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Probiotics have become quite popular in recent years due to the many stated health benefits of including them in your daily routine. It’s likely that if you have landed on this page, you are already taking a probiotic or considering doing so and therefore may be wondering “how long does it take for probiotics to work?”. When it comes to the benefits of probiotics and how long it will take you to see or feel results, it’s not a one size fits all approach.
What are probiotics?
Although the word probiotic has become more commonplace in the last decade, you may be asking yourself “What exactly is a probiotic?”. The word probiotic finds its origins in the Greek word “pro-bios”, meaning “for life”. In 2014, the definition of probiotics was formally established by the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) as “Live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host”.
Historically, probiotics have been sought after mainly as a natural therapy for gastrointestinal ailments, however in the last decade, their role has expanded to one that may provide benefits throughout various systems in our bodies, including the immune, integumentary, respiratory, circulatory and neurological systems.
Probiotics in food sources versus supplements
The largest source of dietary probiotics can be found in fermented foods, although not all fermented foods contain these beneficial bacteria. Examples of these probiotic containing fermented foods include yogurt, sauerkraut, kefir, pickles, miso, kombucha, tempeh, kimchi, and various cheeses.
When looking to improve specific symptoms or achieve a specific result, probiotic supplementation is more targeted and individualized to each person’s needs. Probiotic supplementation comes in various forms; powders, capsules, tablets, liquids and sachets.
Why take probiotics?
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any probiotics for the prevention and treatment of health problems. However, probiotics are a current therapy for a variety of acute and chronic disease states and conditions in adults and children; which includes gastrointestinal disorders, respiratory tract infections, urinary tract infections and dermatologic conditions, as well as immunity, metabolic and neurodegenerative disorders.
A multitude of studies have demonstrated that stress caused by physical or psychological factors may be directly associated with the imbalance of the microbiota-brain-gut axis. This supports the idea that probiotic supplementation or consumption may play a role in mental wellness. Probiotics are also commonly used as a preventative measure to prime the immune system, prevent travelers diarrhea, promote weight maintenance, heart health and overall wellness.
How long does it take for probiotics to work?
Changes in your gut
There is a growing interest in the ability to modify and manipulate the gut microbiota with both diet and supplementation. Interestingly, an acute change in diet, for example to one that is strictly animal-based or plant-based, alters microbial composition within just 24 hours of initiation, and reverses back to baseline within 48 hours of discontinuation of those diet changes.
You may also assume these changes may be as swift with consumption of probiotics, however how long it takes for probiotics to work varies by the type and strain of the probiotic and the individual consuming the probiotics. Let’s look at the most common genus, species and strains of probiotics to answer your burning question of “how long will it take for probiotics to work for me?”.
Common probiotics and their benefits
Three of the most commonly used probiotics are Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium and Saccharomyces. The species and strain of each of these genus types have been studied in a variety of conditions and stratified by both species and strain. For example, Lactobacillus rhamnosus HN001 is shown to improve depression, antibiotic diarrhea, anxiety and eczema, while Lactobacillus plantarum 299v has been shown to alleviate Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Clostridium difficile.
As evidenced here, it’s important to not only choose the appropriate Genus, but also Species and Strain when choosing a probiotic. Below you will find general guidelines to help you estimate how long it will take for a probiotic to work. Knowing what results to expect may help you narrow down the effectiveness of your probiotic choice.
+Strain not specified for each benefit. ++List not all inclusive, states most common benefit claims. Degree of benefit varies per individual. +++Estimated time to see results from probiotic supplementation, based on multiple clinical trials, age groups and disease states.
How to choose the right probiotic
Choosing the right probiotic may feel like a daunting and confusing task. Without proper guidance, you may find yourself staring at the plethora of probiotic options in the health isle of your local grocer, wondering which probiotic is right for you, only to walk away empty handed and discouraged.
The effectiveness of probiotics is largely dependent on three factors: mode-specificity (ie. prevention or treatment), strain-specificity and disease-specificity. Manufacturing processes, ingredient sourcing and quality control processes should also be considered when choosing a probiotic.
There is no fail proof way to answer the question “how long does it take for probiotics to work?”. However, if you don’t know what you are looking for, you most certainly will not find it. My hopes are that the information in this article has helped you gain insight into whether or not a probiotic is right for you, what results you may expect to see from taking a probiotic and how long it will take you to see or feel results.
It is important to be patient when you are looking for lasting change in your health. While probiotics may not give you the immediate results you are looking for, they pack a powerful punch in improving your health and keeping you healthy.
For tailored advice to your specific circumstances and health needs, you may need to speak to a functional medical practitioner or registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) for help in choosing the best, high quality probiotic to help you achieve the results you are looking for.
Angela Lago is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and holds a Master’s of Science in Nutrition. She is passionate about researching the connection between gut health and mental wellness. Learn more about Angela’s journey from being depressed, anxious, and sleep deprived to being happy, healthy, and thriving!