Signs you need probiotics

Written by: Kari Raman, PharmD, RPh
Published April 24, 2023

At the pharmacy, I’m regularly asked by patients what the signs are that they need probiotics. Probiotics are popular supplements made of living organisms, and are commonly used to treat digestive issues, recover from antibiotic treatment, possibly improve immune function and more. 

However, they are not the first step in correcting a serious health problem – and if you are experiencing a serious condition you should see your primary care physician! 

Let’s dig into some of the most common signs that you need probiotics, or at least should consider adding these supplements to your health regimine. 

Signs you should take probiotics

  1. Frequent bloating or gas not correlated with particular foods or diet.
  2. Diarrhea or digestive irregularity. 
  3. You’ve taken a serious round of antibiotics and feel that your gut is imbalanced.
  4. Your doctor recommends you try probiotics to treat IBS, lactose intolerance or other digestive issues.
  5. Your doctor OKs taking probiotics to try to improve your immune system.
  6. Your doctor suggests adding probiotics as part of a treatment to fight inflammation. (Medical research on that here.)
  7. Your physician recommends you add probiotics (like Lactobacillus plantarum) as part of a cholesterol reduction strategy. Check out this study published in The British Journal of Nutrition

Probiotics 101

Probiotics are living microorganisms that are beneficial to human health, especially to the digestive system. They are often referred to as “good” bacteria because they help maintain a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut – but they are not always bacteria. Check out my list of probiotic species to learn about the different types that are possibly helpful.

They can be found in a variety of foods, including yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, and other fermented foods. In fact, that’s often considered the best way to get them – although, you can’t always know which strain or species you are getting when you buy a fermented food. They can also be taken as dietary supplements in the form of capsules, powders, or liquids. 

The way that they work is by colonizing the gut and helping to balance the microorganisms that live there. While the research on probiotics is still ongoing, some of the potential health benefits of probiotics include reducing the risk of diarrhea, improving mental health, and possibly reducing signs of inflammation. It’s important to note that the specific strains and dosages of probiotics may vary depending on the individual and their health goals, so it’s best to consult with a healthcare professional before starting a probiotic supplement.

Some of the signs I see as a pharmacist

As a pharmacist, I know that the gut microbiome plays a vital role in our overall health, and any imbalance in the gut can lead to several health issues. The gut is home to trillions of bacteria, fungi, and viruses that help in digestion, absorption of nutrients, and also play a critical role in our immune system. It’s not the only thing that impacts our health, and it’s amazing that it’s taken medical science a while to realize it, but gut health is very important to our overall health and specific conditions.

Research has shown that an imbalance in the gut microbiome, known as dysbiosis, can lead to several health problems, such as digestive issues, autoimmune disorders, possibly mental health problems, and skin issues, among others. So keeping your gut healthy and happy is important. 

For an otherwise healthy person, gut health starts with a balanced, nutritious diet low in sugars and high in fibers, fresh vegetables – basically, what your grandmother liked you to eat (minus the cookies). 

Probiotic supplements are a popular option to try to restore balance in the gut microbiome. Probiotics are live microorganisms that can provide health benefits when consumed in adequate amounts. These microorganisms may help in maintaining the balance of good bacteria in the gut, which can improve overall gut health. But they can not recover from a horrible, unbalanced diet, nor can they easily solve complex medical issues that require a doctor’s help.

Some of the signs I see as a pharmacist that a patient could benefit from probiotic supplementation include minor complaints on digestive health, long courses of antibiotics that are unlikely to unbalance a patient’s gut bacteria, or recommendations by physicians that patients try supplements. 

As a pharmacist, I would recommend that you speak to your healthcare provider before starting any probiotic supplements to ensure that it is safe and suitable for you. Additionally, it’s essential to ensure that the probiotic supplements you choose contain an adequate amount of live microorganisms to provide the desired health benefits, meaning having enough CFUs (colony forming units) of the microorganism.

Pharmacist Kari Raman

I’m Kari Raman PharmD, RPh, and I am a licensed, practicing pharmacist. I hold a Doctorate in Pharmacy from The University of the Pacific, and I’ve served patients in retail, compounding and hospital pharmacies.

Probiotics are confusing!

One of the most common questions I get asked by patients is about probiotics. And the truth is, probiotics are not as well understood by the healthcare community as they should be.

So I’ve been reading a lot of probiotic clinical trials, and sharing what I’m learning here.

I hope Pharmacist Probiotics helps you find out if there is a type of probiotic that works for you!