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A Look at Probiotics and Health

Unlike the bacteria that cause diarrhea, fever, and many other symptoms, probiotics are live microorganisms that may improve your health and boost your resistance to some illnesses. They may also improve intestinal health for some people.

Your gut is home to trillions of microorganisms. Although few cause illnesses, probiotics may keep the harmful bacteria in check so that you avoid or shorten a bout of stomach upset.

Foods rich in probiotics may enhance your immune system, reducing your risk for some diseases, according to ongoing research. But preventing diarrhea and other digestive problems is an important reason to add probiotics to your diet. 

To get probiotics’ benefits, eat foods that contain adequate amounts of the live organisms that have been shown to have an effect. Here are some guidelines:

  • Head for the market’s refrigerated section. Probiotics are living organisms that must be refrigerated. Fermented dairy products are proven sources you’ll find in the dairy case. The list includes most yogurt, buttermilk, and kefir (a beverage similar to yogurt).

  • Try soy yogurt if you don’t like or can’t tolerate dairy foods.

  • Start slowly. Eat small amounts, such as a 2- to 4-ounce serving. Work up to 6 to 8 ounces a day.

  • Use yogurt or other probiotic products as ingredients in food. Top a baked potato with plain yogurt, use buttermilk in a salad dressing, or add kefir to a fruit smoothie. Don’t cook fermented dairy products. You’ll kill the friendly microorganisms.

  • Make probiotics a habit. Probiotics don't become a permanent part of your body flora. That’s why you have to take probiotics every day or every other day.

  • Talk with your doctor before you take probiotics if you have an illness. Probiotics are generally thought to be safe, however, there isn't much known about the safety of probiotic use for people with compromised immune systems and for very young children.

Last Reviewed Date: 01/17/2013
© 2000-2014 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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