Having made their way into everything from supplements to skin-care products, probiotics are now a household staple. And while we all need the proper balance of these good gut bugs to maintain overall health, some people might need more probiotics than others.
A Quick Refresher On Probiotics
These microorganisms are a part of a complex ecosystem, called our microbiome, that impacts health in a variety of ways. It influences everything from digestion and immunity, to hunger and weight—even our hormones and mood, Auslander Moreno says.
Though scientists have long wondered about these healthy gut bugs, we’re only now just starting to discover the benefits they can provide.
Since the Human Microbiome Project (which culminated in 2013), a myriad of studies have dug deeper into the roles and benefits or probiotics—especially for specific groups of people.
9 Populations That Need Extra Probiotics
As we continue to learn about the gut, experts have begun to identify specific cases in which people can benefit from extra probiotics. These include:
1. Anyone Taking Antibiotics
Though antibiotics help ward off certain bacterial infections, they kill off both good and bad bacteria in our guts. As a result, just one round of antibiotics can negatively alter your gut microbiome for up to a year, explains dietitian Frances Largeman-Roth, R.D.N., author of Eating in Color.
2. People With Mood Issues
In the last decade, scientists have uncovered impressive evidence of what’s commonly referred to as the mind-gut connection. Basically, this evidence reveals that our brain chemistry and immune system, which is housed in our gut, are deeply connected.
“Many of our immune cells are made and ‘instructed what to do’ by our gut, which is why we tend to get sick when we’ve had an emotional upset,” explains naturopathic physician Donese Worden, N.M.D. “Because the gut produces most of our ‘happy hormone’ serotonin, we can become down or anxious when our GI is not working well.”
3. People With Diabetes (Or Blood Sugar Concerns)
“Studies have found that the gut microbiomes of people at risk for diabetes are different than those of people with normal blood sugar function,” says Largeman-Roth.
Although more research will explain the exact relationship between healthy gut bacteria and blood sugar regulation, people with blood sugar issues are often advised to eat a high-fiber diet, rich in beans, lentils, whole grains and non-starchy vegetables. One of the benefits of fiber: It feeds probiotics, helping to nourish a balanced gut.
4. Cancer Patients
According to Largeman-Roth, people undergoing cancer treatment may also have increased probiotic needs.
“Chemotherapy can damage the delicate microbiome, allowing pathogens to thrive in the patient’s gut,” she explains. Consuming additional probiotics can help reestablish the microbiome balance these people need.
One of the most common conditions that young infants face is colic. The condition typically involves long periods of crying the occur at predictable times of the day. Many infants also fidget their legs, clench their fists, and pass gas. These days, some experts believe colic is related to an underdeveloped GI tract.
Though we still don’t have a confirmed cause of colic, a 2018 study found that probiotics may help put infants at ease. (It’s no wonder more and more baby formulas contain them!)
If you have an infant at home, consider talking to your pediatrician about probiotics.
6. People With Easily-Upset Stomachs
“The bowels are part of the gut microbiome, and can become imbalanced somewhat easily,” says Serena Poon, M.S., celebrity chef and holistic nutritionist.
Unsurprisingly, supporting a balanced gut microbiome can help people with sensitive systems find relief. In fact, research has shown that certain strains of probiotics (namely bifidobacteria) may help.
7. Allergy Sufferers
A healthy microbiome can help our body respond to allergens like pollen, dust, and mold. In fact, research suggests that probiotics may play an important role how the body handles and overcomes allergy-related issues. Though further investigation will identify the specific strains of probiotics that support this effect, it’s a promising lead, says Poon.
8. People Who Experience Constipation
More common than we’d care to admit, a myriad of factors—including dietary changes, dehydration, a sedentary lifestyle, pregnancy, and more—can cause constipation.
While there is certainly no shortage of medications available to treat this ailment, they’re not your only option. Probiotics—specifically bifidobacterium lactis and bifidobacterium longum—may also help adults have healthy bowel movements, says dietitian Elizabeth Shaw, M.S. R.D.N. C.P.T., founder of Shaws Simple Swaps. .
9. Women With Vaginal Imbalances
Vaginal imbalances—as uncomfortable and inconvenient as they may be—are common among women.
“Women have high numbers of many different species of bacteria in their vaginas that serve as a barrier to infection,” explains Worden. (The most prevalent are lactobacilli.) In fact, certain probiotics in the vaginal tract help it maintain the proper pH, she says.