School of Medicine

Do probiotics actually do anything?

Dr. Jeff Gordon and Dr. Jon LaPook look at a snapshot of a microbiome

There is an invisible universe hidden inside your body, it’s called the gut microbiome — a vast array of trillions of intestinal bacteria, hundreds of different species. They help digest your food in exchange for a warm, safe place to live. And we are only now starting to discover the gut microbiome plays a much larger role in our lives than we ever imagined.

Some of those bacteria found inside us are replicated in commercially manufactured mixtures called “probiotics.” You see them on grocery and pharmacy shelves, and they’re recommended by your friends and often, by doctors like me.

But do probiotics actually do anything?  To find out, first you need to know about the gut microbiome.

Dr. Jeff Gordon: This is a snapshot of the microbiome. [see image above]

Dr. Jon LaPook: And then this is the trillions of bacteria there. They’re represented by the different colors.

Dr. Jeff Gordon at Washington University in St. Louis is recognized as “the father of the microbiome.” He has spent decades exploring the mysteries of the bacterial community in our gut.

Dr. Jeff Gordon: It’s a collection of microbes that are able to coexist with us in ways that still are unclear.

Dr. Jon LaPook: Why are they there in the first place?

Dr. Jeff Gordon: They help process the food that we consume, but they do a lot more than that. They make Vitamins. We think about vitamins as only being in food. they’re able to produce essential amino acids, they’re able to talk to our immune system and help educate the immune system.

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