How do Probiotics work? Facts & Myths about Probiotics

How fast do Probiotics Work?

Do probiotics work?

When you hear “bacteria” the first thing that rings in your mind is a harmful pathogen. However, did you know that we also have ‘good’ bacteria in the ecosystem? Do you know that at times you get sicker since the medication you have taken has resulted in the depletion of the ‘good’ bacteria in your body?

Probiotics are the non-pathology causing living micro-organism that elicit beneficial effects and exhibit good prognosis in the prevention, treatment and management of a disease.

Depletion of bacteria by antibacterial drugs not only lead to elimination of the bad bacteria that is causing harm to your body, but also the ‘good’ bacteria. The good bacteria are considered the normal flora of the body or commensal bacterial flora and which have posed to elicit beneficial attributes to the body than harm.

Nevertheless, in the ecosystem, bacteria and fungi co-habit but competitively, for survival and the fittest wins. If you have a fungal infection, say on the groin such as candidiasis, the first thing before lowered immunity that should cross your mind is your antibacterial bathing soap. You may be using too much soap to the extent that the bacteria have been destroyed beyond which, fungi thrive exceptionally.

If you haven’t yet found reason to trust in the action of probiotics your body, then consider this information to be a mind-changer.

Yes! Probiotics in deed work, they have worked for patients with fungal infection, lactose intolerance and in improving the outcomes of antibacterial drugs. Probiotics have also profoundly been indicated in the treatment of gastro-intestinal inflammation. This is especially the inflammatory bowel disease where inflammation of the gut epithelial wall is chronically inflamed. Instead of opting for nicotine as a ‘treatment’ alternative, opt to take probiotics

How fast or quick do they work?

The onset of action is determined by various factors such as the disease condition in question and the mode of administration.

If you consider a disease such as inflammatory bowel disease, the in-depth benefits of probiotics manifest after quite some time of intake of diets with ‘good’ bacteria. Patient compliance is also important. The silver lining comes in handy with the ability of probiotics to induce and initiate the immune response cascade of the body especially the gut. The innate immune system (the primary and first line defense of the body), is triggered against them and this takes an hour to a day to manifest. The gut is therefore constantly under surveillance of the immune sentinel cells.

The mode of use of the probiotics is one factor you cannot assume. You may apply yoghurt to a candidiasis infection to introduce the commensal bacteria that will eventually compete with the fungi and reduce their pathology.

In case of dysbiosis (imbalance of microbes in the gut), the imbalance can be corrected upon daily ingestion of probiotic diets up to 3-4 days upon which in depth manifestation of treatment occurs.

Probiotic Supplement[Image-Labdoor]

How do Probiotics work in the gut? [1]

How do probiotics work in your body-the gut? How do they help constipation, diarrhea, gas etc.?

Probiotics have been studied and found beneficial in the following ways and mechanisms:

