Probiotics and Immune System Function: What You Need to Know

By Ross Pelton

Scientific Director, Essential Formulas

Ross Pelton is a pharmacist, nutritionist, author and a health educator who is widely recognized as the world’s leading authority on drug-induced nutrient depletions. He was named one of the top 50 most influential pharmacists in the United States by American Druggist magazine for his work in Natural Medicine.

A strong, fortified immune system can help us remain healthy. Your immune system helps your body fight off illnesses you may be exposed to, including common seasonal challenges, and may help you avoid certain chronic conditions and even some allergic reactions.  One way to promote a healthy immune system is to strengthen your gut microbiome, the array of microbes that reside in the digestive tract. Probiotics and gut health are closely linked to your immune response. Probiotics are an excellent way to address gut health and support a healthy immune system.

Certain probiotic strains are much more prevalent in the gut microbiome than others. Out of the 400 types of probiotics organisms in our intestines, the top 20 strains account for roughly 75% of the total. These probiotics for immune health can be an important part of strengthening the body’s defenses against pathogens, allergens, and other invaders that can cause disease and harmful health conditions.

What Are Probiotics?

Probiotics are beneficial microorganisms that reside in the gut.  They help your body digest food, produce important vitamins and postbiotic nutrients, as well as eliminate toxins. Since changes and imbalances in the gut microbiota have been associated with disease, probiotic organisms are thought to be helpful in the fight against pathogens. These microorganisms reside in the intestines, which is where most of the human immune system lies. Maintaining the appropriate balance of beneficial vs. harmful bacteria is essential to supporting immune health. There are many different probiotics for immune support, and each strain can provide its own unique benefits.

How Do Probiotics Affect the Immune System?

The gut is responsible for producing the majority of the cells in the immune system, so maintaining gut health with probiotics may help you ensure you are better able to stay healthy. Research is still being conducted on the efficacy of probiotics and supplements, but studies have shown that adding beneficial bacteria to a healthy lifestyle (which will include a good diet, limited sugar and alcohol, plenty of sleep, and stress management techniques) may help restore gut balance and overall gut health. It’s important to choose a supplement with multiple species of probiotics to achieve this balance.

Specific Benefits of Probiotics for Immune Health

You may be wondering, “How are probiotics good for your immune system?” Ensuring that you have a healthy microbiome by increasing your probiotics through diet and supplements You can improve your gut health and boost your immune response through the following actions:

Reduced Gastrointestinal Distress

It is thought that poor gut health may play a role in the development of gastro-intestinal discomfort and on-going digestive disturbances.  If the cells lining the intestinal tract are not protected by a healthy level of probiotics, they can fail in preventing the build-up of more harmful bacteria and the overall tone of the tissues. Several studies have shown that adding beneficial microbes to the gut with probiotics may improve overall gastrointestinal conditions while also reducing stress within the system.. Research continues to identify the optimal strains and combinations of microbiota for this purpose, but these are hopeful findings for autoimmune sufferers.

Bacterial balance and healthy Inflammatory Response

Probiotics and immunity go hand in hand, especially when it comes to keeping bad bacteria in check and balancing the inflammatory response. Because probiotics address the gut microbiota and bolster the immune response in your body, they may help actively reduce the levels of less-desirable bacterial strains and promote the body’s healthy inflammatory response. In this way, strong gut health may also prevent an over-reaction from becoming problematic.

How to Choose the Right Probiotic for Immune Health

The gut microbiome consists of hundreds of strains of microbes, and each works differently and provides unique benefits. As mentioned previously, however, much of the work is done by a few dozen species. While certain probiotics have been shown to provide greater levels of immune system support than others, you would not want to take only one strain. Proper balance and diversity of microbes is much more beneficial to overall gut health. Eating a healthy diet and finding a probiotic supplement that incorporates the top strains in the right amounts can help you gain maximum benefit from your probiotics.

Factors That Can Affect the Effectiveness of Probiotics for Immune Health

There are many different factors that can influence how effective probiotics are in providing immune system support. For example, diet is a significant factor in how probiotics work in the body, and many probiotics are naturally found in foods. For those who obtain probiotics through supplements, timing, usage, and other factors can also affect their efficacy.  It is also important to ensure that the supplements you choose contain live microorganisms.

It is also vitally important to combine your probiotic supplement with prebiotics, to nourish the bacteria already in the gut, for best results.  An ideal supplement would also contain important postbiotics – those critical nutrients that are actually made by probiotics for health benefits.

Practical Tips for Incorporating Probiotics Into Your Diet

One of the best ways to incorporate probiotics into your diet involves eating a range of foods that naturally include them, like:

  • Yogurt
  • Sauerkraut
  • Kimchi
  • Milk
  • Tempeh
  • Miso
  • Sourdough bread
  • Kefir
  • And more

You can also consider adding a probiotic supplement. It’s highly recommended you start slow, read the nutrition facts on any food or supplement you consume, and don’t go overboard when incorporating probiotics into your diet. Consider these common probiotic FAQs:

How long should you take probiotics?

You may see results with probiotics after as little as a few days. Some people take probiotics regularly for months to help improve gut health and immunity.

How often should you take probiotics?

Most people find best results come from taking a daily probiotic supplement. Of course, probiotics from the above listed fermented food items can be consumed even more regularly for optimum benefits. Since many of the strains in either the supplements or food sources won’t fully colonize the intestinal tract on a permanent basis, the regular consumption has shown the most consistent results.

Are probiotic gummies effective?

As a part of an overall focus on gut health, probiotic gummies can be a simple, tasty way to improve immunity.  However, it is important to look at the overall potency, strains included and other ingredients listed in the products.  Many gummies are very high in sugar which may be counter-active to immune support.

Probiotics and Immune System Function Help

Probiotics can provide helpful support for your immune system, both through the foods we eat and through supplements. While researchers are still learning new information about probiotics, check out these online resources to learn more. If you’re looking to add probiotics to your daily routine, contact the Essential Formulas team today to learn more.


By Ross Pelton, RPh, PhD, CCN
Scientific Director, Essential Formulas

Ross Pelton is a pharmacist, nutritionist, author and a health educator who is widely recognized as the world’s leading authority on drug-induced nutrient depletions. He was named one of the top 50 most influential pharmacists in the United States by American Druggist magazine for his work in Natural Medicine.

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