Should I Take Probiotics? MDs Share Their Advice
If you're not already in the probiotic club, it's easy to feel some well-being FOMO: After all, so many people seem to be taking them these days. With the allure of better gut health, and all its tangential perks, it's certainly intriguing—but how do you know if probiotics are really right for you? To help get a better idea of whether your health routine could benefit from these good bugs, we've compiled advice from some top-notch experts.
How to know if you should take a probiotic.
If you ask any functional medicine expert, they'll tell you a healthy gut is key to overall health.
So in that regard, supporting your gut microbiome is a good idea for just about anyone. That's where a probiotic supplement can come into play, by adding more beneficial bugs to your gut.*
"No one I know has the perfect microbiome, and I personally check a lot of patients," says integrative physician Bindiya Gandhi, M.D. "No one eats perfectly all the time: eating fermented foods, fiber, prebiotic foods, vegetables, and fruits. That's why I highly recommend everyone of all ages take a daily probiotic for generalized overall health."*
What's more, if you're dealing with any specific digestive needs (think bloating, gas, regularity), a targeted probiotic supplement may be for you.*
For example, one study suggests that a combination of Lactobacillus 1and 1Bifidobacteria 1can ease bloating1 in individuals with that gut challenge.*
"There's no hard-and-fast rule, but if you have gut issues, it's worth a try," says functional medicine doctor Wendie Trubow, M.D., MBA.* That said, "One clear way you'd know you need probiotics is if you did a specialty stool test, and the probiotic levels came back low."
Ultimately, different strains of probiotics have their own unique functions, so it may help to work with your health care provider to determine the most suitable choice for you. (You can learn more about how probiotics benefit men specifically, and see our top picks in our mens probiotics roundup.)
Benefits of taking probiotics.*
As mentioned, one of the biggest benefits of taking probiotics is supporting overall gut health.*
"Think of probiotics as your little helpers that restore order and help maintain harmony in your gut ecosystem,*" gut health expert Vincent Pedre, M.D., previously told mbg. "They outnumber unwelcome pathogens, including unfavorable bacteria, yeast, and parasites."
In general, taking an effective probiotic can support abdominal comfort and regularity, plus ease bloating and gas, explains Gandhi.*
One study suggests that the probiotic strain Lactobacillus acidophilus helped maintain a normal gut inflammatory response2, while other research found the Bifidobacteria may help maintain a healthy bowel3—just to name a couple of examples.*
What's more, depending on the strain, these good bugs may also net benefits in other health areas, like "skin health and mood, as well as keeping your immune system strong," says Gandhi.* (You can read more about the range of benefits here.)
Potential risks of taking probiotics.
Probiotics are generally regarded as safe to take and won't cause any side effects if you're healthy, according to the NCCIH.
"There are no potential risks, but it's a good idea for you to talk to your doctor to see if one is good for you, especially if you're immunocompromised or have pre-existing medical issues," says Gandhi. "Most of the time, taking a daily supplement is completely safe and harmless."
In more rare cases, "if someone has a histamine issue, and depending on how sensitive they are, if they take probiotics, they could not feel great," says Trubow. She also adds that some probiotics are grown in dairy, "so people with a true milk allergy might react."
Other than that, there is a chance of experiencing gastrointestinal side effects before seeing improvements, integrative medicine doctor Amy Shah, M.D., previously told mbg. "Many people can get gas or bloating in the first week or two since it's new bacteria for your ecosystem."
How to pick the right probiotic source.
There are so many different brands and types of probiotics out there, but ultimately it's important to find the one that works for you.
"If you're new to probiotics, just taking a general diverse one will be effective," says Gandhi. "Ideally, though, the more colony-forming units, the better. We want to diversify our gut microbiome."
For the most part, Trubow says, "People generally do well with Lactobacillus and Saccharomyces boulardii, but Bifidobacterium strains are also beneficial."*
Robert Rountree, M.D., integrative physician, also adds, "You want something that's got a good stability, got a good shelf life, and then you want to have strains that have actually been well researched." (Read more about an M.D.'s tips for picking a probiotic.)
If you're interested in trying a probiotic—whether it's for general health or specific reasons—most experts will tell you it's a safe, beneficial choice.* However, it never hurts to speak with your health care practitioner to try to find the best probiotic for you, particularly if you have any health conditions.
Kristine is a writer, editor, and editorial consultant who lives in Long Beach, CA. Kristine is a New York University graduate with a degree in journalism and psychology, and also a NASM-certified personal trainer. She has spent her editorial career focused on health and well-being, and formerly worked for Women’s Health and Health. Her byline has also appeared in Men’s Health, Greatist, Refinery29, HGTV, and more. In her current role she oversees, edits, and writes for the health, food, and movement sections of mindbodygreen.