LivingAre probiotics really beneficial?

Are probiotics really beneficial?

The popularity of probiotics has grown a lot lately. When entering any store, we find products that contain probiotic strains. In addition to foods with live bacterial cultures , such as yogurt and other fermented milk products, consumers can now purchase probiotic capsules and pills. Some manufacturers are also adding microorganisms to cosmetics. Is there a basis for such frequent use of this supplement in so many different health conditions?

What are probiotics?

Millions of bacteria and other microorganisms live in the intestines. This community of organisms is called the gut microbiome . The gut microbiome is important for digestion and gut health, as it supports the immune system. Some of these bacteria are beneficial to their host, while some species are harmful.

Studies indicate that consuming probiotics may provide more healthy bacteria. They help restore the balance of the intestinal microbiome. The most common species of bacteria that manufacturers add to probiotic products are Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus .

In principle, a person cannot overdose on probiotics, or at least there is no clear documented evidence that it has previously occurred. However, we do not want to put this hypothesis to the test and we should always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Can probiotics help restore digestive health?

New research suggests that probiotics are effective for this purpose, but only for some people . In other words, the issue is neither a resounding yes nor an absolute no.

Probiotics are live microorganisms. Among the microorganisms in question, they are usually bacteria that are considered beneficial to health. However, there are countless bacteria and there are not extensive studies on all of them. On the other hand, on the most common in this type of product, their effects on various conditions have been investigated, such as diarrhea (caused by antibiotics), eczema, allergies and functional gastrointestinal disorders (such as irritable bowel syndrome) . However, there is still not enough evidence that probiotics are effective for these conditions.

Despite this, probiotic-based supplements are in widespread use. In a 2012 report, about 4 million Americans said they had taken a probiotic in the past month. And this was 10 years ago, today, consumption is much more widespread.

A study by Israeli researchers indicates that some people’s digestive systems are supported by supplemental probiotics. In others, the body expels the good bacteria.

The same team worked on another study, which found that when probiotics are taken in antibiotic therapy, they can alter the normalization of the intestinal flora after use. The results indicated that greater caution should be exercised when using antibiotics and that a single approach should not be used for probiotic supplementation. In other words, the same probiotic should not suit everyone equally.

These studies suggest that the use of probiotics should be on a case-by-case basis. That means that the widespread practice of using probiotics to prevent disease and improve general health is often not a good strategy .

Dr. Elinav, author of the aforementioned studies, said that the use of probiotics should be controlled just like medical treatments. Any such intervention must be weighed against its benefits and potential harms.

The first study involved 25 volunteers. For each person, the microbiome (naturally occurring bacteria) in different parts of the digestive tract was defined by endoscopy and colonoscopy. Fifteen people were divided into two groups for four weeks. One group received a supplement containing 11 strains of the most commonly used probiotics. The other group received a placebo. After three weeks, the microbiome was sampled again to see possible changes. Those given probiotics had two different reactions.

The researchers found that one group, called ” lingers ,” retained the microorganisms from the probiotics and altered the microbiome. The second group, called ” resistant ,” had no significant changes in the microbiome, and the probiotic strains were eliminated from the body. The researchers said that based on a person’s microbiome and gene expression profile, they could determine whether a person is persistent or resistant.

In the second study, they looked at whether probiotic supplements could help restore the natural microbiome after antibiotic therapy.

The study included 21 people who were assigned to one of three groups: a watch-and-wait group, which allowed their microbiome to recover on its own; a group that took probiotic supplements from 11 strains for four weeks; and a third group treated with fecal transplantation, using their collected bacteria before using antibiotics. Both the watch-and-wait group and the probiotic supplement group did not return to their normal microbiome after four weeks. The group that took probiotics was the slowest to recover their initial microbiome. However, fecal transplantation resulted in a rapid return of the normal microbiome.

The researchers believe that care must be taken with the “unselective” use of probiotics in antibiotic therapy. The reason is that the long-term effects are not yet well understood.

Scientists suggest that the microbiome is like a fingerprint , unique, and we cannot assume that the supplement will have the same effect from person to person. But it is an emerging science, and the research is still very recent. What can help is a more plant-based diet. Vegetable fibers are useful for the microorganisms in the intestine, and this can be a starting point on how to preserve the microbiome naturally.



Gordon, S (2018). Probiotics: Don’t Believe the Hype? WebMD.

Markowiak, P., & Śliżewska, K. (2017). Effects of Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Synbiotics on Human Health. Nutrients, 9(9), 1021.

‌Pch.vector (s.f.). Tiny people on probiotic diet illustration [Free Vector]. Freepik.

Suez, J., Zmora, N., Zilberman-Schapira, G., Mor, U., Dori-Bachash, M., Bashiardes, S., et. al. (2018). Post-Antibiotic Gut Mucosal Microbiome Reconstitution Is Impaired by Probiotics and Improved by Autologous FMT. Cell, 174(6), 1406–1423.e16.

Valdes, A. M., Walter, J., Segal, E., & Spector, T. D. (2018). Role of the gut microbiota in nutrition and health. BMJ, 361, k2179.

Zmora, N., Zilberman-Schapira, G., Suez, J., Mor, U., Dori-Bachash, M., Bashiardes, S., et. al. (2018). Personalized Gut Mucosal Colonization Resistance to Empiric Probiotics Is Associated with Unique Host and Microbiome Features. Cell, 174(6), 1388–1405.e21.


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