If you’ve ever seen an Activia yogurt commercial, you’ve probably heard of probiotics. While doctors and nutritionists alike rave about their benefits, Jamie Lee Curtis doesn’t quite answer all of our questions on the topic. Post 30-second yogurt ad, we’ve found ourselves staring at the screen, thinking, “Do we need to take probiotics as a supplement if they’re in our food? Should we only take the fancy refrigerated ones, or are the regular ones in capsule form okay?” And the list goes on. To find out the answers to all of these questions and more, we decided to tap a group of experts who really know their probiotics.

young woman having breakfast

What are probiotics exactly?

Let’s start with the basics. We chatted with Kiran Krishnan, a research microbiologist who co-founded Nu Science Trading, a producer of probiotic supplements. He filled us in, sharing that probiotics are live microorganisms which, when consumed in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host. If you need help translating that into English, Krishnan is here to help. He explained that probiotics are friendly bacteria that can affect one or more systems in the body in a beneficial way. “These benefits can be for short-term problems like a cold, flu and diarrhea or long-term issues like autoimmune disease, allergies and asthma.” So basically, probiotics are good bacteria that do good things for your body, not the kind of bacteria that makes you sick. Pretty simple, right?

Why should you take them?

Craig Koniver, MD, tackled this next question for us. He’s the founder of FastVitaminIV and seriously knows his stuff. He told us, “People are mostly familiar with probiotics for digestive issues like IBS, viral infections, constipation and diarrhea. While adding supplemental probiotics can greatly help with all of those issues, they can also benefit people who need to boost their immune system, those who are chronically fatigued and even those looking to improve their mood.” He added, “The gut contains at least 80 percent of the immune system’s particles, and probiotics are the single greatest way to boost the immune system.” The scientific research on probiotics right now is most convincing when it comes to their uses for digestive and immune-boosting purposes, but Koniver notes that in the near future, “There will be more and more research completed that shows how probiotics are beneficial in heart disease prevention and cancer prevention as well.”

How do you take them?

According to Gregory Leyer, PhD and CSO at UAS Labs, where UP4 Probiotics are made, you can get your probiotics by sipping on some kefir or munching on yogurt and certain cheeses. Even if you regularly consume dairy, Leyer says that a probiotic supplement can mean more healthy bacteria per serving, so it’s good to take one regardless. As for which type of supplement you should go for (there are many different strains to choose from), Leyer explains that the best ones may still be TBD. “Research is still identifying the best type, so it’s hard to pinpoint, but my recommendation would be to seek out products with strains that have been clinically studied and documented.” Basically, it’s best to do your research before you pick your probiotic.

Krishnan also notes that it’s important to choose a probiotic that is shown to stand up to the tough acids that are in your digestive organs, as some of them are not quite strong enough to survive the journey to where they’ll be most helpful in your body. He advised us that, “A good quality probiotic supplement should call out clearly on their packaging or website that they have third-party laboratory testing to prove that their product survives past the stomach acid.” Another thing you should know about probiotics? They’re safe for pretty much anyone, except those with compromised immune systems due to illness or treatment for a serious illness. The main risk is getting an upset stomach, which Koniver notes you can avoid by starting out with a dose of 25 billion CFUs (the units used to measure probiotics), and working your way up from there.

As for refrigerated supplements versus the ones you see on store shelves? Not all experts agree on this, but Krishnan says that while many people perceive that the refrigerated ones are better, that’s not necessarily the case. “Those probiotics are kept in the fridge because the strains cannot survive being held at room temperature. Imagine what will happen to them in the body, as the body is 98 degrees.” He certainly has a point there.

Here’s the bottom line.

Based on what we know right now, it seems that a probiotic supplement is an awesome idea for anyone hoping to boost their immune system or deal with any digestive problems in a safe and natural way. While there’s definitely more research to come on the full benefits of probiotics, it certainly seems like something your tummy and bod will appreciate.

Do you take probiotics on the reg? Tell us why @BritandCo!

(Photos via Getty)