Much like how I've waxed lyrical about beetroot juice for energy and milk thistle for curing hangovers, I couldn't live without my daily probiotic. I'm no wellness expert (I just read and write a lot about it), but whenever my pals ask me what one supplement they should take daily, it has to be a probiotic. And I'm not alone. The global market for probiotics reached a value of about $58bn (£45.5bn) in 2022, and was forecast to reach to over $85bn (£66.7bn) by 2027 - that's a lot of people popping the supplement.
But before we delve into the benefits of probiotics (and my experience of taking one daily) what exactly are they?
“Probiotics, otherwise known as ‘good’ gut bacteria, are microbes and yeasts found in the body,” explains Dr Claire Shortt, lead scientist and vice president of clinical at FoodMarble. “We need probiotic bacteria to fight off infection and maintain a healthy and balanced gut microbiome. Probiotics are also needed to support a healthy immune system, help us digest food, protect us from pathogens, maintain our gut lining, and to help with the absorption of nutrients.”
Did you know that up to 80% of our immune cells live in the gut? That's a lot. “The gut microbiome influences many vital functions in the body, such as the immune system, mental health, detoxification, and more," explains Hannah Kleinfeld, theOmni-Biotic U.S. COO, a global leader in microbiome science and gut health products.
By Denise Primbet
Research shows that a variety of health conditions, including anxiety and dementia, liver disease and weaker immunity, and even diabetes, are all related to a less-than-healthy gut. “It’s clear that to live a healthy and long life, you must take care of your gut microbiome - and taking a high-quality probiotic supplement is an effective and seamless way to do so," she said. A probiotic supplement essentially replenishes the good bacteria in your gut and ensures that your gut microbiome is balanced and diverse, which we know contributes heavily to feeling and functioning your best.
So does it work? I decided to pop one every day to find out…
Popping a probiotic could not be simpler. I have been taking one every day for five years now and alternate between JS Health's version and Omni-Biotic 6. I'd say the former is a great way to introduce a probiotic into your daily wellness regime as it's a single capsule you pop daily, whilst the latter is a more hardcore version. The OMNi BiOTiC 10 AAD should be taken twice daily into a glass of water (approx. 125 mL) at room temperature. You have to wait at least 1 minute for it to activate, stir again and then drink. I found it a little bit of a faff but the formula's quality seems brilliant so I'd definitely use this one after a course of antibiotics or when feeling particularly run down.
I didn't notice any obvious or instant day-to-day changes to my health but my sleep absolutely improved. I found myself feeling less wired by bedtime and falling into a deeper sleep when I did hit the pillow. My bowls were also much ‘healthier’ and active - I felt like the probiotic really got things moving.
But after a good few months, I realised I hadn't fallen ill - and with a toddler in nursery (a hot bed of germs), that's no mean feat. In my pre-probiotic past, I'd have picked up every sniffle circulating the office but I was fighting fit. I am also six months pregnant so my immune system is automatically weaker right now.
I'm sold on popping a daily probiotic but if you need some convincing, we've grilled the experts for all the info you might need.
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that can be ingested in supplement form. They replenish the beneficial bacteria in the gut so that these bacteria can support the body’s immune system. “More and more research points to the many ways in which probiotic bacteria support immune response. This is no surprise, since 80% of the body’s immune system is in the gut,” explains Hannah Kleinfeld, the COO of Omni-Biotic U.S.
Certain probiotic strains even have the ability to produce immunoglobulins and anti-microbial factors to directly support the immune system in fighting bacteria and viruses. “For example, secretory Immunoglobulin A (SIgA) is an essential component of the body’s immune response. Certain probiotic formulations, such as Omni-Biotic Balance have shown in clinical studies to increase SIgA levels,” she added.
Having the right bacteria and the right amounts of these bacteria in our gut can help make us stronger against stomach bugs. “Certain probiotic strains have the ability to inhibit pathogens or produce antiviral substances and send messages to the immune system to attack these bad bacteria and viruses,” she notes. To be fair, myself and my daughter (who also takes a daily probiotic in the form of Baba West's brilliant Kidskalm Biotic Sachets 1-12 Years), have touch wood never picked up a stomach bug).
Hitting the snooze button on a Saturday might not be the best idea.
Generally, many turn to probiotics when their gut health or immune system has been negatively impacted by illness, food quality, stress and medications such as antibiotics. “Some people like to take them as a part of their recovery regime, whereas others prefer daily use,” shares Rhian Stephenson, founder of Artah.
“It's really about how you want to feel and what your lifestyle looks like as a whole," says Rhian. "Often, individuals fine that their immunity and digestion is just better when they're supporting themselves with probiotics.” However, make sure to consult a professional about any potential health issues before deciding to take probiotics.
While some probiotic products recommend that you take them with a meal, experts believe it could be more beneficial to take them on empty stomach, ideally 15-45 minutes before a meal, or 2-3 hours after eating one because stomach acid is potentially harmful.
You should also bear in mind that depending on your body, it may take some time to adjust to probiotics. It's not uncommon to experience side effects such as feeling bloated, a mildly upset stomach or passing gas. However, if side effects persist, please make sure to speak to a healthcare professional before continuing to take your probiotic supplements.