Do You Need a Probiotic? Here’s How to Find Out

Probiotics have been all the rage and for good reason: Primarily, they seem to offer multiple benefits ranging from a happy and — ahem, regular! — gut to clearer skin. So could you benefit? Here, the experts share their best advice for why you might consider adding a probiotic to your diet.

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Why a probiotic?

The idea of these little wonder bugs can be a bit off-putting at first: You're going to willingly swallow live bacteria? Yep—because that's what probiotic means. The good news is that these friendly strains of bacteria can help put the bacterial populations in your body back in balance—and that can heal a surprising number of ailments, according to Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, a dermatologist and probiotic expert.

You're gassy

If you often find yourself bloating after meals or eating certain foods, you may want to consider a bifidobacteria probiotic. "These bacteria are found in the gut within days after birth, particularly in breastfed infants and is the best measurement of gut health," Dr. Shainhouse says. "Bifidobacteria may also help improve glucose tolerance and hyperlipidemia (an abnormally high concentration of fats or lipids in the blood) and could also reduce the uncomfortable symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome like bloating or slow mobility," she explains.

You can't handle dairy

Some people don't produce enough of the enzyme lactase in the digestive tract, which is where a probiotic containing streptococcus thermophilus might help. "It produces the lactase in the gut, and can be helpful in the management and prevention of lactose intolerance," Dr. Shainhouse notes.

You battle infections down there

There are more than 50 species of lactobacilli, which are naturally found in the digestive, urinary, and genital tract. "Some studies have suggested possible linkage of lactobacillus supplementation and the treatment and prevention of yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, urinary tract infections," says Dr. Shainhouse. These probiotics can also help with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), antibiotic-related diarrhea, traveller's diarrhea, some skin disorders (acne, canker sores, eczema), lactose intolerance," Dr. Shainhouse says.

You have dry skin

When your gut is healthy, your whole body shows it. "There is a strong link between gut health and skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, and acne," says David Borenstein, the founder of

Manhattan Integrative Medicine, explains. "There is also strong evidence to suggest that probiotics can prevent wrinkles, help keep skin hydrated, provide protection from harmful UV rays, and strengthen the skin's barrier. While I am not suggesting that anyone skip their SPF, there is promising research indicating that probiotics and strong gut health overall can maximize the function of the skin." Try adding these foods to your diet for healthy, glowing skin.

You'll be traveling in places with a sketchy water supply

Saccharomyces boulardii is the only yeast probiotic and may be helpful in the treatment of antibiotic-induced and traveler's diarrhea, says Dr. Shainhouse. While several types of probiotics can be helpful with calming the digestive tract down, you may want to be sure to pack this one the next time you board the plan for exotic locales. Bonus: It may also help relieve acne.

You just finished a course of antibiotics

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Dr. Kogan says she typically will prescribe daily probiotics for patients with IBS, gut malabsorption, or bacterial overgrowth syndrome to aid in digestion, which can not only be difficult for people with these conditions, but at times, very painful. "In all three cases there are digestive system malfunctions, and the patients feel gassy, bloated, and fatigued all the time. The reason probiotics help is that they improve immune function, decrease inflammation, heal mucosal lining, and improve absorption of nutrients in the gut," she explains.

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