What are Probiotics?

and other Frequently Asked Questions...

What are Probiotics?

"What are probiotics?", you ask. 

Let me tell you.

Probiotics are microorganisms that can be beneficial to our health. They are sometimes called "good bacteria". They consist of both friendly bacteria and yeast.

In fact, the human body contains trillions of bacterial cells. These outnumber our human cells by a factor of 10. Even though bacterial cells make up such a large number of cells in our body they only make up 1 - 3% of our weight because they are so small. For example, a 200 pound male would have about 2-6 pounds of weight of bacteria.

This army of good bacteria help our body work well and help defend our body from infections caused by bacteria and other germs.

Where Do I find Probiotics?

We naturally ingest probiotics in our diet and they can be found in the environment around us. These healthy bacteria grow in our intestines, they can actually survive the trip through our intestines out the rectum and live on our skin and and in females birth canal. We also have healthy bacteria in our mouth. 

To get probiotics into the body we can eat foods that contain probiotics or take a probiotic supplement.

Some researchers are also investigating the use of fecal material to be ingested orally to replace good healthy bacteria. (YUCK!)

What foods have probiotics?

Common probiotic rich foods are:

  • sauerkraut (unpasteurized)
  • kimchi
  • pickles
  • kombucha
  • kefir
  • yogurt
  • soy drinks
  • miso
  • tempeh
  • buttermilk
  • some soft cheeses such as Gouda

What are Probiotic Supplements?

Probiotic supplements come in the form of tablets, capsules, gummies, powders, and suppositories. 

Probiotics are identified by their genus and species. For example, many probiotics are in the Lactobacillus family or genus. A well known species within the Lactobacillus family is acidophilus. The probiotic is called by the genus followed by the species name. So in this case Lactobacillus acipdophilus. When purchasing a probiotic you will see the brand name and the active ingredient. The active ingredient will list the genus and species of the probiotic.

What probiotic supplements are well known?

Several common probiotic brands are:

  • Activia (Bifidobacterium animalis lactis)
  • Align (Bifidobacterium longum)
  • Florastor (Saccharomyces boulardii)
  • Culturelle (Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG).

How Do I Choose a Probiotic?

When choosing a probiotic it is important to know the name, genus and species, as well as the dose. In general the dosing is listed as colony forming units (CFU's).

Typical dosing of a probiotic will be in the billions of CFUs daily. Not all probiotics will treat every condition equally. It is important to choose the right probiotic for your specific health concern. 

Are probiotics safe?

Generally probiotics are safe. There are concerns that people who are very sick or have weak immune systems could be at risk for an infection caused by probiotics. If you have concerns about your specific medical conditions talk to your doctor.

Most probiotics in the United States are considered dietary supplements and are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. That means you can purchase probiotics without a prescription. Good evidence exists for their use for avoiding or reducing diarrhea caused by antibiotics and for IBS. Multiple other studies show their benefit for many conditions. Probiotics are being studied for multiple purposes and the purpose of this website is to show the findings from those research studies to decide if probiotics are right for you. 

What are Probiotics and Prebiotics?

Because probiotics are naturally in our body and are commonly ingested, you could just take a prebiotic supplement without a probiotic to support the growth of the healthy bacteria or yeast. Prebiotics are essentially food that the probiotics can feed off of to support their growth. 

References for "What are Probiotics?":

National Institutes of Health: Human Microbiome Project Defines Normal Bacterial Makeup of Body

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: Probiotics: What You Need to Know