What are probiotics?
Probiotics are live microorganisms (bacteria) normally found in the intestines. They are also sometimes called “good” or “healthy” bacteria. There are more than 400 different types of healthy bacteria found in the digestive tract. It is thought that they help maintain a healthy digestive system and limit the growth of unhealthy bacteria.
Why do people take probiotics?
A healthy digestive system has the right balance of “good” bacteria and “bad” bacteria. If that balance is disrupted, it may affect your health. Some medical studies have shown that probiotics may:
- Prevent or treat some gastrointestinal illness, including infectious diarrhea, diarrhea after using antibiotics, irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease
- Prevent and reduce the severity of colds or influenza
There are many different types, or strains, of probiotics available. Most of these are of the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium variety (for example, Lactobacillus acidophilus can be found in yogurt and soy products).
Are probiotics safe?
Probiotics are very similar to the healthy bacteria already living in your digestive system. Chances are, you’ve been eating probiotics for years in foods like yogurt and sourdough bread. Studies have not shown probiotics to be harmful, but you should talk to your family doctor before you start taking probiotics or any type of dietary supplement.
What is the best way to take probiotics?
Probiotics can be found naturally in some foods, including yogurt, soy milk, and sauerkraut. You can also find them added to many different snack foods and drinks. Look for labels that identify “live active cultures” or that include the full name of the bacteria on the nutritional label.
Probiotics are also available as supplements in a powder or pill form.
What are prebiotics?
Prebiotics are nondigestable ingredients found in foods like soybeans and bananas that help healthy bacteria grow in the digestive system. They act as fuel for the probiotics.
This content was developed with general underwriting support from Nature Made®.
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff