There’s a reason why the sayings “a gut feeling” and “trust your gut” ring true. While your gut can’t literally speak, those gut feelings or instincts you sense when you’re nervous, hungry, or feeling discomfort speak for themselves. The gut (AKA the body’s “second brain”) refers to your gastrointestinal (GI) system, the health of which is generally determined by the levels and types of bacteria in your digestive, intestinal tract—collectively known as your gut microbiome.
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Consuming probiotics, or living microorganisms that promote gut health—whether in supplement form or from food sources—can help maintain a healthy gut microbiome, thereby improving digestion and gut function. In addition to keeping your digestive system in check, probiotics can provide a host of other health benefits: “Our gut microbiome is the center of many things, and maintaining healthy digestion is just one of them,” explained Caroline Margolis, a registered dietitian for Lifeway Foods. “A healthy gut can maintain a healthy immune system to keep inflammation at bay which may help reduce the risk of chronic disease, along with maintaining cardiovascular health. Research is showing that probiotics may modulate the gut-brain axis to help reduce the risk of anxiety, depression, and neurological diseases, as well as positively affect our sleep cycle.”
So how exactly do probiotics work in the body? The main job of probiotics is to maintain a healthy balance in your body. When bad bacteria enter your body and increase in number (read: when you are sick, are stressed, or have a certain disease), probiotics can step in to fight off the bad bacteria and restore your body to a neutral state. But how do you really know if your probiotics are working? Well, there are telltale signs your probiotics are working. Read on for eight positive changes in your body that show whether your probiotics are working or not, according to experts.
8 signs your probiotics are working
1. You experience less gas and bloating
PSA: An imbalanced gut microbiome is public enemy number one when it comes to bloating. The good news is taking a probiotic can tip the balance in favor of less gaseous bacterial strains, resulting in less gas and bloating. According to a 2017 study, probiotics can decrease the gut transit time, or the time it takes for ingested food to be excreted, which can also alleviate bloating. What’s more, a 2018 review confirmed that specific probiotics may help reduce bloating and improve bowel movement frequency/consistency (more to come on that) in some patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). As for which probiotic strains are best for combating bloating? Research shows Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus.
2. You have regular bowel movements
Real talk: The look and frequency of your bowel movements is a window into your overall health, namely your gut health. A 2020 study showed that consumption of probiotics, in particular, multi-species probiotics, may substantially reduce the gut transit time, increase the stool frequency, and improve the stool consistency in adults with functional constipation. Translation: Probiotic supplements that contain many active strains can help the digestive tract break down food faster, and better digestion means you’ll pass stool easily without pain or chronic constipation. So long, irregular bowel movements!
3. Your skin is clearer
We’ve all heard about the gut-brain axis—now more and more studies are proving there’s a gut-skin connection as well. The relationship between the gut microbiome and skin health is regulated through several mechanisms such as inflammatory mediators and the immune system. When this system is compromised, the dysregulation of bacteria in the gut can result in inflammatory skin conditions such as atopic dermatitis, rosacea, and acne. The silver lining? Some probiotics have demonstrated boosting the skin’s production of ceramides, or lipids (fats) that trap moisture in the skin and keep acne-causing bacteria levels in check. By inducing the production of healthy ceramides, probiotics help restore healthy fats, which can benefit acne directly. Furthermore, there’s a growing body of evidence that suggests using probiotics in both pill and topical form may help prevent and treat skin conditions including eczema, acne, dry skin, and UV-induced skin damage, Healthline reported.
4. You’re typically in a good mood
Simply put: Happy gut, happy life. “A healthy gut has been linked to less feelings of irritability and anxiety,” conveyed Brigitte Zeitlin, a registered dietitian and Founder of BZ Nutrition. “Plus, it improves our response to stressful situations (improved stress resiliency). On the other hand, an upset gut has been linked to increased levels of depression and anxiety.” Why, you ask? To reiterate, the gut has been referred to as the body’s “second brain,” and for good reason. It produces many of the same neurotransmitters as the brain does (think: serotonin, dopamine, and gamma-aminobutyric acid—all of which play a key role in regulating mood). In fact, it is estimated that 90% of serotonin—one of the four “happy” hormones that controls body functions such as mood, sleep, and digestion—is made in the digestive tract.
Some research has found that probiotics may help boost mood and lower stress and anxiety. For example, in a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, a significant improvement in mood was observed in the experimental group (who were given a daily dose of probiotics), with a reduction in depressive mood state, anger, and fatigue and an improvement in sleep quality.
