Got diarrhea? Take a probiotic. Irritated skin or acne? Again, probiotics. Bad breakup? Why not try a probiotic!?
There’s no denying that probiotics have a cult-like following. They’ve been taking over the supplement aisle for the past few years, thanks to a surge in research revealing the massive extent to which the health of our gut microbiome influences pretty much every other aspect of our health—from our mood to our digestion to our weight to our skin. Problems in these areas may arise when the “bad” bacteria in our gut start to outnumber the “good.” But some studies—and plenty of anecdotal accounts—suggest taking a probiotic supplement can ease health woes such as diarrhea, yeast infections, urinary tract infections and weight gain by fortifying your gut with good bugs and restoring balance.
But now, probiotics are extending their reach beyond supplements and into the snack, beauty and pet food aisles. Which begs the question, do you really need a probiotic face cream or granola? Or, uh…does your dog? Here, we reveal some of the more surprising new places that probiotics are popping up—and whether they live up to the hype.
Consuming probiotics via food used to mean opting for naturally fermented stuff like sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir and yogurt. But now, they can be found in everything from granola to popcorn to chocolate. Essentially, probiotics can be added to anything edible.
Nearly all probiotic-enhanced packaged foods today contain GanedenBC30, which is a proprietary preparation of the probiotic strain Bacillus coagulans (1). The good news: Research has shown that this type of probiotic protects itself in a spore-like casing that allows it to withstand (at least to some extent) the manufacturing process, time spent on a shelf and the acidic conditions of your stomach (2). Meaning, it actually stands a chance of reaching and colonizing your gut.
But does it help you once it gets there? After all, not every probiotic strain treats every ailment. Some studies suggest GanedenBC30 has promising digestive benefits and can reduce symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), including gas and bloating (3) and diarrhea (4). But still, it’s very difficult to know just how beneficial these probiotic-enhanced foods actually are in reality, says Jen McDaniel, RDN, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. A lot of that depends on whether there’s enough present in the food to begin with (1 billion CFUs is a good minimum number to aim for, she says). But because many foods don’t list a probiotic quantity on the nutrition label, it’s often a bit of a gamble.
Probiotic Waters and Teas
When you think of a probiotic-packed drink, you probably think of kombucha, which naturally contains gut-friendly bugs. But now, you can find probiotics in beverages like flat and sparkling waters, and even in tea bags.
Like probiotic-enhanced foods, many (if not all) of these drinks contain the probiotic strain GanedenBC30. So the benefits are likely to be the same. However, based on our research (aka scrutinizing lots of labels), bottled drinks are more likely to list the number of probiotic CFUs on the package than foods or tea bags, with counts ranging from 2 to 4 billion CFUs at time of manufacture. If you do opt for one of these drinks, just be sure it’s not loaded with sugars, artificial sweeteners or any other questionable ingredients that could counter the probiotic health benefits.
Bottom line: Both foods and drinks containing added probiotics could potentially be beneficial, but probiotic supplements and foods or drinks naturally rich in probiotics likely offer more bang for your buck, says McDaniel.
Probiotic Face Creams and Body Lotions
Turns out, our skin has its own microbiome that’s teeming more than 1 trillion bacteria, many of which are beneficial and help keep your skin clear, vibrant and healthy. But if your skin’s microbiome is out of whack (say, from harsh cleansers or a poor diet), this can compromise your skin’s natural barrier, which could result in painful and embarrassing skin conditions such as acne, rosacea and eczema, according to Whitney Bowe, MD, clinical assistant professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center and the author of The Beauty of Dirty Skin (5).
Bowe believes that increasing the variety of healthy bacteria species on the skin can help reduce inflammation and minimize these conditions, and that one way to do this is via quality probiotic-enhanced skincare products (6). A few beneficial bugs to look for in skincare products: Streptococcus thermophilus, which may help retain moisture (7); Bifidobacterium, which may help reduce skin sensitivity (8); and Lactobacillus plantarum, which may help prevent acne (9). Just make sure that the other ingredients in these products are gentle and preferably natural—no harsh chemicals, which will only compromise your skin’s barrier further.
So, if probiotics are good for your face, are they good for your pits? There are a bunch of new probiotic deodorants on the market promising fresh underarms without the chemicals. How it supposedly works: The good bacteria in the deodorant fights off the bad, odor-causing bacteria in your armpits, leaving you fresh as a daisy (or something like that). Unfortunately, there are no studies proving this benefit, and the strains of bacteria used in these deodorants (typically Lactobacillus acidophilus) aren’t naturally found on the skin—so, odor experts say, their deodorizing effects would likely be very short-lived (10). And who wants to reapply five times a day? If you’re looking to use a more natural deodorant, that’s cool…there’s just no obvious reason to make it one that contains probiotics.
Probiotic Supplements for Dogs
Probiotics for dogs are a thing now, too. And the research is promising. In a 2016 study, dogs given a probiotic supplement containing various strains of Lactobacillus bacteria maintained their appetite and recovered faster from a bout of acute diarrhea than dogs given a placebo (11). There were also fewer pathogens in the feces of the probiotic-treated dogs, making them less likely to pass on this harmful bacteria to other dogs. In another study, dogs with diarrhea that received a specific strain of Bifidobacterium animalis recovered faster and were less likely to need antibiotic treatment compared to the placebo pups (12). Many vets agree that probiotics are harmless for dogs and likely offer some digestive benefits (13).