What Are the Signs You Need Probiotics?

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By Juliana Tamayo, MS, Nutritionist

Reviewed by Juliana Tamayo, MS, RDN - Last Updated

what are the signs you need to take probiotics

If you are still on the verge of buying a probiotic supplement, then you probably are also wondering what are the signs you need probiotics. The truth is, not everyone needs probiotics, but digestive health will likely improve when you take them regardless of the situation. 

Poor gut health is something very common these days, particularly with the type of diet a lot of Americans follow. Sometimes this means that the gut bacteria that help you digest die off, and bad bacteria might begin to take over. Your digestive tract is affected by many factors, including stress, food poisoning, sugar, lack of sleep, antibiotic use, and more. Sometimes these issues lead to things like irritable bowel syndrome, mood disorders, sugar cravings, and more. 

Before we do a deep dive into some signs that you might need a probiotic, let’s take a look at some of the things to know about probiotic supplementation. 

Probiotics 101 

If you worry about your gut health or have issues with your digestive system, then you might have heard about good bacteria that promote a healthy gut. If that is the case, then probiotic supplements are certainly something you have wondered about. 

Probiotics are foods or supplements that contain beneficial bacteria strains that make up the gut flora in your digestive tract. Your gut microbiome is made up of thousands of healthy bacteria that provide many health benefits, including keeping bowel movements regular, a strong immune system, and absorbing nutrients properly. 

probiotic supplements

Poor digestive health is often the result of many factors, such as harmful bacteria overgrowth, yeast infections, inflammatory bowel disease, food allergies, and more. These digestive issues can lead to an unhealthy gut and impaired nutrient absorption. Digestive symptoms vary from person to person, but taking probiotics could help relieve some symptoms and promote healthy gut flora. 

What Are the Signs You Need Probiotics?

Before you invest in supplements, it might be easier to identify some of the issues of your overall health that could be a sign that you should be taking probiotic supplements. 

1. Consistent Indigestion and Poor Gut Health 

If you often feel bloated, gassy, and distended, and experience trouble whenever you eat, you might be suffering from indigestion. Other conditions that might result in poor digestive health include inflammatory bowel disease or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Sometimes gut health issues also arise from taking medications, like antibiotics, or poor diet habits. 

When you feel like the bad bacteria might have taken over your digestive system, it might be time to give it a boost with a probiotic supplement. If you experience consistent digestive symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, bloating, gas, pain, constipation, or diarrhea, you might need more probiotic-rich foods, such as fermented foods, or probiotic supplementation. 

2. Poor Immune System Response 

Sometimes poor digestive health translates into a poor immune response or immune cells that can’t fight off pathogens or bacteria. Unhealthy bacteria can create bacterial infections but also affect how your gastrointestinal tract might absorb nutrients, leading to recurrent deficiencies and illness. 

There is extensive research these days that shows how our mental health and digestive system are linked together, but it also plays a role in immune function. Chronic autoimmune conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, or lupus, can all be affected by poor gut microbiota. When your gut lining is weak, the intestinal microbiota is unable to create the usual permeability that keeps pathogens and bad bacteria away. This process results in symptoms like diarrhea, loose bowel movements, and pain, but can also transfer to other parts of the body, resulting in vaginal infections, skin disorders, and even poor heart health. 

Increasing your fiber intake and taking probiotics can prevent any pathogens or bacteria from causing inflammation in an unhealthy gut. A healthy balance of a nutritious diet and a probiotic supplement might be all your digestive health and immune system need. 

3. Weight Gain

Your gut health can have a direct effect on your cravings and weight management. When your gut bacteria is out of balance, you will see signs you need probiotics like gaining rapid weight or craving sugar all the time. 

Harmful bacteria overgrowth can lead to digestive issues, but also to problems with the absorption of nutrients. When your gut microbiome is out of balance, you will begin to crave more sugar and fatty foods, all of which continue to kill off the beneficial bacteria that live in a healthy gut. This ends up being an ongoing cycle in which you gain weight because of food choices but continue to crave them. 

4. Mood Swings 

Recent research shows that mental health is affected by digestive issues as well. Not only does your mental health deteriorate if you do not feel good, but it can also affect hormonal balance and might influence mood disorders, such as clinical depression. 

Gut health is so much more than just your immune system and healthy flora, it can also lead to feelings of anxiety and depression. Treating your mental health by seeing a specialist is recommended but probiotic supplements could help promote a healthier digestive system that does not result in GI issues and hormonal imbalances. 

mood swings

5. Poor Sleeping Habits 

Not being able to sleep properly can be a sign of poor digestion or gut bacteria imbalances. If you feel full at bedtime, suffer from gas and distention, or wake up in the middle of the night with cramping, you might consider these signs you need probiotics. 

Treating your gut health will help ease digestion and leads to better sleeping habits, particularly for those that tend to be indigested after dinner. 

Benefits of Taking Probiotics

Aside from treating your digestive system, a probiotic supplement can have a large impact on your body. Some of the most common benefits of taking probiotics include: 

  • Good bacteria growth to maintain a stable gut microbiome 
  • Less bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea, or pain after eating 
  • Fewer chances of food poisoning 
  • Fewer food allergies 
  • Stronger immune system
  • Improvement in skin conditions and skin health 
  • Good quality sleep 
  • Balanced mood 
  • Improved weight management and in some cases, weight loss

For an in-depth article on what probiotics can do for women, take a look here.

Tips For Introducing Probiotics 

When you are starting to think about taking probiotics, you might want to make some lifestyle changes to allow your body to take in all the benefits of a probiotic supplement. 

