You’ve probably heard about probiotics. Data from the 2012 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) show that among adults, probiotics were the third most commonly used dietary supplement other than vitamins and minerals.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are live microorganisms (bacteria) that may have health benefits. We need these microorganisms help our bodies function properly. For example, bacteria that naturally live in our intestines helps us digest food, destroy disease causing microorganisms, and produce vitamins. Maintaining the correct balance of bacteria is necessary for optimal health. Age, genetics, and diet may influence the composition of the bacteria in the body. The most common bacteria belong to groups called Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Each of these two broad groups include many types of microorganisms. Yeasts such as Saccharomyces boulardii are also known for their probiotic benefits.
What do probiotics do?
Probiotics may have a variety of effects in the body and different probiotics may act in different ways. Probiotics might:
- Help maintain a healthy environment in your gut.
- Strengthen the digestive tract’s barriers against harmful organisms or produce substances that inhibit their growth.
- Help restore the gut flora to normal after being disturbed (for example, by an antibiotic or a disease).
- Stimulate the immune system.
Where can you find probiotics?
You can find probiotics in food, beverages, or dietary supplements in any grocery or health food store. Probiotic-rich foods include yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, olives, dark chocolate, and miso soup.
Are probiotics safe?
For healthy people, probiotics usually have minimal side effects, if any. In people with underlying health problems (for example, weakened immune systems), serious complications such as infections have occasionally been reported. Most of our knowledge about safety comes from studies of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Very little is known about other probiotics. Information on the long-term safety of probiotics is limited, and safety may differ from one type of probiotic to another. Always check with your doctor before using any type of probiotic therapy.
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