Probiotics. Everyone is saying you need them, and guess what? They’re right. But before you can figure out what works best for your body, you have to know what exactly probiotics are and the role they play in your health.
Simply put, probiotics are live microorganisms that live in your gut, reports the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). And while a lot of people think that microorganisms — especially the bacteria variety — are harmful to your health, probiotics are actually there to provide health benefits.
But sometimes you need a little help from outside sources in order to secure those benefits, which is why a lot of experts recommend getting an extra hit of probiotics through food. Fermented options — think keffir, sauerkraut, and kimchi — are a great place to start, says the International Scientific Association of Probiotics and Prebiotics, as are these other surprising foods with probiotics.
If that’s not enough, your doctor may also suggest a probiotic supplement. But don’t go and grab just anything off the pharmacy shelf. Probiotic supplements are not all the same, and they often contain different strains to serve different needs, says naturopathic physician Amy Fasig. Example: What one person gets to battle strep throat is different from what would be prescribed for someone suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome, she says.
Clearly, probiotics can help maintain good health in a variety of ways. Here are eight of them.
1 They restore good bacteria.
You know antibiotics can help fight off bacterial infections, but overusing them can actually deplete the good bacteria in your body, reports Harvard Medical School. (That’s why doctors recommend you don’t take antibiotics unless you really need them.) If you must go on meds, talk with your doctor about taking probiotics afterward, as the NCCIH says they can help recover beneficial microorganisms afterward and help keep the ratio of good to bad bacteria in balance.
2 They prevent urinary tract infections.
If you’re one of the 40-60% of women who experience urinary tract infections, or UTIs, with some regularity, you may benefit from popping probiotics. Fasig says they can help reduce the frequency in which you experience them. When they do occur, those microorganisms may help subdue the not-so-fun symptoms that often accompany UTIs.
3 They bolster immunity.
If you get sick often, probiotics might be the immune booster you’ve been looking for. The Cleveland Clinic says they’ve been shown to strengthen immunity by enriching and replenishing the good bacteria in the body. And when you eat foods with probiotics regularly, it’s easier for your body to produce vitamins and enzymes that help keep your intestines happy.
4 They improve fertility.
Trying to conceive can be tough, but Fasig says probiotics may make it easier, as research shows that having a good ratio of certain probiotic strains can improve your odds. If you’re trying to expand your family, talk to your OBGYN about what probiotics may work best for you.
5 They prevent traveler’s diarrhea.
Next time you pack your travel beauty bag, slip a shelf-stable probiotic in there to preempt bathroom emergencies, Fasig says. Look for one that contains Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus sporogenes, Bifidophilus bifidum, and Sacchromyces boulardii strains ($20, amazon.com), which Fasig says can improve your intestinal health to fix issues with constipation or diarrhea.
7 They clear up skin problems.
The benefits of probiotics don’t stop at internal health. Research from the American Academy of Dermatology found that, whether applied topically or taken orally, probiotics can potentially help patients with skin issues such as acne, rosacea, and eczema. More studies need to be done though, so talk to your dermatologist before changing your regular routine.
8 They boost digestion.
Those microbes in your lower intestinal tract are responsible for helping you digest food, and Fasig says taking probiotics can help keep everything running smoothly. Probiotics may also help reduce gastrointestinal symptoms, including gas, bloat, and constipation, according to Harvard Medical School.