gut, and they may play a role in keeping your immune system healthy.

If you have Crohn’s disease and are considering taking probiotics to help with your symptoms, it’s a good idea to talk with your doctor first. Most scientific research has not found a direct link between probiotics and improved Crohn’s symptoms.

Foods that can naturally help increase the beneficial bacteria in your gut, like yogurt, kefir, and miso, are typically safe and possibly helpful for individuals without Crohn’s.

But like the supplements themselves, they might not provide much benefit when it comes to managing your symptoms if you live with Crohn’s.