  1. Diarrhea– probiotics may elicit a therapeutic advantage and hence good outcomes but this account is taken into consideration with vary of etiologies. The bacteria causing the diarrhea needs to be identified by stool examination and culture and the right probiotic administered to counter it. One etiology of diarrhea may be antibiotic induced diarrhea upon administration of broad spectrum antibiotics such as amoxicillin. Diarrhea is a known side effect of these such antibiotics as they clear the normal flora of the intestines. In the prophylactic treatment of diarrhea, strains of probiotics such as Saccharomyces boulardii, lactis, lactobacillus, Streptococcus thermophiles and Bifidobacterium breve. Upon clearance by antibiotics especially after prolonged use in patients, Clostridium difficile occurs as a major agent in the pathogenesis of diarrhea among others such as the rotavirus that results in nosocomial diarrhea[2]. The effect of probiotics in this case is however variable and inconsistent but has the beneficial effects though.
  1. Bloating – predisposition to gas especially in the pathology of inflammatory bowel disease has been attribute to an imbalance in the bacterial flora of the gastrointestinal system. Some formulation drugs are being administered to relieve the symptoms of the IBD such as bloating and gassy feeling. They introduce a probiotic strain such as the Bifidobacterium longum into the gut to counterbalance the ‘bad’ bacteria.
  1. Abdominal discomfort – abdominal discomfort is a general term that refers to a breach of the physiology of the gut. It may result from unregulated homeostasis (house-keeping). Probiotics enhance the homeostasis of the gut by maintenance of the integrity of the epithelium, ensuring its survival even during bacterial flora imbalance and triggering protective responses. Discomfort caused by infections due to parasitic trans-epithelial penetration and other bacterial cytotoxicity by modulating pathogen induce inflammation and competing with the pathogens for cyto-adherence[3].
  1. Lactose intolerance – this is a pathological condition during which there is inability of the gut to digest lactose into its constituents for absorption. This occurs due to a deficiency of the enzyme lactase that helps digest lactose. While taking enzyme replacement therapy to increase the level of lactase in the gut, a simpler remedy may help alleviate the malabsorption. Intake of yoghurt with the Lactobacillus acidophilus strain has proven beneficial. This is due to their ability to churn out beta-galactasidase and lactase that digest the lactose. Streptococcus thermophiles co-administered with the acidophilus is also beneficial.
  1. Constipation – the effect of probiotics on the pH of the gut which in turn has an influence on the peristaltic movement of the bowel results in treatment of constipation. It has also been found that the effect of some strains of these flora on the integrity of the bile salts results in hypertonicity in the gut that results in water being osmotically drained into the bowel and softening the stool. The stool can then be easily defecated.
  2. Improving immune system function[4] – probiotics increase the anti-pathogenic activity of microbes and decrease allergic responses via modulation of various signaling pathways. This is especially important for management of the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease.
  3. Reduction of stress and depression – the ability of probiotics to modulate the immune response in the gut, cytokines are also controlled and the implication of this control on the nerves results in the neuronal control of release of the stress hormone, cortisol that in the short run is beneficial to emergent stress. Hence, you may appear chilled out even during anxiety states.

Probiotics Nutrition Facts

Probiotics contain the heterogeneous cocktail of beneficial flora and this can only be derived from specific foods and fermentation methods. The examples of foods with probiotics include:

  1. Yoghurt – probiotic yoghurt is prepared by first pasteurizing the milk then addition of beneficial bacteria to the product so that it survives and aids in its fermentation such as the lactobacilli. Yoghurt is beneficial in the replenishment of lost gut flora, in management of lactose intolerance[5] and in the correction of dysbiosis in the gut.
  2. Black Tea in mixture with fermented mushroom-like bacterial colony. It is believed that this preparation habors two commonest probiotics indicated for diarrhea such as the Bacillus coagulants and the Saccharomyces boulardii.
  3. Salty pickles brined in water and sea salt – the reason why this formulation is done in water is to take advantage of the universal properties of water especially in bacterial growth. Such brining can be done in vinegar but this would be an unsuitable solvent for the culturing of bacteria. The probiotic bacteria can be picked up from this home-made preparation.
  4. Fermented cabbage and cucumber – this is a popular dish that involves pickling of the vegetables. The vegetables fermented, may be deployed in a sandwich after a bit of steaming but care taken not to kill the thermo labile probiotic bacteria.
  5. Sauerkraut – this is majorly fermented cabbages that have been initially pasteurized. They harbor probiotic bacteria too.
  6. Sourdough bread – contains lactobacillus upon fermentation.
  7. Soy beans fermented with brown rice – this combination produces what is called a miso paste with colonies of lactobacillus


Probiotics Fun & Interesting Facts

  1. Probiotics are used in the preparation of fermented foods such as sauerkraut and fermented milk such as the lactobacillus.
  2. Saccharomyces cerevisiae is also known as the ‘Baker’s Yeast’ or the ‘Brewer’s Yeast’. This is due to its effect in making dough rise and beer ferment and get bubbly.
  3. Probiotics have been found beneficial in the management of anxiety.
  4. Probiotics are not only used for the gut flora but also in the clearance of toxins, maintenance of the water’s chemical balance and control algae.
  5. Buy probiotics for your aquarium to keep it clean.
  6. Penicillium is a fungi that has been widely used as an antibiotic through its derived ‘penicillin’.

