You might have heard of probiotics from the yogurt you buy at your local grocery store. Or, you may have read somewhere that probiotics are good for you. Or perhaps you’ve watched the Activia commercial a few dozen times but wondered what in the world are probiotics anyways? Probiotics are bacteria (yes, I said bacteria) that are naturally found in the body and are beneficial to your health by keeping your gut healthy1Living in a world where many of us fear germs and bacteria, it may be a bit of a shock that bacteria can actually be good for us. But without probiotics, you and your gut would be left unhappy.

How do they work?

Think of probiotics as your own personal army.They can help lower your chances of getting things that aren’t very pleasant like diarrhea, urinary tract infections and yeast infections by defeating the bad bacteria that cause these things in your gut1. Probiotics are alsohelpful with digestion by assisting in food breakdown and protecting your gut lining from harmful bacteria2 . Research has even shown that the bacteria in your gut are closely linked to major depression and anxiety disorders3. The types of probiotics that have been shown to be effective are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Look at ingredients lists on food.

Should I be taking probiotics?

Although regularly taking probiotic supplements may be beneficial for people that have certain conditions like irritable bowel disease or eczema, for the average healthy person, daily consumption isn’t necessary4.There are, however, special cases where probiotics may be helpful. For example, ever notice how you are more susceptible to getting diarrhea when the doctor prescribes you antibiotics? Although antibiotics kill the bad bacteria that can cause you to be sick, they also kill a lot of good bacteria4. Taking probiotics regularly in the form of yogurt or other fermented dairy products can help with the maintenance of good health as research has shown that probiotics can boost your immune system 2 . Before starting to take a specific probiotic, consult with your doctor, registered dietitian, or pharmacist. There are many strains and types of probiotics, and it may take several weeks for the bacteria to build a culture in the gut before you see improvement in symptoms. Furthermore, certain probiotics are more effective for certain conditions so it’s important to consult with a professional before starting one on your own. 

So what’s the difference between prebiotics and probiotics?

While eating foods with probiotics increases the number of good bacteria in your body, prebiotics will help stimulate the growth of the good bacteria that are already in your body. Prebiotics are non-digestible carbohydrates that help keep a healthy balance of good bacteria in the digestive system5 .Think of prebiotics as the food for probiotics. Because probiotics are living, growing bacteria, they need food to help them grow and flourish.  Prebiotics are found in many different foods including onions, garlic, inulin, bananas and legumes5 . While taking prebiotic supplements aren’t necessary for a healthy diet, like probiotics, eating foods that have prebiotics in them can help with the maintenance of good health.

Jane Skapinker

Registered Dietitian


  1. DiLonardo, M. (n.d.). What Are Probiotics? Benefits, Supplements, Foods, & More. Retrieved July 14, 2015, from
  2. Kovacs, B. (2014, July 15). Probiotics: Find Out About the Benefits and Side Effects. Retrieved July 14, 2015, from
  3. Slyepchenko, A., Carvalho, A., Cha, D., Kasper, S., & Mcintyre, R. (2015). Gut Emotions – Mechanisms of Action of Probiotics as Novel Therapeutic Targets for Depression and Anxiety Disorders. CNS & Neurological Disorders – Drug Targets CNSNDDT, 34(2), 1770-1786. doi:10.1007/s12664-015-0547-6
  4. EatRight Ontario. (n.d.). Retrieved July 14, 2015, from
  5. EatRight Ontario. (n.d.). Retrieved July 14, 2015, from

Monday, February 19, 2018 in
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