Should I Take Probiotics For a Stomach Flu?

Probiotic supplements
Can probiotics help you?. Atomic Imagery/Photodisc/Getty Images

Probiotics are everywhere now. Touted as the best way to return your digestive system to it's "natural state", they are recommended by health care providers and average Joes alike to get you feeling better when your GI system just isn't right. Whether it's after you have a stomach virus (aka "stomach flu") or your digestive system just isn't "regular", probiotics may help.

But is there really any science to back up these claims?

What Are Probiotics?

Probiotics are live microorganisms (bacteria) that live in the body or are similar to those that live in the body. They are sold as dietary supplements that you swallow, are included in some types of yogurt and may also be available as creams or suppositories. Because they are sold and marketed as dietary supplements, they are not regulated by the FDA and manufacturers are not allowed to make any claims that they cure, treat or prevent any disease or condition.

The most common types of probiotics sold in the United States are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Each of these types contains a wide range of strains of "good bacteria" and they may not all provide the same benefits as others.

Are They Safe?

Studies have found few side effects as a result of taking oral probiotics but long-term effects are not known. More studies are needed to determine how safe they are, especially for those with chronic health conditions or those taking them for long periods of time.

Always talk to your healthcare provider before taking any new medication or supplement.

Of the published studies that list side effects of taking probiotics, the most common complaint was gas.

How Can They Help an Upset Stomach?

A lot of research has been done to see how probiotics may help people with diarrhea - whether it is caused by an infection or taking antibiotics.

Many of these studies show promise and taking probiotics shortened the duration of diarrhea for some people. However, exactly how this occurs and why isn't known and further studies are needed to determine which probiotics are most effective for which populations.

Where Do We Stand?

Currently in the United States, probiotics are marketed and sold as a dietary supplement. Because the market and use of these products have increased exponentially over the past decade or so, much research is being done to determine how they can be used in the prevention and/or treatment of illnesses. It is possible that they may be manufactured as medications in the future and regulated by the FDA for specific purposes.

Taking probiotics may or may not help you feel better. If you have an upset stomach and nothing else seems to be helping, talk to your healthcare provider to determine if trying probiotics may benefit you.


"Antibiotic Resistance Questions & Answers" Get Smart: Know When Antibiotics Work 18 Dec 13. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Department of Health and Human Services. 11 May 14.

"Oral Probiotics: An Introduction" National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine Dec 12. National Institutes of Health. US Department of Health and Human Services. 17 May 14.

Allen SJ, Martinez EG, Gregorio GV, Dans LF. "Probiotics for Treating Acute Infectious Diarrhoea." Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010 Nov 10;(11):CD003048. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD003048.pub3. PubMed. 19 May 14.