Digestive symptoms, mental health and mood, immunity, and skin health are all areas that could improve with probiotics.
You’ll know probiotics are working if your symptoms improve. This might happen one to four weeks after starting probiotics.
Look for diversity of category, species, and strain when shopping for a probiotic.
You’ve likely heard a variety of health and wellness professionals tout the benefits of probiotic supplements. But how do you know if they’re working?
The most obvious way you can tell if your probiotics are working is that your symptoms are improving. Sometimes you’ll notice some improvements within a week, while in other cases, it may take three or four weeks to begin noticing some changes.
Beneficial microbes are already living in your gut, but chances are they could use a boost. Supplementing your natural supply can help improve your digestive health, mental health and mood, immunity, and the health of your skin. That’s because your gastrointestinal system (i.e., your gut) is the seat of your overall health and wellness, and each of these seemingly unrelated health categories are all, in fact, intimately connected to gut health.
You don’t have to understand every detail of how probiotics work to reap the health benefits, but knowing the basics might help motivate you to keep taking them and maintain a healthy gut. An even greater motivation is to actually notice and experience the real benefits of taking probiotics consistently. So what are the signs probiotics are working? Let’s dive in.
Signs Probiotics Are Working: Gut, Brain, Immunity, and Skin
Improvements in digestion (e.g. IBS symptoms, acid reflux) are good signs probiotics are working for you. Probiotics boast a number of incredible direct benefits to your digestive health in addition to other systemic health problems. Part of the reason for those benefits is their ability to help reduce inflammation in the gut [1, 2, 3, 4].
Inflammation is at the root of just about every chronic illness we know of, and since your gut is so integral to your overall health and well-being, it makes sense that reducing inflammation in the gut would benefit your whole system. Furthermore, an inflamed gut can develop microscopic holes in its lining, leading to leaky gut syndrome, a condition that’s linked to countless chronic health challenges.
Another benefit to supplementing probiotics is the rebalancing of the gut microbiome — essentially, replacing an overgrowth of bad gut bacteria with healthy bacteria. By eating probiotic-rich foods (like sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha) and taking a probiotic supplement, you can crowd out the bad bacteria that may have taken hold in your bowels and caused gut dysbiosis. Gut dysbiosis can lead to conditions like SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), which can cause acid reflux, heartburn, constipation, and diarrhea .
By healing and sealing the gut with high doses of good probiotic strains and fungi, you can expect the following digestive problems (which all overlap with IBS symptoms) to improve:
Constipation, diarrhea, or other bowel movement changes [5, 6, 7, 8, 9]
You’ll know your probiotic is working if you’re experiencing less brain fog, improved mood, and lower stress levels.
In addition to the direct benefit on gut health that probiotics offer, they can also provide some positive benefits to your mood, mental health, and cognition. There’s a well-established connection between the gut and the brain that helps explain why so many psychological challenges are accompanied by digestive issues (like IBS, IBD, and celiac) [17, 18].
Interestingly, stress can also lead to gut hypersensitivity, meaning that when there are problems in a stressed-out digestive system, they’re likely felt more intensely by the owner of that digestive system . Unfortunately, those experiencing these symptoms may be caught in a feedback loop of stress and digestive upset (which is stressful), and the cycle repeats.
We know that stress is directly linked to inflammation and increased digestive symptoms like bloating and nausea . And since probiotics are anti-inflammatory, studies have been done to investigate the effects of probiotics on things like concentration, depression, anxiety, insomnia, brain fog, and other cognitive issues, all of which have been linked to gut health [17, 18, 21].
While research seems to be mixed, what’s agreed-upon is the correlation between gut health and mental health. The question of chicken and egg — which causes which, or whether one causes the other at all — remains to be answered [22, 23].
That being said, it’s generally agreed in the medical scientific community that the two are intimately linked . That’s why your mood and mental state is a good sign probiotics are working.
Immunity Lives in Your Gut
While I can’t claim that probiotics can definitively cure an autoimmune disease, you’ll know your probiotic is working if you begin to experience fewer flare-ups and fewer hyper-immunity reactions. Your immune system is a major source of information in your body, meaning it’s a good indicator of your health (much like the state of your gut).
When your gut has been overrun by harmful bacteria, or there’s an imbalance, that immunity can run haywire with overactive response, leading to autoimmune conditions, allergies, and food sensitivities.
