Probiotics are bacteria that are similar to the “good” bugs that live in your gut. Importantly, to qualify as a probiotic, scientists need to have demonstrated a benefit for human health in clinical research.
You can find many probiotics in fermented foods and drinks like yogurt or kombucha, and they’re also available as supplements.
There’s evidence that taking probiotics could support your gut health by augmenting the “good” bugs in your gut and helping them outnumber the “bad” bugs. And some studies suggest that certain types of probiotics may help reduce bloating and related symptoms.
It’s also possible that probiotics could make you feel more bloated, although this may be for just a short time while your gut adjusts to the changes.
ZOE runs the largest study of nutrition and gut health in the world, with over 20,000 participants so far.
As part of our research, we’ve identified 15 “good” and 15 “bad” gut bacteria linked with better and worse gut health and overall health.
The ZOE at-home test can tell you which of these different bugs live in your gut, as well as the complete range of microorganisms that make up your unique gut microbiome.
With the ZOE program, you can find the best foods for your body, including your personal “gut booster” and “gut suppressor” foods.
You can take a free quiz to find out more.
Probiotics and gut health
Your gut microbiome — the collection of bacteria and other microbes that live in your gut — is unique to you.
A healthy, diverse microbiome, with a high proportion of “good” bugs, is crucial for your gut health.
There is some evidence that probiotic supplements may improve gut health and relieve symptoms of certain gut-related conditions.
However, the types of bacteria currently available in supplements are often chosen because they are easier to manufacture, not necessarily because they are the best for you. Under certain conditions, these products may also increase resistance to antibiotics and further damage a weakened immune system.
Therefore, some probiotic supplements may not be helpful and, in some cases, may even be harmful.
At ZOE, we believe that the best place to get your regular dose of probiotics is from foods that naturally contain them rather than from the supplements that are currently available on the market.
Natural probiotics are present in fermented foods like live yogurt, sauerkraut, and aged cheeses. Regularly eating these types of food can improve the diversity of your good microbes and the composition of your microbiome.
In a recent clinical trial from Stanford University, ZOE scientific advisory board member Prof. Christopher Gardner and his colleagues found that increasing the consumption of fermented foods could have a positive impact on gut health.
After just 10 weeks of eating more fermented foods, participants had a greater diversity of beneficial bugs in their gut and lower measures of inflammation.
ZOE scientific co-founder Prof. Tim Spector — an expert in gut health and a professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London — recommends eating a small amount of fermented foods every day for the best chance of boosting your gut health.
To get the widest range of probiotic bacteria — and maximize the potential benefits to your gut — aim to include different probiotic foods in your diet.
Not sure where to start? Prof. Spector suggests “the 4 K’s — kefir, kombucha, kimchi, and kraut.”
Fermented foods with probiotics include:
miso (fermented soybean paste)
kefir (fermented milk drink)
kombucha (fermented tea)
To help beneficial bacteria thrive in your gut, it’s also important to give them the right fuel. That means eating plenty of prebiotics — types of fiber that “good” bacteria feed on.
You can find prebiotics in a wide range of plant foods, including onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, bananas, whole grains, and legumes like chickpeas and lentils.
Can probiotics help with bloating?
We all feel bloated or gassy from time to time, but some studies suggest that between 16% and 31% of the general population experience bloating regularly — a percentage that increases dramatically if you have other gut-related challenges like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
While there is a range of possible triggers for bloating and gut health issues, many of them boil down to one thing: an unbalanced gut microbiome.
Your gut microbiome is a complex system, with trillions of different bacteria working to support your digestion and overall health.
If you have too many “bad” gut bugs — a condition known as “dysbiosis” — you may experience things like bloating, constipation, and inflammation.
Because probiotics may improve the diversity of your gut bacteria and help balance your gut microbiome, scientists are studying them as a possible way to prevent and relieve these types of gastrointestinal issues.
Probiotics and gut health
In a 2018 review, researchers looked at 15 studies where people with IBS took either probiotics or a placebo. Eight of the studies showed significant benefits of probiotics in treating IBS symptoms, including reducing bloating.
Participants who took probiotics were also able to poop more easily, which could in turn help to reduce constipation and gas that can cause bloating.
