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What Are Probiotics?

What Are Probiotics?

Probiotics are living microorganisms that can be found in certain functional foods along with a variety of different dietary supplements.  When consumed in adequate amounts, some of them reach the intestine in an active state, where they’ve been shown to have a beneficial influence on the gastrointestinal tract.(1)

More specifically, probiotics have been shown to improve the microbial balance in your gut.  Your digestive tract is actually filled with microorganisms like bacteria and archaea which collectively make up your gut microbiota (AKA your gut’s microbial community).    

While this might sound like a bad thing, some of these microorganisms actually aid in important metabolic activities, helping our bodies to break down dietary fibers, synthesize vitamins, and metabolize various biochemicals, amongst other things.(2)

When added into your diet, certain probiotics can contribute to the population of beneficial bacteria in the gut, which in turn, can lead to significant improvements in the overall health and function of the digestive system (we’ll talk about this in more detail in the following section.(3)

To date, most research with positive findings has tended to involved microorganisms from the Lactobacilli and Bifidobacterium families, with several different varieties being reported to have therapeutic effects in randomized clinical trials (RCTs).(4)(5) While not exhaustive, the following list includes some of the most thoroughly investigated probiotics.  

List of Probiotic Microorganisms

Lactobacilli Varieties

Bifidobacterium Varieties

L. acidophilus B. adolescentis
L. casei B. animalis
L. crispatus B. bifidum
L. gallumarum B. breve
L. gasseri  B. infantis
L. johnsonii B. lactis
L.paracasei B. longum
L. plantarum
L. reuteri
L. rhamnosus

What Foods Contain Probiotics?

Most of the main food products that contain probiotics are dairy-based products, including yogurt, ice cream, cheese, fermented milk, milk powder, and buttermilk, with yogurt, being by far the most popular probiotic food product currently on the market.(6)

While dairy-products are the most common probiotic food source, some other non-dairy items -- particularly foods that go through some type of fermentation -- also contain probiotics.  Popular options include certain soy-based products, sauerkraut, kombucha, and some kinds of pickled vegetables, just to name a few.(7)

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