Probiotics Myths

Is probiotic bacteria myth or reality? Should everyone take probiotics?

TRUE – Probiotics are a reality, they cohabit with and in you for you to take advantage of and derive their benefits. However, there are some myths disguised as facts that need to be exposed. Such misconstrues include:

  1. Prescribed antibiotics should not be taken with probiotics. FALSE! Why shouldn’t they be taken with probiotics while the antibiotics themselves disguise an antibiotic derived diarrhea as a side effect. Well, this intervention would be very important in reducing the severity of the diarrhea. For this synergistic effort to work well for both the antibiotic and the probiotic, take the latter 2-3 hours after. By this time the diarrheal symptoms will have manifested.
  2. Probiotics are only taken when needed. FALSE! These nutritious food supplements are beneficial in the prophylaxis of gastrointestinal discomforts that may be caused by indigestion and imbalance of the normal gut flora. It is important to continuously feed the gut with the commensal flora so as to avoid the pathology of abdominal discomforts.
  3. That Enterococcus faecalis and Enterococcus faecium are potent probiotics is a MYTH. These strains of bacteria are in fact ‘bad’ bacteria and have developed to be resistant to the current conventional antibiotic medications we have in the Pharmacies. They have been banned from being used as probiotics in some countries including Australia.[6]
  4. Prebiotics[7] can be taken with probiotics. You might ask yourself that why not encourage colonization of the ‘good’ bacteria by ingesting prebiotics too. Prebiotics provide a suitable nutritious environment for the growth of the bacteria. However, they are not selective and would thus lead to encouragement of the growth of both pathogenic and non-pathogenic bacteria. So avoid taking fructo-oligosaccharide (FOS)[8]. Some probiotics in fact come with their own growth media.
  5. Probiotics can just be put up on the shelf and preserved for long. MYTH. The moment you do this, the bacteria in the yoghurt will grow and multiply depleting the resources available and will eventually die. However, by freezing and freeze-drying, the growth and development of the lactobacillus acidophilus will be arrested and this will preserve them for longer.



[2]  Guandalini S. Probiotics for children with diarrhea: An update. J Clin Gastroenterol 2008; 42 (Suppl 2):S53-S57.

A complete and useful review that focuses on the efficacy of probiotics for diarrhea of different etiologies in children in different settings.

[3] Seth A, Yan F, Polk DB, Rao RK. Probiotics ameliorate the hydrogen peroxide induced epithelial barrier disruption by a PKC- and MAP kinase-dependent mechanism. Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol 2008; 294:G1060-G1069.

[4] Lemberg DA, Ooi CY, Day AS. Probiotics in pediatric gastrointestinal diseases. J Pediatric Child Health 2007; 43:331-336.


[6] Australian Government Department of Health Therapeutic Goods Administration. Item 3.2.2 Probiotic organisms Recommendation 6. [Online] Complementary Medicines Evaluation Committee, October 29, 1998. [Cited: July 10, 2014.]

7 Probiotic Bacteria, Probiotic Bacteria: Selective Enumeration and Survival in Dairy Foods. Shah, N. P. 4, Melbourne: Journal of Dairy Science, 2000, Vol. 83. PMID: 10791807.

[8] Dietary fructooligosaccharides increase intestinal permeability in rats. Ten Bruggencate SJ, Bovee-Oudenhoven IM, Lettink-Wissink ML, Van der Meer R. Ede : The Journal of Nutrition, 2005, Vol. 135. PMID: 15795444.

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