Probiotics are what is often called “good bacteria” or “friendly bacteria.” Not all bacteria cause illness. Probiotics are a type of bacteria that live in the body and help maintain gut health and help defend the body from infection.
Probiotics and prebiotics are not the same. Prebiotics are a source of food for probiotics.
The best time to take a probiotic is first thing in the morning before breakfast, or in the evening before going to sleep.
- Take probiotics at least two to three hours after the last meal or at least 30 minutes before a meal to reduce the time it takes for good bacteria to get to the gut.
- Probiotics work best when taken on an empty stomach because prolonged exposure to stomach acid can diminish their effects. When taken on an empty stomach, the probiotics pass through the stomach more quickly, helping ensure the probiotics pass into the intestines where they can be beneficial.
What Are Probiotics Used For?
Probiotics can help restore the balance of gut bacteria. Studies on the effectiveness of probiotics are mixed, and it is not clear how probiotics can improve health.
Probiotics are frequently used:
- Along with antibiotics, to prevent diarrhea caused by the antibiotics
- To reduce bloating, gas, and constipation
Investigations are ongoing to see if probiotics may help:
- Fight or prevent stomach or intestinal infections, including C. difficile (C. diff) diarrhea
- Treat diarrhea, constipation, and conditions that can cause these symptoms, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD)
- Prevent or treat eczema
- Prevent or treat allergies
- Prevent or fight vaginal infections
Do You Need to Take Probiotic Supplements?
- Consuming a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes, yogurt, and fermented foods such as kefir, kimchi, and sauerkraut should be sufficient to maintain a healthy gut without probiotic supplementation.
- Yogurt products labeled as containing “active cultures” have probiotics. This may or may not help with digestion. For those who enjoy yogurt and have no problems digesting it, it is fine to include as part of a healthy, balanced diet.
What Are the Risks of Taking Probiotics?
Most of the time, even when probiotics do not help, they are not usually harmful. However, there may be some risks with probiotic supplements:
- Probiotics are considered dietary supplements and are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the same way as medications, which means probiotic products may not contain what the labels claim they do.
- People with weakened immune systems (such as people on cancer chemotherapy or with certain illnesses like HIV) may get an infection following the use of probiotics.
Talk to your doctor before adding any probiotic supplements to your diet.
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