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Probiotics are friendly bacteria that may help support healthy digestion and offer other benefits to your overall health.
Probiotics are live microorganisms that can be consumed through fermented foods or supplements (
More and more studies show that the balance or imbalance of bacteria in your digestive system is linked to overall health and disease.
Probiotics promote a healthy balance of gut bacteria and have been linked to a wide range of health benefits.
This is an overview of the key health benefits linked to probiotics.
These benefits are thought to result from the ability of probiotics to restore the natural balance of gut bacteria (
An imbalance means there are too many bad bacteria and not enough good bacteria. It can happen due to illness, medication such as antibiotics, poor diet and more.
Consequences can include digestive issues, allergies, mental health problems, obesity and more (
Probiotics are usually found in fermented foods or taken as supplements. What’s more, they appear to be safe for most people.
Probiotics are live microorganisms. When taken in sufficient amounts, they can help restore the natural balance of gut bacteria. As a result, health benefits may follow.
Probiotics are widely known for their ability to prevent diarrhea or reduce its severity.
Diarrhea is a common side effect of taking antibiotics. It occurs because antibiotics can negatively affect the balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut (
Several studies suggest probiotic use is associated with a reduced risk of antibiotic-associated diarrhea (
In one study, researchers found that taking probiotics reduced C. difficile infection (CDAD) by 60% (
Probiotics can also help with other forms of diarrhea not associated with antibiotics.
A large review of 35 studies found certain strains of probiotics can reduce the duration of diarrhea by an average of 25 hours (
Probiotics also reduced the risk of travelers’ diarrhea (
Effectiveness varies, depending on the type and dose of the probiotic taken (
Probiotics can reduce the risk and severity of diarrhea from a number of different causes.
Both animal and human studies find that probiotic supplements can improve some mental health disorders (
A review of
One study followed 70 chemical workers for 6 weeks. Those who consumed 100 grams of probiotic yogurt per day or took a daily probiotic capsule experienced benefits for general health, depression, anxiety and stress (
Benefits were also seen in a study of 40 patients with depression.
Taking probiotic supplements for 8 weeks decreased depression levels and reduced levels of C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation) and hormones such as insulin, compared to people who did not take a probiotic (
Research shows taking probiotics may help improve symptoms of mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, stress and memory, among others.
Probiotics may help keep your heart healthy by lowering LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and blood pressure.
Certain lactic acid-producing bacteria may reduce cholesterol by breaking down bile in the gut (
Bile, a naturally occurring fluid mostly made of cholesterol, helps digestion.
By breaking down bile, probiotics can prevent it from being reabsorbed in the gut, where it can enter the blood as cholesterol (
Probiotics may help protect the heart by reducing “bad” LDL cholesterol levels and modestly lowering blood pressure.
Older research suggests certain probiotic strains may reduce the severity of eczema in children and infants (
However, compared with no probiotic, currently available probiotic strains probably make little or no difference in improving eczema (
Probiotics may reduce the risk and severity of certain allergies, such as eczema in infants. However, more research is needed.
Over one million people in the US suffer from inflammatory bowel disease, including ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease (
Certain types of probiotics from the Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus strains have improved symptoms in people with mild ulcerative colitis (
However, probiotics appear to have little effect on symptoms of Crohn’s disease (
Nevertheless, probiotics may have benefits for other bowel disorders. Early research suggests they may help with symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) (
Probiotics may help reduce the symptoms of bowel disorders like ulcerative colitis, IBS and necrotizing enterocolitis.
Older research suggests that taking probiotics reduced the likelihood and duration of respiratory infections. However, the quality of the evidence was low (
The probiotic Lactobacillus crispatus has also been shown to reduce the risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs) in women by 50% (
Ultimately, more research is needed to find out about the link between probiotics and immunity.
Probiotics may help boost your immune system and protect against infections.
For example, some probiotics prevent the absorption of dietary fat in the intestine.
The fat is then excreted through feces rather than stored in the body (
In a study, synbiotic supplementation increased the abundance of gut bacteria associated with positive health effects, especially Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus. It also appeared to increase the gut microbiota richness and increased the abundance of potentially beneficial microbial species (
More studies are needed to clarify the link between probiotics and weight (
Certain probiotics may help you lose weight and belly fat. However, other strains have been linked to weight gain.
You can get probiotics from a variety of foods or supplements.
If you want to buy a probiotic supplement, then there is an excellent selection on Amazon with thousands of customer reviews.
Live probiotic cultures are often found in fermented dairy products such as yogurts and milk drinks. Fermented foods like pickled vegetables, tempeh, miso, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut and soy products may also contain some lactic acid bacteria.
You can also take probiotics as tablets, capsules and powders that contain the bacteria in dried form.
However, be aware that some probiotics can be destroyed by stomach acid before they even reach the gut — meaning that you get none of the intended benefits.
If you want to experience any of the health benefits discussed above, it’s important that you consume adequate amounts.
Most of the studies showing benefits used dosages of 1 billion to 100 billion live organisms or colony-forming units (CFU) per day.
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