The researchers suggested that some studies may have been more successful than others because of the specific types of probiotic bacteria participants took.
Unpublished ZOE research also links probiotics to more regular bowel movements.
People who consumed probiotics in the form of either fermented dairy, other fermented foods, or supplements, increased their chance of pooping on most days by 10%. Those who consumed all three of these types of probiotics increased their chances by around 15%.
Overall, evidence about whether probiotics can relieve bloating is mixed.
Some studies suggest that probiotics may even increase gas production and bloating in certain cases, although others indicate that this may only be temporary, as your gut adjusts to the new bacteria you’re introducing.
While more research is needed into which types of probiotics may help specifically with bloating, probiotics do seem to be largely beneficial for boosting gut health and improving bowel movements in ways that could help to manage bloating, cramping, and other digestive issues.
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Which probiotics work best?
Not all probiotics are equal — whether they work, and how quickly, may depend on a number of factors, including the specific types of bacteria.
Lactobacillus strains — which are present in yogurt and fermented vegetables — have been linked to less bloating in people with digestive pain and bowel disorders, and reduced gas production.
Bifidobacterium strains — also present in similar foods, as well as kefir and buttermilk — seem to be most helpful for increasing how often you poop.
The existing makeup of your gut microbiome will also play a role in whether probiotics help you with bloating and how quickly they might relieve your symptoms.
Remember, the range of “good” and “bad” bugs that live in your gut is unique to you, so how your body will react to probiotics will likely be personal.
To learn more about which gut bugs you have and how your body responds to different foods, you can take the ZOE at-home test.
Other ways to reduce bloating
If you regularly experience bloating, there are other diet and lifestyle changes that may help with the symptoms.
Identify potential underlying causes. Consider what might be contributing to your symptoms, so you can tailor your diet and lifestyle to your body’s unique needs. Have you developed lactose intolerance, as 68% of the global population does? Are you drinking and retaining too much liquid? Are you constipated and pooping less often? If your bloating is frequent or severe, it’s a good idea to speak to your doctor.
Limit foods that cause bloating. Certain foods can cause bloating because they’re more difficult to digest or because they lead to water and gas retention. Try limiting foods with high amounts of fat, salt, and artificial sweeteners, and avoid carbonated drinks.
Eat slowly and chew properly. If you inhale your food quickly, you’re also swallowing a lot of air that goes straight to your stomach. Pace yourself, take smaller bites, and chew to limit the amount of excess air you swallow.
Exercise and stretch lightly and regularly. Your body digests better when you’re standing or moving around, so light, regular exercise — particularly yoga that targets the lower stomach — can improve digestion and reduce bloating.
Eat for your overall gut health. Creating a happy, balanced gut involves feeding your “good” gut bugs in favor of the “bad” ones. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, and legumes contain prebiotic fiber, which is fuel for both probiotic bacteria and the “good” bugs that already live in your gut, while ultra-processed food like candy and fast food can feed the “bad” bugs.
Your diet is a key factor in gut health, but everyone’s gut microbiomes are different, and so are their bodies’ responses to food.
ZOE scientists have identified 15 “good” and 15 “bad” gut bacteria linked to many aspects of your health.
Using a small sample of your poop, the ZOE at-home test can tell you which of these bugs live in your gut, as well as the entire range of bacteria that make up your gut microbiome. The test also analyzes your blood fat and blood sugar responses to food.
We use this data to give you personalized recommendations for the best foods for your individual gut health and your long-term health goals.
You can take our free quiz to learn more.
Probiotics are “good” bacteria that occur naturally in fermented foods like live yogurt and aged cheeses. You can also buy them as supplements.
Eating probiotics regularly, along with foods high in the types of fiber they feed on, may help to improve the balance of “good” and “bad” bugs in your gut.
There’s some evidence that probiotics can help with gut-related health conditions, and certain types have been linked to a reduction in bloating, constipation, and gas.
However, some studies suggest that certain probiotics may actually increase bloating, so more research is needed into which types of bacteria might best help with bloating.
With the ZOE at-home test, you can learn all about the bacteria that live in your gut and receive personalized recommendations for foods to help improve your gut health.
Learn more with our free quiz.
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