Here's How To Tell If Your Probiotics Are Actually Working

Look to your gut.

How to tell if your probiotics are really working, according to experts.
Getty Images/ Ivan Pantic

If stomach troubles have become the bane of your existence, chances are you’ve heard of probiotics and their gut-healing superpowers. But gut health can be nebulous: It might be hard to tell when your digestive symptoms are changing for the better, which is why it’s helpful to understand the signs your probiotics are working.

Your gut microbiome is a community of bacteria — including probiotics — that lives in your gastrointestinal tract. And probiotics can help keep your microbiome in a healthy balance. If your gut isn’t in balance, you can experience uncomfortable symptoms like bloating, fatigue, skin problems, and diarrhea or constipation. You can get probiotics through foods like yogurt and sauerkraut, and you can also take them as a supplement.

Having a natural balance of healthy bacteria (aka probiotics) keeps your gut and digestive system functioning well. So if you take them as a supplement in addition to your diet, you’ll experience all sorts of benefits. “Different strains of bacteria will provide different benefits to the body,” says dietitian Chelsea McCallum, who works with probiotic snack company BelliWelli. “Some live bacteria may help digest food, destroy disease-causing cells, or help produce vitamins.” This can go on to help combat IBS, clear your skin, and even support vaginal health.

So if you’ve turned to the supplements to tackle your digestive or other health woes, you’re probably on the right track. But what are the signs that probiotics are working for you? Here, experts explain the changes you might notice if the bacteria are doing their job.

1. Regular Poops

An imbalance of gut bacteria can lead to all kinds of pooping problems, including diarrhea and constipation. One signal that your microbiome is returning to a healthier state? Normal poops, says McCallum. The changes in your bowel movements will vary depending on what toilet troubles you experience, but the idea is that your poops should become more regular and healthy as the probiotics restore your gut.

2. Less Bloating

If you’re bloated on the regular, McCallum says it could indicate your probiotics aren’t working. Probiotics can restore good bacteria in your gut to help your digestive system work better, which can reduce or eliminate symptoms like gas or irregular bowel movements that contribute to bloating. Once those problems are in check, bloating should subside, according to McCallum.

3. Stable Mood

The health of your microbiome is tied to your health overall, so problems with your gut won’t just impact your stomach, says registered dietitian Alana Kessler. Your gut is partially responsible for producing hormones that help regulate your mood and sleep, so when it isn’t in top form, you can experience mood changes and sleep disturbances — cue the stress and fatigue. Taking probiotics can help your gut and hormones regulate better so that mood irregularities and trouble sleeping are a thing of the past, she tells Bustle.

4. Better Immunity

Ever notice that you get sick more often when you’re experiencing digestive problems? That’s because an out-of-whack gut microbiome can harm your immune system function, opening the door for more frequent or severe illness. But as your gut starts to repair itself with the help of probiotics, your immune system can follow suit. If your supplements are doing their job, you might notice that you’re sick less often than before, says Kessler.

5. Clearer Skin

Probiotics don’t just impact the bacteria in your gut — they can also alter the bacteria on your skin, according to Kessler. And a healthier skin microbiome means you’re better equipped to battle issues like acne, rosacea, eczema, and inflammation. If your probiotics are changing your body’s bacteria for the better, Kessler says that some of those skin problems may fade away (literally).

6. Fewer Yeast Infections

Probiotics can also impact your vaginal health — take yeast infections, for example. These pesky, painful infections happen when there’s too much yeast bacteria in your vagina. And probiotics can help tip the bacterial scales back to equilibrium. The end result? Less yeast infections, says Kessler.

How Long Does It Take?

Everyone’s gut is different, which is why not everybody responds to probiotics the same way. How long it takes your probiotics to work depends on your symptoms, what type of bacterial strain you’re taking, and your environment. While some people may notice improvements in a matter of days, for others, it can take up to six months, says Kessler. McCallum suggests trying probiotics for a month before you rule them out.

Studies referenced:

Bull, M. (2014). Part 1: The Human Gut Microbiome in Health and Disease. Integrative Medicine, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4566439/

Cribby, S. (2008). Vaginal Microbiota and the Use of Probiotics. Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Infectious Diseases, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2662373/

Evrensel, A. (2015). The Gut-Brain Axis: The Missing Link in Depression. Clinical Psychopharmacology and Neuroscience, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4662178/

Martin, C. (2018). The Brain-Gut-Microbiome Axis. Cellular and Molecular Gastroenterology and Hepatology, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6047317/

Valdes, A. (2018). Role of the gut microbiota in nutrition and health. BMJ, https://www.bmj.com/content/361/bmj.k2179

Wu, H. (2012). The role of gut microbiota in immune homeostasis and autoimmunity. Gut Microbes, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3337124/

Yan, F. (2011). Probiotics and immune health. Current Opinion in Gastroenterology, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4006993/

Yu, Y. (2020). Changing our microbiome: probiotics in dermatology. British Journal of Dermatology, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31049923/


Alana Kessler, MS, RDN, a registered dietitian

Chelsea McCallum, APD, an accredited practicing dietitian and nutritionist with probiotic snack company BelliWelli