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5 Legit Benefits of Probiotics—and How You Should Take Them

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Probiotics have a well-deserved rep as health heroes for your gut. But the bugs' reach goes a lot further, new research shows. Learn their impact below, then keep reading for the best ways to take them. (Related: How to Find the Best Probiotic for You)

They bring myriad potential mind and body perks.

  • Clearer skin: The good bacteria from probiotics wind up on the skin's surface, says Michael Roizen, M.D., the chief wellness officer at the Cleveland Clinic. They overpower the bad bugs that cause acne. (See also: Probiotic Skin-Care Products You Should Try)
  • Better immunity: Taking probiotics that contain the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains reduces the symptoms of seasonal allergies. These bugs may quell the inflammation that causes issues like sneezing and sniffling. (Learn more: Can Taking Probiotics Help with Seasonal Allergies?)
  • Stronger muscles: People who added a probiotic to their casein protein shake after lifting weights had improved muscle recovery, research showed. The strain Bacillus coagulans GBI-30 may help the body absorb protein.
  • Improved mood: Studies show that probiotics may reduce social anxiety and symptoms of depression. Certain types of intestinal bacteria could raise levels of tryptophan, an amino acid that's instrumental in creating the mood-boosting neurotransmitter serotonin.
  • Healthy weight: When combined with a healthy diet, probiotics from the Lactobacillus rhamnosus family can help women stay slim, research in the British Journal of Nutrition found. Study participants taking them had fewer types of GI bugs related to obesity.

Certain nutrients make them more effective. 

Ideally, fermented foods and drinks are the best sources of probiotics. Most people don't eat enough of them to get the perks, though, so supplements and foods fortified with probiotics are a great option, says Sarah Morgan, a functional nutrition expert and the founder of Buddies In My Belly, a microbiome education company. For the best results, take probiotics with fiber, which feeds the bugs. (Here are new ways to add more probiotics to your diet.)

Numbers are key.

Look for supplements that list the probiotic strain (usually numbers) beside its name (for Bifidobacterium bifidum W23, W23 is the strain). This indicates that it's a strain-specific type, which tend to be well researched and higher quality, Morgan says. For daily use, choose probiotics with 5 to 15 billion colony-forming units per serving, she says. Less may be ineffective, and long-term use of very high doses hasn't been well studied; Morgan says it could irritate the intestinal wall.

You need to feed them.

"One hot area of research involves synbiotics, a combination of probiotics and prebiotics, nondigestible substances that gut microbes consume," says Geoffrey A. Preidis, M.D., Ph.D., a scientific advisory board member for the American Gastroenterological Association Center for Gut Microbiome Research and Education. "Prebiotics help probiotics grow so that the bacteria can better perform their beneficial functions." Try SmartyPants Adult Probiotic Complete ($18; amazon.com).

Antibiotics can mess with things.

People often use probiotics to help ease the side effects of antibiotics, such as stomach pain and diarrhea. But if you take the supplements and the meds at the same time, the antibiotic will wipe out the beneficial bugs before they can work their magic. To prevent that, wait about three weeks after taking your first antibiotic pill to start the supplements, Dr. Roizen says.

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