Probiotics for Digestion and Beyond

Written by: Brilliant Staff

Fact checked by: Melissa Mitri, MS, RD

probiotic foods

Our digestive system is home to trillions of bacteria that play an important role in our health. Probiotics are live microorganisms that provide health benefits when consumed. They can help improve digestion and gut health in a number of ways.

How Do Probiotics Aid Digestion?

Probiotics can aid in keeping your gut healthy and its microbiome — its collection of microorganisms — in balance. A balance of good healthy bacteria that live in the gut can help with the following:

  • Food digestion, promoting digestive comfort, and helping with regular bowel movements.
  • Nutrient absorption so you can ensure you're getting the most out of the foods you eat.
  • Improving overall digestive health.
  • Immune support by maintaining a healthy gut barrier function.
  • Bettering mental health — research suggests a connection between gut health and mental health, suggesting that a balanced gut microbiome may effectively support mental health.
  • Digesting lactose, as probiotics like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium break down lactose and can decrease symptoms like gas and bloating.

Potential Side Effects

While probiotics are generally safe, some people may experience the following digestive side effects when taking them:

  • Gas and bloating - Some individuals get gassy and bloated from probiotics, especially at first. This usually subsides with continued use.
  • Increased histamine levels - Probiotics may raise histamine levels in some people, triggering symptoms like hives, itching, and nasal congestion. Those with histamine intolerance are more prone to this side effect.
  • Diarrhea - Ironically, probiotics can sometimes cause diarrhea if the dose is too high or the supplement contains strains that don't agree with your gut.
  • Nausea - A small number of people report feeling nauseous after taking certain probiotic strains. This typically resolves by switching strains.
  • Headaches - In rare cases, probiotics are associated with headaches in sensitive individuals. Staying hydrated can help prevent this.

Always start probiotics at a low dose and gradually increase over two to three weeks to minimize the chance of side effects. Stop taking them if significant digestive discomfort persists. As with any supplement, consult your doctor before starting probiotics.

The Bottom Line

Research shows probiotic supplements can benefit digestive health in adults. They help restore balance to the gut microbiome, leading to improved digestion. 

Certain strains are more effective for specific concerns. Consider adding probiotics to your daily routine, but first, talk to your doctor to find the right one.


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