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The benefits of probiotics and other complementary medicines

The benefits of probiotics and other complementary medicines

Complementary medicine describes a wide range of medicines and therapies – including the use of probiotic supplements. Many Australians use complementary medicines for specific health conditions or health benefits.

Lifestyle insight
Reading time: 3 minutes

What are complementary medicines?

In Australia, ‘complementary medicine’ is a term used to cover a broad range of therapies and health products that aim to maintain and provide health benefits.1 Complementary medicines are broadly classified into one of two categories

  1. Mind-body practices – like yoga and meditation
  2. Natural products 2

Complementary medicine products don’t need a prescription and are available from health food stores, supermarkets and pharmacies. Most complementary medicines are available on the shelves in these stores and include products like:

  • Vitamins and minerals
  • Nutritional supplements
  • Herbal medicines
  • Probiotics 3

A recent study found that more than 60% of all Australians use some form of complementary medicine, and close to 50% use at least one complementary medicine product.2

Probiotics are considered complementary medicines in Australia.4


Why do people use complementary medicines?

There are many reasons people choose to use complementary medicines. Some of them include:

  • Supporting general wellbeing
  • Achieving and maintain good health
  • Wanting to take charge of their own health
  • Self-care
  • Feeling dissatisfied with conventional medical systems
  • Wanting to receive healthcare that supports the whole person and not just their symptoms 5

Understanding how complementary medicines can support your wellbeing

Wellbeing is not just the absence of disease or illness – it is a complex combination of physical, mental, emotional and social factors,6 but has been defined by some as the combination of both feeling good and functioning well.7

Complementary medicines, including probiotics, can support our wellbeing in a number of ways, particularly through their ability to support the health of our gut. Good gut health is central to our overall health and wellbeing as it impacts all aspects of our body including our immune systems and mood.8

A healthy gut is able to digest the foods you eat, absorb the nutrients and then use those nutrients to fuel all the other cells in your body.8 The gut is also where many of the neurotransmitters that control mood and emotions are made,9 and home to many of the components of the immune system.10

To learn more about keeping your gut health on track read our article: Tips for getting your gut health on track

A healthy immune system is important for overall wellbeing as it can help us fight off and prevent illness. The healthy gut supports a healthy immune system as they are intricately linked. Scientists have disovered that up to 80% of our immune cells are actually located in our gut. 10

To learn more about the effects of probiotics on your immune system read out article: How do probiotics boost immunity?

Healthy, balanced moods are central to wellbeing. Supporting gut health and using specific probiotics can help support mood balance. The gut is often referred to as the ‘second brain’, because it produces many of the same neurotransmitters – or chemical messengers, as the brain does. 9 Changing the balance of bacteria in the gut can change brain chemistry, and the brain has powerful effects on gut bacteria, with studies showing that even mild stress can alter the microbial balance in the digestive system.11

To learn more about using probiotics to support healthy mood read our article: Did you know probiotics may help boost your mood?

Questions to ask your healthcare professional

  • Which complementary medicine is suitable for me?
  • Is there evidence to support the effectiveness and safety of this complementary medicine?
  • Will probiotics help my symptoms?
  • Which probiotic strain is best for my health concerns?
  • Can I take probiotics with my current medications?
  • Are there any known or expected side-effects from taking probiotics?
  • Are probiotics safe to take if I am pregnant or breast-feeding?
  • How do I know if my probiotic has been clinically-trialled?



  1. National Institute of Complementary Medicine. Choosing complementary medicine. NICM. 2008.
    https://www.nicm.edu.au/health_information/information_for_consumers/choosing_complementary_medicine - accessed 24-May-22
  2. Steel A, et al. Complementary medicine use in the Australian population: Results of a nationally-representative cross-sectional survey. Scientific Reports. 2018; 8: 17325.
  3. TGA. Complementary medicines overview. Therapeutic Goods Administration. 2019.
    https://www.tga.gov.au/complementary-medicines-overview - accessed 24-May-22
  4. TGA. The Indications for Probiotics in Australia and Their Regulation. Therapeutic Goods Administration. 2020.
    https://www.tga.gov.au/book-page/advertising-interface-products - accessed 26-May-22
  5. Better Health Channel. Complementary therapies. Better Health Channel. 2019.
    https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/complementary-therapies - accessed 24-May-22.
  6. Better Health Channel. Wellbeing. Better Health Channel. 2020.
    https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/wellbeing - accessed 26-May-22.
  7. Ruggeri K, et al. Well-being is more than happiness and life satisfaction: a multidimensional analysis of 21 countries. Health Qual Life Outcomes. 2020; 18(1): 192
  8. Bratskier K. How To Improve Your Gut Health. 2021.
    https://www.forbes.com/health/body/how-to-improve-gut-health/ - accessed 10-May-2022.
  9. Harvard Health. Probiotics may help boost mood and cognitive function. 2019.
    https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/probiotics-may-help-boost-mood-and-cognitive-function - accessed 2-May-2022
  10. Wiertsema SP, et al. The Interplay between the Gut Microbiome and the Immune System in the Context of Infectious Diseases throughout Life and the Role of Nutrition in Optimizing Treatment Strategies. Nutrients. 2021; 13(3): 886.
  11. Carpenter S. That gut feeling. Monitor on Psychology (APA). 2012; 43: 8.
    https://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/09/gut-feeling - accessed 3-May-2022

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