What Are Probiotics?

Probiotics get a lot of attention these days. But what are probiotics and what do they provide?

Probiotics are strains of bacteria that can deliver some significant health benefits. The idea of beneficial bacteria puzzles people because bacteria have long been known for causing disease. However, research into microorganisms suggests illnesses can be prevented and treated with foods and supplements that contain certain kinds of live bacteria.

Sources of Probiotics

Thanks to their popularity, many probiotic sources now exist — the most common of which are fermented foods such as yogurt, acidophilus milk and kefir. Probiotic-containing beverages are also widely available in stores today, and sales of probiotic supplements are on the rise as well. For a better idea of why consuming probiotics may be beneficial, consider their known and potential health benefits.

Treating Diarrhea

As Harvard Medical School observes, the most compelling evidence for probiotics’ value is in the treatment of diarrhea. Studies involving a strain of bacteria known as Lactobacillus GG demonstrated that its supplementation shortened diarrhea from antibiotics by as much as 60 percent.

Bowel Inflammation

Research into other gastrointestinal diseases is small, but growing to show some promise. For individuals with Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome, for example, certain strains of probiotics have demonstrated their ability to prevent inflammation in the colon. However, because there are thousands of probiotic strains, finding the beneficial ones challenges researchers and health professionals to this day.

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Urogenital Health

Urogenital health may also be affected positively by probiotics. This system is a natural home to thousands of strains of bacteria, so consuming the most beneficial probiotics may be helpful for preventing yeast infection and urinary tract infections. There is also some promise that probiotics can help to prevent colds and the flu.

Probiotics and You

These are just a few of the known benefits of probiotics. Whereas others may exist, larger studies must be performed before all their effects can be understood. Nonetheless, probiotics are considered perfectly safe for the general public because they are already present in your digestive system.

So, what are probiotics? You may be surprised to learn that you already have them. But although they are widely available in supplement form, you should try to get your probiotics from fermented foods. Dietary supplements do not all undergo rigorous testing and approval, so ask your doctor for recommendations — or simply choose foods which naturally contain probiotics.

Advice or recommendations are for informational or educational purposes only, not a substitute for a visit or consultation with your doctor.

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