Maybe you’ve heard how probiotics can help your digestion, perhaps you’ve even tried them. But do you know exactly what they are, and just how they work? Don’t worry, because you’re not alone. There’s a lot of confusion about the role of probiotics on your digestive health, and I want to try to clear that up as best as I can.
Benefits of Probiotics
Probiotics are really just live bacteria that are constantly replenishing and growing inside of your intestines. Don’t freak out. A large number of these bacterial critters is actually a good thing, as they have been shown to be beneficial for healthy digestion, nutrient absorption, and even mood balance. After entering the body and feeding on prebiotics (food for probiotics, usually fiber), these microorganisms populate the microbiome, taking up residence in your gut. So while the main benefit is to the digestive system, studies suggest they could boost the immune system and even strengthen respiratory health.  
And probiotic supplementation could even aid in mental health! For years, scientists have noted the importance of maintaining healthy bacteria levels in the gut for physical health, but one recent study suggests decreased levels of gut bacteria could be connected to behavioral conditions like autism and depression.  Another report suggests probiotic treatments could even help autistic children by helping to counteract the “bad” bacteria. 
How to Choose the Right Probiotic
Length: 7 minutes
Sources of Probiotics
So now you’ve read about these microorganisms and what they can do, but where exactly are they found? Well, here are three foods that contain a plentitude of probiotics, and they’re very easy to access.
For the full benefit, make sure you’re buying or, even better, making your own live-cultured yogurt. Much of the yogurt you buy nowadays even has added probiotics like lactobacillus or acidophilus. Of course, you want to stray away from yogurt with high fructose corn syrup or artificial sweeteners.
Sort of a cousin to yogurt, kefir is a fermented dairy product made from dairy milk and fermented kefir grains. Goat’s milk is commonly used, especially since it’s high in probiotics like thermophillus, bifudus, bulgaricus, and acidophilus. Kefir is also a great source of lactobacillus and bifudus. If you don't consume dairy (which is probably a good thing), then you can also make kefir using coconut milk.
Not only is tempeh a fermented soybean product rich in probiotics; it’s also high in vitamin B12, making it a healthier substitute for meat or tofu.
Probiotics: Why You Need Them
Probiotics are great for overall mental and gut health and probiotic supplements are an excellent way to ensure a steady supply of probiotic strains in your intestines, especially when your diet is less than ideal. Remember, the goal with probiotics is to maintain or restore the balance of your gut’s “good” bacteria, and taking antibiotics could actually work against that. If it could help, try Global Healing's Ultimate Probiotic, my probiotic supplement for supporting digestion and intestinal function. It offers a superior blend of 25 probiotic strains plus prebiotics. Of course, you should never stop taking a prescribed medication without consulting your doctor, but a recent study suggests that common antibiotics could change “the microbial and metabolic patterns of the gut,” decreasing the diversity of bacteria.  
- Behnsen, J, et al. Probiotics: Properties, Examples, and Specific Applications. Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Medicine.
- West, N. P. et al. Probiotic supplementation for respiratory and gastrointestinal illness symptoms in healthy physically active individuals. Clinical Nutrition. 33 (4).
- Kang, D. et al. Reduced Incidence of Prevotella and Other Fermenters in Intestinal Microflora of Autistic Children. PLoS ONE.
- Patterson, P. et al. Microbiota Modulate Behavioral and Physiological Abnormalities Associated with Neurodevelopmental Disorders. Cell. 155 (7).
- Perez-Cobas, A. E. et al. Gut microbiota disturbance during antibiotic therapy: a multi-omic approach. Gut. 62.
- Hassan, T. Pharmacologic considerations for patients taking oral contraceptives. CONNECTICUT DENTAL STUDENT JOURNAL.
†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.