Probiotics are your intestine's good bacteria. Here are some important facts about using them to maintain a healthy gut, and where to find them.

  • What are probiotics?
    Long story short: probiotics are good bacteria. Your digestive system is home to lots of bacteria, some good and some bad. A healthy "gut flora," as this assemblage of microbes is called, contributes to healthy immune and digestive systems. When there is an imbalance between good and bad bacteria, you may become vulnerable to infections, including yeast infections and urinary tract infections. Diarrhea is also a common symptom when the delicate balance is lost between the two kinds of bacteria.
  • How do I maintain this delicate bacteria balance?
    Protect yourself from possible pathogens (think E. coli, Salmonella) by practicing safe food handling habits, such as keeping raw foods separate from cooked foods when you're in the kitchen. Always wash your hands thoroughly before handling food and after using the bathroom. Eat a variety of nutritious foods. And until there's harder evidence about the effectiveness and safety of probiotic supplements, it's best to keep your belly bacteria in balance by making probiotic food choices.
  • What foods contain probiotics?
    More and more food manufacturers are offering consumers probiotic-fortified products. A trip down the dairy aisle at your grocery store will reveal yogurts, soft cheeses, and cottage cheeses labeled as probiotic. The probiotics Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium are two of the more common ingredients. Miso soup, kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles, and other fermented foods may also be a source of some probiotic cultures.
  • Will eating probiotic foods really help me?
    Though every little bit helps the balance of good and bad intestinal bacteria, it's important to note that most food products do not provide a therapeutic dose of probiotics. Think of eating probiotics as a preventive measure, rather than as a treatment. Probiotics aren't necessary to stay healthy, but they may protect against some harmful bacteria and help with digestion. Consult your doctor if you're considering taking probiotic supplements. Some supplements can interfere with certain medications and are not always safe for everyone.
  • What are some of the potentially promising uses of probiotics?
    • If you've been on a course of antibiotics, probiotics can help to replenish some of the good bacteria that may have been killed off by your medication.
    • Lactobacillus acidophilus shows promise as a way to control vaginal and urinary tract infections in women.
    • Bifidobacterium may play a role in preventing the development of allergies.
    • The healthy "flowering" of gut bacteria may provide protection from conditions including colon cancer and inflammatory bowel disease.
    • Probiotic supplements may help to reduce inflammation caused by Crohn's disease.
    • Probiotic drops containing Lactobacillus reuteri were found to soothe colicky babies.
    • Yogurt may help to relieve symptoms of lactose intolerance.

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