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Specialist Advice — 7 minutes

Probiotics: Health benefits and limitations

March 22, 2024

Jérôme Maheux, PhD
Jérôme Maheux, PhD
Associate Scientific Director

Probiotics are increasingly present in our daily lives: they can be found on the shelves of natural products, integrated into food products and in many of the foods we eat every day, particularly fermented foods. But what are probiotics and what effects do they have on our health?

Probiotics are living microorganisms, mainly strains of bacteria, the best-known of which are lactobacilli and bifidobacteria. When consumed in adequate quantities, they can be beneficial to the host, particularly when it comes to gut health and the immune system.

woman eating probiotic yogurt

How do probiotics work?

Our gut is home to a wide variety of microorganisms, including bacteria, yeasts, viruses and fungi, which live in symbiosis with one another and interact with our bodies to influence a number of essential biological processes, including digestion. This balance, however, remains fragile, and probiotics help preserve it by promoting the development of beneficial bacteria.


Most lactobacilli are found in the lower gastrointestinal tract (small intestine and colon). They produce lactic acid, which lowers the pH, inhibiting the growth of harmful bacteria and helping to restore intestinal balance. They can restore the integrity of the intestinal barrier by stimulating the production of mucus, which protects our intestinal cells. They stimulate the production of anti-inflammatory molecules that support our immune system. They also play a key role in the functioning of the bile salts which are essential for fat digestion [1].


Present in our gut at birth, bifidobacteria help maintain intestinal balance by inhibiting the growth of certain pathogenic germs. They strengthen the intestinal wall and support the immune system. In addition, they help break down complex sugars that we can’t digest [2].

What are the benefits of probiotics?

Generally speaking, probiotics help maintain a healthy gastrointestinal tract and immune system. But their effects vary according to the bacterial strains they contain [3].

Diarrhea relief

Certain lactobacilli strains are used to treat or reduce diarrhea associated with antibiotics and turista (traveller’s diarrhea).

Gastrointestinal disease symptom reduction

A growing number of studies demonstrate the beneficial role of lactobacilli, such as Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, in reducing the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

Increased digestive comfort

Certain bifidobacteria strains, including Bifidobacterium longum (a good bacterium already present in the human gut), are well known for reducing digestive symptoms such as bloating, abdominal pain and constipation. They may also relieve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.

Immune system maintenance

Probiotics help maintain the immune system. Promising studies suggest that probiotics based on Bifidobacterium longum may even help strengthen the immune system and possess anti-inflammatory properties.

What other benefits can be expected?

Research into probiotics is still in its infancy, but the outlook is encouraging. It’s possible that their positive effects on human health could be even greater.

Possible reduction in symptoms of neurological disease

Studies on animal models suggest that certain probiotics may be useful in reducing the symptoms of neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and depression. Although these results have yet to be confirmed in humans, it’s fascinating to see the extent of the beneficial effects these little microbes can have on our bodies.

Positive effects on mental health

A number of studies are currently under way to assess the benefits of probiotics on mental health. Probiotics are believed to act on the gut-brain axis, a bidirectional communication pathway between the two organs. They could influence brain function by modifying neurotransmission as well as hormonal and immunological signals. Some gut bacteria can also produce neurotransmitters such as serotonin, which plays an important role in regulating mood, and probiotics may be involved in this process. Moreover, studies suggest that probiotics have a positive effect on reducing symptoms of depression [4].

Fight infections

Research is focusing increasingly on replacing antibiotics with probiotics. Probiotics could counter the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant pathogens by producing antimicrobial substances and competing with pathogens for space and nutrients.

Where are probiotics found?


Probiotic supplements are available in pharmacies, health food stores and some grocery stores in capsule, tablet, powder or liquid form. If you’re looking to solve a particular problem, it’s important to choose the right type of bacterial strain. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about products with a proven track record.


There are foods that are naturally rich in probiotics, such as yogurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, tempeh and sourdough bread. These fermented products contain billions of probiotics of different varieties and may increase microbial diversity in the gut. Adding a sufficient quantity of fermented foods to the daily diet would help maintain intestinal balance and reduce certain inflammatory markers [5].

As well, they would generally provide other benefits, as their fermentation process generates a number of other beneficial molecules. For example, kombucha and kefir contain a variety of organic acids, polyphenols, vitamins and enzymes that may have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and even anti-diabetic effects [6]. One small randomized controlled trial found that kombucha could help diabetics maintain their blood glucose levels. Obviously, larger studies are needed to confirm this [7].

Discover Rise Kombucha’s exclusive kombucha recipe on their website and indulge in the benefits of probiotics.

Is probiotic consumption risky?

Probiotics, especially fermented foods, are generally well tolerated by most people. Some may experience gas or abdominal pain at first, but these symptoms usually subside after a few days. However, people who are immunocompromised, seriously ill, allergic, pregnant or breastfeeding, as well as parents wishing to give probiotics to their infant, are advised to consult a health care professional before taking them.

Don’t forget the fibre!

Probiotics play an important role in maintaining gut health and can provide a multitude of benefits for our general well-being. Their beneficial effects on modulating the gut-brain axis, boosting the immune system and regulating mood highlight their importance in maintaining optimal physical and mental balance.

However, these aren’t the only components of good gut health.

A fibre-rich diet, including plenty of vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts and whole grains, is also essential. These foods provide a variety of other nutrients beneficial to the microbiota [8].

So, to promote optimal gut health, a holistic approach with a diet that includes both probiotics and fibre-rich foods is recommended.

  1. Un-Nisa, Arifa et al. “Updates on the Role of Probiotics against Different Health Issues: Focus on Lactobacillus.” International Journal of Molecular Sciences, vol. 24, no. 142, December 21, 2022. doi:10.3390/ijms24010142
  2. Turroni, Francesca et al. “Bifidobacterium bifidum as an example of a specialized human gut commensal.” Frontiers in Microbiology, vol. 5, no. 437, August 21, 2014. doi:10.3389/fmicb.2014.00437
  3. Wieërs, Grégoire et al. “How Probiotics Affect the Microbiota.” Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology, vol. 9, no. 454, January 15, 2020. doi:10.3389/fcimb.2019.00454
  4. Sikorska, Michalina et al. “Probiotics as a Tool for Regulating Molecular Mechanisms in Depression: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Clinical Trials.” International Journal of Molecular Sciences, vol. 24, no. 4, p. 3081, February 4, 2023. doi:10.3390/ijms24043081
  5. Wastyk, Hannah C. et al. “Gut-microbiota-targeted diets modulate human immune status.” Cell, vol. 184, no. 16, p. 4137-4153, 2021. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2021.06.019
  6. Chong, Ann Qi et al. “Fermented Beverage Benefits: A Comprehensive Review and Comparison of Kombucha and Kefir Microbiome.” Microorganisms, vol. 11,5 1344, May 19, 2023. doi:10.3390/microorganisms11051344
  7. Mendelson, Chagai et al. “Kombucha tea as an anti-hyperglycemic agent in humans with diabetes - a randomized controlled pilot investigation.” Frontiers in Nutrition, vol. 10 1190248, August 1, 2023. doi:10.3389/fnut.2023.1190248
  8. David, Lawrence A. et al. “Diet rapidly and reproducibly alters the human gut microbiome.” Nature, vol. 505,7484 (2014): p. 559-63. doi:10.1038/nature12820
Jérôme Maheux, PhD
Jérôme Maheux, PhD
Associate Scientific Director
Jérôme Maheux, Associate Scientific Director, Biron Groupe Santé