If you’ve heard anything about probiotics, you likely know that these live bacteria (found in foods like kefir, yogurt, and kombucha) are key for good gut health. And if you consider that your microbiome—all of the bacteria in your body—is a mix of good and bad bacteria (like the kind that make you sick), it’s important to have enough of the good guys so your body functions properly.
The problem is, it's tough to get enough from food alone, so a supplement—like one that blends enzymes and other ingredients, like ginger to help with digestion—is a good bet.
Even more: Probiotics do far more than ease stomach troubles.
“Probiotics have been around for awhile but in the past five years, there’s been a lot more research on them,” says Kristina Secinaro, R.D., a research dietitian in the Center for Clinical Investigation at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, MA. “And while most people just thought of probiotics as beneficial for digestive health, your gut is connected to your entire body.”
As a result? Emerging research suggests they help prevent a wide range of conditions, starting with these five.
1. Weight loss
Consuming probiotics really can reduce your body weight and body mass index, according to a new meta-analysis published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, which provides evidence that's previously been lacking. Researchers combined the findings of 25 randomized trials, including over 1,900 healthy adults. Interestingly, ingesting more than one type of probiotic and taking them for 8 weeks or more results in the greatest amount of weight loss. But it's still pretty modest. Men and women saw a decrease in weight by 0.59 kg (1.3 pounds) and BMI by 0.49 kg/m2 (your BMI is weight in kilograms divided by the square of your height in meters). Kimball also notes that probiotics can improve your blood sugar control and affect sensitivity to leptin (a hormone that helps regulate appetite.) This is key for anyone struggling with type 2 diabetes. This meta-analysis backs it up: Even this small reduction in weight can lower your risk for diseases such as Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.
2. Skin conditions
Skin woes like psoriasis, eczema, and rosacea can be bothersome, to say the least—but some studies suggest that the right strains of probiotics can help, says Kimball. It goes back to that whole idea of inflammation. And since some skin conditions—like other health issues—stem from inflammation, minimizing it can be a skin savior.
3. Immune health
Sick and tired of being sick and tired? “Research in athletes has shown less incidence of upper respiratory infection after the use of probiotics,” says Secinaro. And it makes sense why: Since probiotics are a better type of bacteria, they can help prevent infection from the more dangerous kinds, she says. “Making sure you have a better balance of bacteria can also ward off issues like the cold and flu.”
Stuffed up? A study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that allergy sufferers who took a supplement of a probiotic called B. lactis once a day for 8 weeks were far less sniffly two months down the road than those who didn’t. The people on probiotics also had lower levels of pro-inflammatory markers, the researchers say. That could be because probiotics alter the permeability of the intestinal wall, and help to keep pro-inflammatory compounds from entering the bloodstream, says nutritionist Molly Kimball, R.D.
5. Mood disorders
In a small study of 40 people without mood disorders, folks who took a powdered probiotic supplement every night for a month felt happier and reported feeling less affected by life’s bummers than those who popped a placebo. Other research suggests that probiotics can help lower levels of depression, stress, and anxiety. Experts aren’t sure why the good bacteria/good mood link exists, but think it could have to do with something called the gut-brain axis—signaling between your GI tract and your nervous system, says Secinaro.