Try making these changes to improve your overall health: 

Eat A More Nutritious Diet 

A diet high in fiber, lean protein, healthy fats, and fruits and veggies is the best choice. Introduce more whole grains, like oats, brown rice, or quinoa to keep your bowels healthy and prevent digestive disorders. Try cutting out beef and processed meats and instead eat more fish, poultry, or plant-based proteins. Choose to cook with olive oil or avocado oil instead of butter or margarine. Add seeds and nuts to your meals or snacks for healthy fats. 

Your dishes for every meal should be colorful and consist mostly of vegetables or fruits. It is always a good idea to cut down on refined carbohydrates or sugars, which have been proven to kill off good bacteria and attract bad bacteria. 

nutritious diet

Finally, accompany your meals with water and drink at least 8-10 cups of water a day. Cut out sugary beverages, like juices or sodas, and instead try sparkling water with a touch of lemon or lime. 

Exercise More 

Generally, it is a good rule to exercise at least three days a week, but ideally moving every day can bring immense health benefits. Unless otherwise instructed by your healthcare provider, physical activity is always a good way to keep weight off but also to keep your body strong. 

If you are able to, try high-intensity workouts three times a week, and strengthening workouts two days a week. The general rule is 150 minutes of cardio or high intensity a week. 

When you cannot work out, try moving more in gentler ways, such as walking, taking the stairs, doing yoga or pilates, and doing weights. 

Include Probiotic and Prebiotic Foods 

A wholesome diet should also include foods that are probiotic and prebiotic. Probiotic foods are usually fermented and include things like yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, and kombucha.

Prebiotic foods are the ones that get fermented in the gut and feed the healthy bacteria that make up your gut microbiome. Some examples include dietary fiber such as psyllium, but also fibery foods, such as garlic, onions, chicory root, bananas, and oats. 

Adding these foods to your diet can also help boost the effects of a probiotic and lead to faster and stronger benefits. 

Reduce Stress Levels 

Although not an easy task, your gut is often more vulnerable to things like food allergies or food poisoning, or even just inflammation, when you experience more stress. 

Trying to engage in activities that can help reduce stress levels can be a good way to promote digestive health and support the effect of your probiotic supplement. Things like yoga, meditation, journaling, therapy, coloring, or knitting can be alternative ways to reduce stress. 

Sleep More 

Sleep is essential for good health. At your best, you should be getting 7-8 hours of sleep at night. Being able to sleep well also depends on other factors, such as reducing light before and during sleep hours, turning off your phone screen, making your room a good temperature, and going to bed early. 

When you are able to sleep enough, you wake up feeling energized and you have more energy to tackle the day, including eating well. A rested body is a healthy body. 

What Are The Signs That Probiotics Are Working?

While it is not a magic pill and it will not have immediate effects, you should be able to notice when probiotic supplementation is improving your overall health. 

Some signs you need to keep in mind to identify whether probiotics is good for you or not include: 

  • Better bowel habits 
  • Less bloating, gas, or pain after eating 
  • Clearer skin 
  • Easier to fall asleep and stay asleep 
  • Weight maintenance or weight loss 
  • Fewer infections or food poisoning episodes 
  • Better mood 

These are all initial signs that your overall health is improving, you might slowly start noticing long-term effects like a very strong immune system, remission of skin conditions, reduced risk for heart disease and high blood pressure, and even a healthier life. 


As with any other supplement, there are a number of questions to ask yourself before you start taking probiotics. Below are some of the most common ones to keep in mind. 

How long does it take for probiotics to heal your gut?

While there is no final data on how long probiotics take to have an effect, the consensus is around 2-3 weeks. You will not see immediate effects and that is because your body takes some time to rebuild the proper flora levels and heal your gut. 

For the most part, individuals will know if a probiotic has worked, when they feel less bloated, less gassy, and have better bowel habits. Other benefits might take longer to appear, but should be there by the month mark. 

What are the negative side effects of taking probiotics?

In some cases, probiotics can lead to allergic reactions or infections. These are uncommon and will likely occur in individuals that have weakened immune systems, such as transplant recipients, or those with pre-existing severe food allergies. If this might be the case for you or if you are not sure, check with a healthcare provider before trying probiotics. 

In the beginning, you might notice that you feel some GI distress, including cramping and bloating. These side effects are only signs that your body is attempting to heal your gut. Negative side effects should go away within days, if they do not, you might want to switch products or reach out to your healthcare provider. 

How long does it take for probiotics to make a difference?

As mentioned above probiotics do not work right away. Ideally, you should give them at least 3-4 weeks to work before deciding whether they are the right choice or not. 

Probiotics will make a difference within months of starting supplementation. However, these effects will only come if you pair them with a healthy diet, exercise, hydration, and better sleep habits. Otherwise, your body might still be fighting off inflammation and stress. 

Final Thoughts

Being able to identify the signs you need probiotics is the first step in the right direction to taking control of your health. If any of these sound familiar, you might be needing a supplement to help treat your lack of good bacteria. 

Taking probiotics can be something you do long-term or short-term. Some people also take probiotics periodically when they feel like their bodies need them. Either way, be sure to change some lifestyle factors that could affect the way your probiotics work. 

Not sure where to start? Check out this guide to make an educated decision on which probiotic works for you. 

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Juliana Tamayo, MS, Nutritionist

Juliana Tamayo is a registered dietitian with a Master of Science in Nutrition, Dietetics, and Sensory Sciences from the Kansas State University. She also has a B.A in Journalism and Creative writing, and lives in Washington, D.C. where she works as a part-time writer and editor and clinical dietitian. Juliana has experience covering all sorts of health and nutrition topics, including chronic illnesses, medicine, cooking, fitness, alternative healing, and more.