Gut Experts Share All the Myths and Truths of Probiotics

In the health and wellness world, probiotics have become somewhat of a buzzword. Just like drinking fresh celery juice, taking probiotics can do wonders for gut health. But unlike blindly jumping on the celery juice bandwagon, taking probiotics isn't just another health fad. Doctors and researchers have published countless studies about the very real, very tangible benefits of probiotics and, nope, they're not only for good for digestion. It turns out that adding supplements or foods with natural probiotics into your daily routine can leave you with clearer skin, a stronger immune system, a better mood, and more energy. Right about now you might be thinking, So why aren't I taking them yet?

Well, probiotics still seem to be steeped in mystery. Since there are still so many misconceptions about what they are and why they're so beneficial, we chatted with several gut experts to get to the heart of the matter. We had a nutritionist, a dermatologist, and a health coach outline all the myths and truths about probiotics—everything from what they really do (read: a lot) to how frequently you should be taking them. Keep reading to discover everything you've ever wanted to know about them and shop different probiotic supplements and foods along the way.

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Myth #1: They don't really do anything.

Truth: Give your body a few weeks to start seeing the effects.

"There are a lot of misconceptions, and I think the biggest one is that they don't do anything," HUM's lead nutritionist, Sarah Greenfield, shares. "You may have to try a couple of different products until you find the strains that are best for you, but they do work and its important to incorporate a probiotic into your daily beauty routine."

Myth #2: You can take them occasionally and still reap the benefits.

Truth: It's best to take them at the same time every day, but some recommend that it's best to take them at night.

Robyn Youkilis, a certified health coach and gut health expert and author of Go With Your Gut and Thin From Within, suggests taking a probiotic supplement at night. She says that this is when your digestive system is at its most relaxed and they're most effective. "Each of the different probiotic supplements contains a slightly different mix of bacteria, so you may also want to switch up which brand you take after you go through a bottle," she shared.

Myth #3: They're only good for digestion.

Truth: The benefits of probiotics are far-reaching. 

Doctors and scientists are only now beginning to uncover the intimate relationship between a healthy gut and the rest of the body—skin, energy, mood, etc.

Truth: Probiotics can be a godsend for your skin and tackle stubborn hormonal acne.

"The gut and the skin are intimately connected through something called the gut-brain-skin axis," according to leading NYC dermatologist Whitney Bowe, MD, whose forthcoming book The Beauty of Dirty Skin dives into this topic. "Having researched this topic for over a decade, and treated thousands of patients over the years, it has become very clear to me that if your gut is inflamed, your skin will also be inflamed." Bowe insists that restoring a healthy gut microbiome through diet and supplements like probiotics is key to dialing down that inflammation, healing the gut, and thus healing the skin.

Truth: Taking probiotics consistently can strengthen your immune system and help you avoid getting sick.

According to Greenfield, "Our gut health is the core of all of our health." She continued, "If we have a healthy gut we have a stronger immune system, we absorb and process the nutrients from our food which helps keep our bodies in balance and we can even have an improved mood with a more diverse gut."

Truth: They can even lift your mood.

Youkilis shared, "It’s estimated that 90% of your serotonin (your body’s feel-good neurotransmitter) is made in your digestive tract and that the production of this chemical is reliant on healthy gut bacteria. Serotonin is responsible for regulating a number of body processes, such as sleep and digestion, but its main role is to regulate anxiety, happiness, and mood. In fact, low levels of serotonin have been associated with depression."

Myth #4: They only come in pill form.

Truth: You can also add probiotics to your diet through certain foods and drinks.

"Getting a variety of fermented foods in your diet like kimchi, yogurt, miso, kombucha (low sugar), and sauerkraut is important to encourage the diversity of your gut," Greenfield tells me. "I always prefer a probiotic that contains both live strains and soil-based strains so you know you are getting a good variety. HUM’s Skin Heroes is great because it has both live strain and soil-based, which supports gut health while also nourishing your skin. I love taking these with me when I travel because they don't need to be refrigerated."

Truth: Adding fermented foods to your diet can do wonders for your overall health.

According to Youkilis, fermented foods nourish the good bacteria in your gut and help this bacteria stay balanced. "When your gut bacteria is balanced, you’re better able to absorb the nutrients from your food, which means your cells are getting what they need in order to perform optimally," she shared. "And when you’re deeply nourished on a cellular level you have more energy, you sleep better and you’re able to fight off any infection or sickness much more easily."

Myth #5: It won't fix all of your gut woes.

Truth: It will help regulate gut health (and contribute to all the other physical benefits we shared earlier).

According to Youkilis, taking probiotics won't magically cure everything. Instead, she says, "It may certainly help, but it’s only when you’re willing to look at all the parts of you and make changes across your diet and lifestyle that true health and happiness can occur."

Myth #6: All probiotics are basically the same.

Truth: Look for a supplement with both pre- and probiotics, or be sure to get enough prebiotics in the form of foods like onion and garlic.

"Not all probiotics are created equal! Right now I love the New Chapter All Flora probiotic as it contains probiotics, prebiotics (what feeds the probiotics so they grow!), and postbiotics for complete gut health and fuel," Youkilis shared.