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Can bacteria be good for you?


Where to find probiotics
Where to find probiotics

You can find probiotics naturally in foods like some yogurts, fermented and unfermented milk and soy beverages, as well as in some Japanese specialties like miso and tempeh. Researchers aren’t sure how much you need to eat for these foods to be beneficial, but most recommend eating probiotic-rich foods daily. You can also buy dietary supplements containing probiotics.

However, there is a caveat: Check with your healthcare provider—especially if you’re planning to use supplements. Dietary supplements are not subjected to the same testing and approval process as drugs. Without regulation, there’s no guarantee that the bottle’s ingredients or claims are what they seem.

There’s been a lot of buzz lately about probiotics—living microorganisms (mostly bacteria) found in foods like yogurt and sold as dietary supplements—and their health benefits, ranging from calming the GI tract to boosting immunity. While the research on probiotics is promising, it’s still ongoing. Here’s what scientists are exploring:

The power of probiotics

Your body is a virtual warehouse of bacteria, much of it good. Bacteria are necessary to develop the immune system, digest and absorb food and fight off disease-causing organisms. But when the body’s “good” bacteria get out of whack—because of medications like antibiotics or parasites, fungi and “bad” bacteria—a host of health problems can result, including gas, cramping, yeast infections and diarrhea. According to the National Institutes of Health, researchers are investigating whether probiotics can suppress the growth of “bad” bacteria in conditions like:

  • traveler’s diarrhea
  • irritable bowel syndrome
  • inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis)
  • ulcers
  • vaginal infections

Probiotic problems

While probiotics are generally considered safe—they’re similar to organisms that already live in your digestive tract—side effects can still result. Mild upsets include gas and bloating; a more serious effect may be infection. Because probiotics are just beginning to be explored, their safety hasn’t been thoroughly studied. The elderly, very young children and those with a compromised immune system should be extra cautious with probiotics.

The power of probiotics

Probiotic problems