What are Probiotics?

In the last few years, the health benefits of probiotics have become a topic of interest for many people. But what exactly are probiotics? And are they necessary for staying healthy?

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that work to promote good digestive health. While we usually think of bacteria as something bad that causes infection and disease, the truth is that your body contains millions of different types of bacteria—both good and bad. The bacteria that is found in your gut is considered “good” or “helpful” bacteria because it is necessary for keeping you as healthy as possible.

How do probiotics work?

Probiotics do a number of things in your body in order to help restore and maintain the balance of “good” and “bad” bacteria in your digestive system.

  • If the “good” bacteria in your body is depleted (such as after taking antibiotics), probiotics can help to replenish them.

  • Probiotics work to reduce the amounts of “bad” bacteria that are present in your body that lead to infections and other complications.

Some common conditions that are treated using probiotics include:

  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

  • Infectious diarrhea

  • Antibiotic-related diarrhea

Additionally, recent research show that probiotics may also help with non-stomach-related problems, including skin conditions, urinary and vaginal health, oral health, and preventing allergies and colds.

What are the different types of probiotics?

Probiotics are divided into two main groups: lactobacillus and bifidobacterium. Both types of probiotics come with different benefits, so you will need to speak with your doctor to determine which type will be the most beneficial for you. 

  • Lactobacillus: This is the most common type of probiotic, and it is commonly found in yogurt and other fermented foods. Many of the strains of lactobacillus can help with diarrhea symptoms, as well as help people who are lactose intolerant.

  • Bifidobacterium: This is a type of probiotic found in most dairy products. It is most commonly used to treat the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. 

Should you include probiotics in your diet?

While you do not necessary need to include probiotics in your body in order to stay healthy, they may help with digestion. You can also take probiotics as a supplement, though there is no guarantee that this will be effective. Make sure you talk with your doctor about the correct product and dosing before you start taking a probiotic supplement.

In general, taking probiotics in foods or supplements is thought to be safe, though you may experience mild side effects, such as upset stomach, diarrhea, gas, and bloating for the first few days after you start taking them. Dairy-based foods such as cheese, milk, or yogurt are often high in probiotic content. It is also possible for probiotics to trigger an allergic reaction if your body is not used to including them in your diet. If you start to notice anything abnormal, stop taking them immediately and speak with your doctor about how to proceed.