A large percentage of your immune system lives in your gut, and inflammation is one of the primary tools the immune system employs to protect you against harmful or toxic microorganisms that may pass through (your body produces a fever to kill a cold bug, or you cut yourself and it gets red and inflamed to fight infection, for example).
Importantly, the balance of healthy gut flora regulates the outflow of inflammation, allowing a healthy immune system to turn on when needed, and turn off when not needed. It’s when your immune system doesn’t turn off properly that problems like celiac, atrophic gastritis, hashimoto’s thyroiditis, rheumatoid arthritis, and other autoimmune conditions arise.
When your immune system feels solid, and your body ceases or dramatically reduces that extreme response, you know your probiotics are working.
The Gut-Skin Connection
A tell-tale sign probiotics are working for you is if your skin condition clears up.
If you’ve seen a dermatologist about acne or rosacea, you’ve likely been prescribed an antibiotic that made it worse — or, at best, cleared the problem temporarily, only for it to return with a vengeance. What’s missed in this type of treatment (which, thankfully, is no longer the standard with the exception of a proven, targeted antibiotic for rosacea), is the fact that one of the side effects of antibiotics is the killing of all manner of good bacteria that helps protect your skin.
Much like the gut-brain connection, there’s a gut-skin connection. (There’s also a gut-skin-brain connection, which is fodder for another post.) Much like the gut-brain connection and the gut-immunity connection, the gut-skin connection relies on the microbiota. The interrelationship between gut dysbiosis and skin health is well-studied and established [25, 26, 27].
Related to the previous section, some skin conditions are indicators of an autoimmune disease (psoriasis, vitiligo, eczema, etc.), in which case, all the information I’ve already shared about immunity relates to the connection between the gut and the skin as well.
But while not all skin conditions indicate an autoimmune condition, they do all indicate a gut imbalance, or dysbiosis . Listen to this case study of one of my patients who experienced relief from skin rash, acid reflux, and loose bowels after changing his diet and adding in HCl (hydrochloric acid — to help with stomach acid) and probiotics.
Certain skin conditions are trickier than others to treat, but the addition of a high-quality probiotic into whatever other efforts are being put forth to address it is definitely a good idea. Improvements are a good sign your probiotics are working.
What to Look for in Your Probiotic
There are three categories of probiotics, all of which are beneficial in the effort to restore your gut health by reducing inflammation and reversing dysbiosis. The category you’re most likely to find at a grocery store, health food store, or pharmacy is the lactobacillus/bifidobacterium type. This type almost always needs to be refrigerated (unless the label explicitly says otherwise), and a good one should come with quantities in the billions of CFUs (CFUs are colony-forming units).
You have trillions of microbes living in your gut at any given time, so your supplement should contain enough quantity to compete with what’s already in there. You’re also looking for diversity of bacterial species. Lactobacillus and bifidobacterium are the genera, and the words that come after those words on the label indicate the specific species.
If you see a number after that second word, it indicates specific strains of bacteria within that species. Strains are like breeds of dogs. They’re all dogs, but a poodle is distinct from a pit bull. Also like dogs, the more the merrier. Look for variety across species and strain in your probiotic supplement. And consider switching up your choices each time you replace your bottle in order to continue to diversify month over month.
Here at our clinic, we find a triple-probiotic approach to be most helpful — that is, using all three categories. With this approach, you use probiotics from the lactobacillus/bifidobacterium, the Saccharomyces boulardii category (a type of beneficial fungus), and the soil-based category, which generally consists of bacteria from the Bacillus genus. This approach offers therapeutic levels of diversity and quantity in probiotics that we’ve seen accomplish incredible results in our patients.
Pay Attention to Your Body
Your gut is the seat of your overall health and well-being. Without a balanced gut microbiome, all manner of inflammatory issues can arise, leading to mood and cognitive changes, autoimmunity, and skin troubles. Taking probiotics will, over time, improve these areas of health, and these improvements are signs probiotics are working for you.
Positive changes from taking a probiotic product won’t happen overnight. They’ll be gradual as the bugs in your supplement begin to colonize and replace the bad bacteria in your gut. But they’ll definitely shift your overall health and well-being in the right direction when taken consistently over time. Track your symptoms to help yourself and your healthcare provider see the full picture of the changes over time. We’d love to help you get started. Reach out to our clinic for more information.
The Ruscio Institute has developed a range of high-quality formulations, including triple therapy probiotics, to help our patients and audience. If you’re interested in learning more about these products, please click here. Note that there are many other options available, and we encourage you to research which products may be right for you.
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