5. You are sleeping through the night
A good night’s sleep starts with the gut. The gut microbiota is capable of producing or releasing neurotransmitters such as serotonin, which influences sleep quality, and melatonin, which helps regulate the circadian rhythm and synchronize the sleep-wake cycle, after all. One way to increase your serotonin levels? You guessed it: taking a probiotic, which may help stimulate the production and release of serotonin. A 2022 review found that sleep latency (the time it takes for you to fall asleep), sleep length, and cortisol levels improved after pro-, pre-, or postbiotic treatment, and that probiotics, such as Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria, do improve sleep quality and stress. Erika Collette, a registered dietitian at ThisIsWhyImFit.com, echoed those findings citing that when you have an easier time falling and staying asleep and feel less fatigue when waking up, your probiotics are doing their job.
6. You don’t get sick as often
“70% of the immune system is located within the gut,” affirmed Jennifer McManus, RD, LDN, CDCES at Pendulum Therapeutics. “When you have a healthy gut, you will have a healthy immune system which can help protect you from illnesses.” According to Harvard Health Publishing, probiotics have been shown to secrete protective substances, which may turn on the immune system and prevent pathogens from taking hold and creating major disease. Once administered, oral probiotic bacteria interact with immune cells and induce the production of different cytokines (signaling proteins that help control inflammation in your body). And reducing chronic inflammation is key to good immune health and defenses against viruses as well as disease prevention.
7. You have a lot of energy throughout the day
Have you ever noticed that when you experience digestive drama (looking at you, stomach pain, bloating, and constipation), you’re more fatigued? That’s no coincidence. “When we are able to digest and absorb food better, in our healthy gut, our energy levels increase because we are able to put those absorbed nutrients to use,” Zeitlin expressed. “Without a healthy gut to properly uptake nutrition, we can feel sluggish and tired.” Probiotics can improve the absorption of micronutrients, such as calcium and iron, from ingested foods. And a healthy gut flora produces hundreds of bioactive compounds, including B-vitamins, which are essential for your body and brain to use for energy production.
8. You feel satiated for 3-4 hours after a meal
“When consumed, probiotics can help to break down and absorb nutrients from food,” McManus reiterated. “This process produces compounds such as short-chain fatty acids that are beneficial to gut health—one short-chain fatty acid in particular, butyrate, is essential for optimal blood sugar control.” According to researchers, people who exhibited large blood sugar dips experienced a nine percent increase in appetite, in addition to eating their next meals roughly half an hour sooner, and consumed over 300 calories more during the day than participants who experienced only slight drops in glucose levels. Bonus points: Zeitlin attested that because you’re more efficiently digesting your food and feeling full and satisfied when your probiotics are working, you’ll have less food and sugar cravings.
How to take probiotics correctly
1. Opt for high-quality probiotics
News flash: Not all probiotics are created equal and how each individual will respond to them will vary. In other words, taking the right kind of probiotics for you can do wonders to heal your gut or keep it happy. When researching the best probiotics for you, consider the types of bacterial strains used, which strains and/or brand names have been studied for their effectiveness, and how the probiotics need to be stored. Check out the US Probiotic Guide to steer you in the right direction for the best probiotics for your needs, and make sure you choose a product that is free of additives.
2. Take them as directed
To take full advantage of the effectiveness of probiotics, follow the dosing recommendations on the label, take note of the optimal probiotic intake time (i.e. probiotics with Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterial strains are best taken 30 minutes or just prior to a meal), and consume them for a full month before deciding whether to continue the regimen. How long does it take probiotics to work? That depends on factors like your health condition, the type of bacterial strain you’re taking, and the quality of the product. The general consensus? It can take anywhere from a couple of days to several weeks for your probiotics to start working.
3. Store them properly
Store your probiotics as the label states—be it refrigeration, room temperature, etc. If your probiotics require refrigeration (because it contains strains that are highly sensitive to certain processing methods and can’t be freeze-dried), the manufacturer will typically state that somewhere on the bottle or packaging. Another good rule of thumb for properly storing your probiotics is mimicking how the bottle was stored when you bought it. When in doubt, store them in a cool, dry place. And if you’re wondering if refrigerated probiotics are more effective than their (freeze-dried) shelf-stable counterparts, the short answer is no—you’ll get benefits from both.
Please consult a doctor or other health professional before beginning any treatments. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical or mental health condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this article.