Guide to Vitamins

Should I Take Probiotics?

Probiotics may have many benefits. Whether you can get them in pill form is another story

Illustrations by Kieran Blakey

While pumping the gut full of healthy bacteria is helpful for treating some specific medical conditions, it’s probably not the cure-all that probiotic manufacturers have led people to believe.

“The business of probiotics has outpaced the science,” says Dr. Emeran Mayer, co-director of the Digestive Diseases Research Center at UCLA and author of The Mind-Gut Connection. Mayer says the idea that people can swallow a probiotic pill and re-shape the makeup of their gut bacteria in health-promoting ways has not been borne out in clinical trials. While some people do seem to experience benefits, these benefits aren’t consistent, and probiotics often don’t outperform placebo pills, he says. In some cases, people have reported side effects like an upset stomach or diarrhea in response to probiotics. In general, everyone’s microbiome makeup is different, and it’s tough to determine what bacterial balance they need.

I write about health and science. I live in Detroit with my wife and kids. I’m trying to learn German, but my progress so far is nicht gut.

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