How To Tell If Your Probiotic Is Working? (Plus, What To Do If It Isn't)

Are your Probiotics working?

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Your gut is home to trillions of microorganisms, collectively called the microbiome. They work to aid in digestion, regulate hormones, support the immune system, and generally support gut health.

One of the best ways to support the optimal functioning of your gut is through a well-researched, targeted probiotic supplement,* but how do you actually know if it's working? There are a few telltale signs to look out for—let's dive in.

Here's what happens when you start taking a probiotic.

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Four targeted strains to beat bloating and help reduce abdominal fat.*

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Inside you right now are trillions of microorganisms, some of which are supporting your health by breaking down indigestible fiber, regulating hormones, and communicating across the gut-brain axis* while others are hurting your health, making you feel sick, bloated, and sluggish.

How you feel comes down to the overall balance of these microscopic critters. If there are more good guys than bad guys, then you're probably feelin' good.* But sometimes the bad outweighs the good, a condition known as dysbiosis. Consuming probiotics, whether in supplement form or from food, is a good way to work toward a balanced microbiome.* 

Probiotic supplements contain billions of living, beneficial microorganisms. They typically contain a few different strains of the same microorganisms that already reside in the human body. When you take a probiotic supplement, you send in backup and add to the population of these naturally occurring microorganisms. You're tipping the good bacteria scale in your favor. The new good guys take up residence in your gut, joining in the fight against bad bacteria, and promote a healthy gut.* As Robert Rountree, M.D., renowned integrative physician, explains it, "The probiotics are like good cops. We're putting in the good cops, and the good cops can keep watch over the bad guys."

The gut is often referred to as the "second brain" because it is interconnected with so many other systems and processes in the body. By supporting your gut health, you promote not only good digestive health but overall health and well-being.*

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How to tell if your probiotic is actually working. 

That all sounds great in theory, but when it comes down to it, how do you know if your probiotic is actually doing anything? You can tell if a probiotic is working for you by keeping track of any changes to your symptoms. Try keeping a symptom journal, so you can see if things are improving. The more severe or significant your symptoms before starting a probiotic, the easier it is to notice changes. Since probiotics are taken orally and must pass through the digestive tract, digestive symptoms are often the first ones to improve.

What to look for when taking a probiotic supplement?

And take note, just because your symptoms aren't improving doesn't necessarily mean probiotics won't work for you. You might need to consume a different strain or significantly increase how much you're taking to see changes.

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OK, but how long does it take for them to work?

Be patient; the more unbalanced your gut flora, the longer it will take to regain balance.* While study lengths vary, many report a four- to 16-week time frame of probiotic supplementation. If antibiotic-associated diarrhea is your main concern, then it is recommended to take a probiotic on Day 1 of antibiotic treatment and continue for a minimum of one to two weeks after the antibiotic treatment is completed. Dosage also varies, depending on why you are taking a probiotic. Health benefits have been seen in doses as low as 5 billion colony forming units (CFUs) up to 100 billion CFUs per day.*

How long should you take a probiotic?

Even if you notice improvements in your symptoms right away, continue taking your probiotic. Remember that stress, poor diet, medications, illnesses, and more can worsen your microbiome. If these triggers are not resolved, then probiotic supplementation needs to be ongoing to prevent the effects of gut imbalance, especially considering probiotics might not permanently colonize the gut. Not to worry, though, despite not making a forever home of your gut, transient probiotics still leave a lasting positive impact.*

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Tips for picking a probiotic that will work.

If you're looking for a probiotic supplement, then consider a few things to get your money's worth:

  • Choose a broad-spectrum product that provides multiple microbial strains. Gut health expert Vincent Pedre, M.D., explains that the Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Saccharomyces families are the most-well studied species, from which a variety of strains have shown promise.
  • You want at least 10 billion colony-forming units (CFUs) per strain (though some studies have shown benefit with a lower dose).
  • Don't forget to feed your microbiome. Eating fiber-rich prebiotic foods like asparagus and garlic is important for helping maintain a healthy gut. Probiotics eat prebiotics, so by eating prebiotic foods, you are helping your gut bugs survive and thrive. 

Dose, species and strain, and length of consumption can greatly influence how much benefit you receive so choose your probiotic wisely.*   

Probiotic supplements are safe for infants, children, adults, and the elderly; however, those with compromised immune functions are often advised to avoid probiotics. If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking medications, consult with your doctor before starting a supplement routine. It is always optimal to consult with a health care provider when considering what supplements are right for you.

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