Probiotics for Digestive System Health

Probiotics for Digestive System Health

What Are Probiotics?

Probiotics are living microorganisms that are essential for good health. The name probiotics means “for life,” which is fitting, as probiotics consist of live good bacteria and yeasts that live in the gut. These billions of good bacteria and yeasts in the gut help to digest food, boost the immune system, create vitamins, and protect against illness (1).

Ancient Greek physician Hippocrates is attributed with the observation that “all disease begins in the gut” (2). One study on gut health found that certain good bacteria strains could help improve cognitive function, anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and autism (3). Another study done by The Washington University School of Medicine found that the smaller the variety of bacteria in the gut, the more likely one is to be obese (4). Conversely, the greater the diversity of bacteria, the healthier the person’s weight tended to be. The different strains of bacteria in your gut will cause you to crave different types of food. This is because the gut is directly connected to the brain through the vagus nerve. Because of this connection between the gut and the brain, and the gut’s essential connection to overall health, probiotics have a number of significant health benefits (4).

The Benefits of Probiotics

Probiotics and good gut bacteria have a number of significant health benefits. The medicinal uses for probiotics include:

Infections Diseases


  • Acute adult diarrhea
  • Antibiotic-associated diarrhea
  • Helicobacter pylori dyspepsia and stomach ulcers
  • Pediatric diarrhea
  • Recurrent clostridium difficile disease
  • Nosocomial infections
  • Traveler’s diarrhea
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Vaginitis
  • Vaginosis

Microbial Imbalances 


  • Constipation
  • Kidney stones
  • Chemotherapy-induced diarrhea
  • Diabetes
  • Hypercholesterolemia
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Recolonization of the intestines after antibiotic treatment or surgery
  • Cancer
  • Irritable bowel disease
  • Liver disease
  • Pouchitis
  • Arthritis

Other Uses 


  • Reduced stress effects
  • Increased weight gain
  • Stabilization of normal flora
  • Production of vitamins
  • Enhancing vaccine response
  • Source of vitamin B-12
  • Food allergies (lactose intolerance
  • Stimulation of immune system
  • Atopic eczema
  • Allergies

[Table 1.1, pg. 9, from (5)] 

Probiotics vs. Prebiotics

Both prebiotics and probiotics are vital for good gut health, which impacts overall health. Where probiotics are live strains of good bacteria, prebiotics are slightly different. Simply put, prebiotics are the food for good bacteria. Prebiotics are made from special plant fibers that help to encourage the growth of pre-existing good bacteria (probiotics). Probiotics then help strengthen your digestive system, which is essential for overall good health (6).

Probiotics vs. Antibiotics

Where probiotics are living organisms used to improve your health, antibiotics are used to kill microorganisms. By killing microorganisms indiscriminately, antibiotics are able to help fight against infections. This is great for when your body is fighting a sinus infection, bronchitis, or other bacterial infection. However, because antibiotics kill microorganisms indiscriminately, this means that they also kill good probiotics in your body. After taking antibiotics, it is recommended to take probiotic supplements to help restore your gut health (7).

Signs You May Be Deficient in Probiotics

Some signs that you may be lacking in probiotics include:


  • Brain fog
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Gum disease
  • High sugar cravings
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Low immune system
  • Poor skin health (eczema, psoriasis)
  • Slow metabolism
  • Upper respiratory infections
  • Yeast infections

In addition to probiotic supplements, one way you could increase the number of probiotics in your body is by eating foods that are high in probiotics (4). 

Probiotic Foods

Foods that are high in probiotics and help restore good gut bacteria include:


  • Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar has a number of significant health benefits. In addition to containing probiotics, these benefits include: improving digestion, lowering blood sugar levels, reducing belly fat, lowering cholesterol and improving heart health, and increasing insulin sensitivity (8). 


  • Apples

In addition to being good sources of probiotics, apples are known to aid with weight loss, improve heart health, help fight asthma, and help improve bone health (9). 


  • Cottage Cheese

Cottage cheese is full of good probiotics. In addition to the probiotic benefits, cottage cheese is known to help with muscle gain, promote bone strength, and help prevent insulin resistance (10). 


  • Feta Cheese

Feta cheese is a great source of calcium and zinc. In addition to providing probiotics, feta cheese is known to lower the risk of diabetes, support the immune system, and promote a healthy gut (11). 


  • Garlic

Garlic has been known to possess potent medicinal properties. In fact, Hippocrates, often referred to as the father of natural medicine, used to prescribe garlic to treat certain health conditions. Garlic has been known to help combat the common cold, eliminate heavy metals from the body, reduce blood pressure, improve heart health, and may even help prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s (12). 


  • Greek Yogurt

Well-known for being full of good bacteria, greek yogurt has a number of significant health benefits, including helping to maintain good cartilage, skin, hair, and blood health. Greek yogurt is also able to help boost your immune system, improve gut health, and provide you with B-12, which is essential for good brain function and DNA synthesis (13). 


  • Kefir

Simply put, kefir is milk with added kefir grains to help ferment the milk. Kefir is known to have more probiotics than yogurt; it also has potent antibacterial properties. Kefir may help reduce the risk of osteoporosis, improve gut health, improve asthma, and relieve allergy symptoms (14). 


  • Kimchi

Kimchi is a pickled, spicy vegetable dish that is the national food of South Korea. The health benefits of kimchi include improving digestive health, improving heart health, and boosting the immune system (15). 


  • Kombucha

Kombucha is fermented tea that is rich in probiotics and antioxidants (16). Kombucha is known to help boost the immune system, facilitate weight loss, lower blood pressure, and help with diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) (17). 


  • Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut is fermented cabbage that is believed to have originated in China around 2,000 years ago (18). Sauerkraut is known to help improve digestion, boost your immune system, help manage weight, improve brain health, and boost heart health. 


  • Sourdough bread

Sourdough bread is leavened bread. What this means is that the dough uses natural fermentation to rise. Sourdough is known to help manage blood sugar levels, boost heart health, aid with digestion, and support good gut health (19). 

The Takeaway

While microorganisms have been used to ferment and preserve food for centuries, and their health benefits have been known, the concept of dispensing probiotics to help support good gut health and overall health is a fairly recent trend, beginning with Metchnikoff just over a century ago (20).

These living microorganisms known as probiotics have important physiological effects including boosting heart health, supporting a healthy gut, and improving neurological function. Consuming foods that are high in probiotics has been linked with longevity and is important for maintaining good digestive health (1).

For more information on how to maintain good gut health visit