First, a recap on probiotics
New to the world of probiotics or need a quick refresher? “Probiotics are live microorganisms that provide health benefits when consumed,” begins Erin Kenney, MS, RD, LDN, CPT, of Nutrition Rewired. “The primary benefits of probiotics include improved digestion, immune system and mental health support, reduced inflammation, and lowered risk of certain diseases.” Not only can you find them in the likes of dietary supplements, but also in certain fermented foods and drinks.
The consumption of probiotics helps to support greater gut diversity. And when it comes to getting your fix of different strains, the more is (often) the merrier since various kinds can yield different beneficial effects on the body. “Consuming a variety of probiotics can help ensure that the gut microbiome is populated with a diverse range of beneficial bacteria, which has been shown to be important for maintaining a healthy gut and overall health,” Kenny explains. Conversely, she notes that a lack of microbial diversity in the gut is associated with health concerns including but not limited to IBD and allergies.
How often should you be rotating probiotics?
Since we know that a diverse gut is a healthy gut, it seems as though introducing new strains by rotating your probiotics would be a smart idea. But is there a specific timeline or schedule you should keep in mind?
“If you want to get a continuous beneficial effect from your probiotics, you should change probiotics every three months or with the seasons,” says Paulina Lee, RD, LD of Savvy Stummy. “If you were to take the same probiotic all year round, it may lose its effectiveness and even lend itself to gut dysbiosis by creating an imbalance of the very diversity you were trying to create.” By heeding her three-month rotating schedule, Lee says you’ll have a better chance to maintain heightened defenses in the gut as well as potentially avoid resistance of the probiotic.
Is it *always* necessary to rotate probiotics?
While it could very well be beneficial to diversify the types of probiotic strains you ingest, Kenney notes that research on the necessity of doing so is limited. That said, certain individuals—such as those with chronic digestive issues—may be better off than others by rotating their probiotic supplements.
With that, she notes that there are different types of probiotic classes themselves, including yeast-based, spore-based, and lactobacillus/bifidobacterium (i.e., broad-spectrum) blends. “There may be benefits to using certain types of probiotics for short periods of time when healing an underlying gut imbalance, and then switching to another kind during the repopulation stage,” Kenney explains. “For example, if someone has small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), they may not tolerate a broad-spectrum probiotic during treatment and instead use a spore-based or yeast-based probiotic to support symptom management.” In addition, she says that short-term use of lactobacillus probiotics can assist those who have trouble digesting lactose in dairy products.
“There may be benefits to using certain types of probiotics for short periods of time when healing an underlying gut imbalance, and then switching to another kind during the repopulation stage."
Kenney adds that it could also be beneficial to integrate a new probiotic into your regimen if you’re making a major dietary change. “If someone is switching to a lower carbohydrate diet, a lactobacillus/bifidobacterium blend may be beneficial since they are not consuming fruits and whole grains, which feed the healthy bacteria in the gut to support regularity,” she shares. However, unless her clients fall under these examples, Kenney doesn’t typically call for rotating probiotics.
Next, despite Lee’s suggested probiotic rotation schedule shared above, she notes that supplementation isn’t an exact science. “We have lots of research to support the benefits of probiotics, but application of different strains on different disease states are still being evaluated,” Lee explains. For instance, while research shows that some strains colonize the gut post-administration, “the amount of viable bacteria that can colonize will depend on many factors—like dosage and probiotic formulation—and the individual's gastric pH, intestinal motility and prior gut microbiota composition.” Moreover, Lee cites research showing that long-term use of the same probiotics can still yield beneficial effects (including one study in patients post-colectomy, who experienced reduced inflammation by supplementing with the same blend over nine months).
“We have lots of research to support the benefits of probiotics, but application of different strains on different disease states are still being evaluated."
All things considered, the best probiotic routine will likely vary based on the individual at hand. “The type of probiotic and length of time may vary depending on the individual, their lifestyle, medical history, and other factors that impact health,” Lee shares. She advises working with a healthcare provider to find the best individualized protocol for your needs.
3 tips to promote gut diversity
It’ll ultimately be up to you (and your healthcare team) to see if it makes sense to switch up your probiotics every 90 days, seasonally, or based on changes in your diet and/or health status. That said, there are other tried-and-true ways to support gut diversity that don’t involve supplementation.
1. Eat more fermented and probiotic foods
“A daily intake of fermented foods—like kefir, miso, sauerkraut, and kimchi that contain live microbes—can provide a wide variety of probiotic strains that bring diverse, beneficial bacteria into the gut,” Lee shares. Kenney suggests adding kimchi to scrambled eggs or kefir to a fruit smoothie to easily boost your go-to meals with fermented fare.
2. Stick to a diverse plant-forward diet
“Eating colorful fruits and veggies that contain polyphenols—like flavonoids and carotenoids—can feed healthy gut bacteria, especially Bifidobacterium and Akkermansia muciniphila,” the latter of which is inversely associated with inflammation and metabolic disorders, Lee says.
She also suggests prioritizing prebiotic foods, saying it’s one of the best ways to maintain gut diversity. “Prebiotic foods feed our healthy gut bacteria so that they can produce metabolites, like short-chain fatty acids, that can reduce inflammation and oxidative stress,” says Lee. Her go-tos include garlic, dandelion greens, onions, bananas, barley, and flax seeds.
However, a higher intake of plant-based foods at large is always a good idea for your gut and greater health. “Eating a diet that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds can help provide the gut with the nutrients and fiber needed to support the growth of beneficial bacteria,” Kenney adds.
3. Abide by healthy lifestyle basics
Dietary considerations aside, following the basics of healthy living can also allow your gut to thrive. “Moderate levels of physical activity can boost beneficial bacteria in the gut,” Kenney shares. You’ll also want to find healthy ways to manage stress—such as by practicing yoga or meditation—as well as get a solid amount of shut-eye per night. “Stress can reduce gut diversity, [as can] sleep deprivation,” she concludes.
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