Probiotics have become widely popular in the last several years. Millions of adults report using probiotics daily.

With the rising popularity of probiotic supplements, you may be wondering, “Should I be taking them too?”

We have good news: you most likely don’t need to buy an expensive probiotic supplement. You can obtain the benefits of probiotics by eating probiotic foods.

This article will first discuss what probiotics are. We’ll then outline probiotic foods that you can add to your diet. We’ll highlight the potential benefits of probiotics on your gut health and overall health. Moreover, we’ll discuss when you should take probiotics. And when you shouldn’t. Lastly, we’ll outline how to improve gut health naturally by making diet and lifestyle changes.

What Are Probiotics?

Probiotics are live bacteria or yeast that lead to beneficial effects on your health. Some fermented foods and drinks are natural sources of probiotics. Probiotics are also available as dietary supplements in the form of capsules, powders, or liquids.

Probiotics often contain a variety of microorganisms. The most common probiotic strains include:

  • Lactobacillus
  • Bifidobacterium
  • Saccharomyces
  • Streptococcus
  • Enterococcus
  • Escherichia
  • Bacillus

Probiotic Foods

Fermented foods naturally contain probiotics. During fermentation, bacteria break down sugar and starch and create lactic acid. This preserves food and also results in the production of the following:

  • Enzymes
  • B vitamins
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Beneficial species of bacteria

But not all fermented foods contain probiotics. The process of baking or canning foods may cause strains of probiotics to become inactive.

Probiotic foods include:

  • Yogurt
  • Kimchi
  • Kefir
  • Kombucha
  • Sauerkraut
  • Miso
  • Tempeh
  • Pickles
  • Sourdough bread
  • Aged soft cheese
  • Acidophilus milk

Benefits of Probiotics

Limited research is available on the benefits of probiotics. Surprisingly, most large-scale studies take place on animal trials. Only a small amount of studies have examined the effects of probiotics on humans.

The available research suggests that probiotics increase the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut. This may improve digestion and immune strength.

Other potential benefits of probiotics include:

  • Reduced abdominal pain
  • Reduced ulcerative colitis symptoms
  • Reduced irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms
  • Improved bowel consistency and frequency

Are Probiotics Good for You?

Probiotics may improve your gut health. Or you may not notice any improvements at all. Probiotics can be a beneficial addition to healthy diet and lifestyle choices. But you most likely won’t experience any benefits by taking probiotics alone.

Probiotics are generally safe. But there is a small risk that you may experience side effects due to live bacteria’s consumption. Potential side effects of probiotics include:

  • Allergic reaction
  • Infection
  • Antibiotic resistance
  • Stomach upset
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloating

You should talk to your doctor before taking probiotics if you are immunocompromised or have a severe illness. Probiotics are not for everyone.

When Should You Take Probiotics?

Before you consider adding a probiotic supplement to your diet, you should first make diet and lifestyle changes. Eating probiotic foods is better than taking a supplement. This is because many probiotic foods are rich in vitamins, minerals, and prebiotics.

You may benefit from taking probiotics if you are dealing with uncomfortable digestive symptoms such as:

If you decide to take a probiotic supplement and don’t notice any positive changes after 2-3 weeks, you should save the expense and stop taking them.

How to Improve Gut Health Naturally

The most important actions you can take to improve your gut health naturally include:

  • Eating a plant-based diet
  • Making healthy lifestyle choices

A plant-based diet focuses on eating foods from plant sources. This diet limits processed foods and animal products. Natural sources of plant foods include:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Legumes
  • Nuts and seeds

Eating a plant-based diet results in many benefits, including:

  • Regulation of cholesterol, blood pressure, and glucose metabolism
  • Creation of important vitamins
  • Prevention of disease
  • Improved digestion
  • Weight loss

Many plant-based foods are prebiotics — indigestible carbohydrates that feed healthy bacteria in the gut. Prebiotic foods include:

  • Chicory root
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Bananas
  • Asparagus
  • Jerusalem artichokes
  • Barley
  • Oats

When prebiotic foods combine with probiotic foods, you receive an added benefit compared to taking either of these foods by themselves.

Of course, making dietary changes is most effective in combination with lifestyle changes. Healthy lifestyle changes that improve your gut and overall health include:

  • Getting regular physical exercise
  • Reducing stress levels
  • Quitting smoking
  • Sleeping 7+ hours per night

When to See a Gastroenterologist in Lubbock, TX

If you continue to experience digestive problems after implementing diet and lifestyle changes and taking a probiotic supplement, it may be time to see a gastroenterologist.

A gastroenterologist can help you find relief from digestive symptoms such as:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Blood in the stool
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss

Unfortunately, taking probiotics is not a cure-all for digestive issues. You may need to follow a specific diet or treatment plan to address your symptoms’ root cause. If you want to improve your digestive health, you can schedule an appointment online or call our office at 806-696-4440.