The History of Probiotics and Their Benefits Today

by Melissa Chichester

After taking a cruise through the yogurt aisle at the grocery store, you may have noticed “contains probiotics” added to the label.

You may have even noticed probiotics added to your favorite beauty creams, sports drinks, or simply have seen more probiotic supplements on their own. While probiotics (which means “for life”) may seem like a new health trend, their discovery goes back to the early 20th century.

The History of Probiotics

In 1907, Nobel Prize winner, zoologist, and microbiologist Elie Metchnikoff conducted a study in Bulgaria with a focus on people over 100 years of age. He discovered that a group of people living in the Caucasus Mountains, who drank fermented yogurt every day, were living healthier lives. Also discovered was the probiotic strain Lactobacillus bulgaricus, which the fermented yogurt contained. It was Metchnikoff who originally proposed that consuming these microorganisms could be beneficial to our health.

The Health Benefits of Probiotics

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Health Organization both define probiotics as “live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host” (1).

We need good bacteria to help our bodies absorb vitamins and other nutrients effectively.

Because of this, probiotics are widely used to support digestive and intestinal health.* Today, researchers believe that probiotics may have the potential to help balance the digestive tract and can also help after an interruption (like taking antibiotics) and maintain healthy bacteria in the gut (2).*†

Surprising Facts About Probiotics

If you think gut health has to be boring, guess again! Here are some interesting facts about probiotics today:

  • Half of the world’s probiotics market is in Japan.
  • The fastest growth rate of probiotics use is in the United States.
  • In Canada, more farmers are switching to using probiotics instead of antibiotics in livestock (3).
  • Viili is a traditional fermented milk product in Finland that contains probiotics.
  • Kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles, and kombucha are all foods that contain probiotics.
  • One study found that babies come into contact with bacteria in the placenta, rather than being a sterile environment as previously believed (4).

Taking Probiotics

There’s good news on how to up your probiotics intake! There are many probiotic supplements on the market, and they should be stored according to the manufacturers’ recommendations because they are sensitive to moisture and heat. Probiotics can also be found in fermented foods, as well as in liquid supplements. There are even facial cleansers that contain probiotics!



*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

†Probiotics are not intended to serve as a replacement for antibiotic medications, nor should you discontinue taking prescribed medications while supplementing with probiotics.