The Right Probiotics for Your Stomach Problems

Some probiotics can be more helpful than others, depending on the health issue.

Scientists have known for decades that probiotics can boost your health. But probiotics aren't all created equal, said University of Western Ontario microbiologist Gregor Reid, PhD, who has studied them. For example, Saccharomyces cerevisiae boulardii—which is primarily used for symptoms related to the GI tract, according to a June 2020 study in the Journal of Fungi—probably won't do a thing for eczema, and vice versa.

So how do you decide which one to take? Read on for tips on which probiotics help your most common complaints.

What Are Probiotics?

In a healthy body, trillions of bacteria colonize the skin, mouth, intestines, and genital tract. Among these bacteria are probiotics. According to the American College of Gastroenterology, probiotics are "live microorganisms" that exist in the gut in order to help keep a person's body healthy. "They do a great job fighting off disease-causing microbes trying to gain entry," said University of Washington epidemiologist Lynne McFarland, PhD, the co-author of The Power of Probiotics.

They can also be added to the gut through the consumption of supplements or food. Specifically, these cultures can be found in yogurts (with live or active cultures), cereal, cheese, energy bars, soup, and a wealth of other products filling up grocery and pharmacy shelves. Their labels promise everything from faster cold and flu recovery to fewer tummy aches.

Common Stomach-Related Problems That Probiotics Can Help

Researchers of a 2021 International Journal of Agricultural Environment and Food Sciences study indicated that there are probiotics that "can inhibit pathogenic microorganisms, strengthen immune system, and improve the microbial balance of the gastrointestinal tract." To that end, there are several stomach-related issues that probiotics can alleviate.

Antibiotic-Associated Conditions

When bad bacteria start to make you sick, you may be prescribed antibiotics to fight off bacterial infections. "But taking antibiotics can open up a window of opportunity for pathogens to move in," McFarland said. So-called antibiotic-associated diarrhea is a classic example, with C. diff being the most common culprit. Fortunately, three specific probiotic strains (S. cerevisiae boulardii, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, and Bacillus coagulans GBI-30) can reduce infection risk while you're taking antibiotics and shortly after—the vulnerable period. Researchers don't know exactly how these trains do their thing; some believe they may simply overpower the invaders.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

In the adult population, up to 20% of individuals know the belly pain and bloating discomfort of IBS, according to the Office of Women's Health. Experts don't fully understand what causes IBS, nor do they have effective meds to treat it. But some of the most encouraging news comes out of studies using the probiotic strains Bifidobacterium longum 35624 and L. plantarum DSM9843. For example, 233 patients with IBS in a February 2022 study published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology benefited from 30 days of Bifidobacterium longum 35624 treatment for their symptoms.

Travelers' Diarrhea

According to the National Library of Medicine, 40% to 60% of individuals can be affected by travelers' diarrhea. This is caused by parasites and infectious bacteria in unsanitary water, which are common in less-developed countries. It is possible that S. cerevisiae boulardii strain can have protective properties regarding the condition. Researchers of a February 2022 review in Gastroenterology & Hepatology Letters noted that this particular strain was most effective in preventing instances of travelers' diarrhea. However, research is ongoing to confirm the effectiveness of probiotic prevention.

What About Prebiotics?

If certain gut bacteria promote good health, it makes sense to eat a diet rich in the nutrients that make those microbes happy. That's the concept behind prebiotics, which include several kinds of soluble plant fiber that are abundant in foods like onions, garlic, and leeks. Prebiotics appear to promote the growth of good bugs that fight gut invaders like salmonella, and supplements are even showing up on store shelves. Should you take them? Maybe someday: The research is still developing. While studies continue, stick with the pros.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles