What Are Probiotics? Dietary Sources, Side Effects, and Supplements
Probiotics are good bacteria that are either the same as or very similar to the bacteria that are already in your body. Your lower digestive tract alone teems with a complex and diverse community of these bacteria. In fact, there are a greater number of bacteria in your intestines than there are cells in your body.
But not all of the bacteria in your body are good for you. Some research suggests that having too many of the "bad" and not enough of the "good" bacteria — caused in part by an unhealthy diet — can wreak all sorts of havoc on your body’s systems.
This imbalance can lead to weight gain, skin conditions, constipation or diarrhea, and various chronic health conditions.
Should I consider taking a probiotic dietary supplement?
A probiotic dietary supplement can aid your health in a variety of ways. What's of current interest is which strain of probiotic bacteria can be helpful in which areas. Lactobacillus, bifidobacteria, Saccharomyces boulardii and Bacillus coagulans are the most common beneficial bacteria used in probiotic dietary supplement products.
But each type — and each strain of each type — can work in different ways.
What are the dietary sources of probiotics?
Probiotics can be found in:
- Some yogurts
- Some cheeses
- Other dairy products that contain probiotics, such as lactobacillus milk or kefir
How can taking a probiotic dietary supplement affect my health?
The right type and amount of a probiotic can help you in several ways:
- It can promote a healthy immune support.*
- It can support a weight management program.*
- It can prevent occasional diarrhea or constipation.*
What amount of a probiotic dietary supplement should I take?
Consuming yogurt products with probiotic content is a good option if you want to get more probiotics in your diet. When you choose a yogurt, look for the seal "Live and Active Cultures" on the product label. This indicates that the yogurt has at least 100 million active cultures per gram of yogurt.
For other types of probiotic products, how much you should take varies by bacteria type and the reason you're taking the product. If you choose to take an encapsulated probiotic supplement, a good place to start is with a combination that contains strains from the lactobacillus family and bifidobacterium family, because these strains are normally found in the human GI tract.
Are there any side effects from taking a probiotic dietary supplement?
Probiotics are safe in the amounts you normally find in food. In general, most healthy adults can safely add foods or dietary supplements that contain probiotics to their diets.
Some individuals can experience gas (flatulence), but that generally passes after a few days. But which strains of bacteria are most helpful or which doses are best isn’t always known.
And if you are lactose intolerant, you can experience stomach discomfort if you try to get your probiotics from dairy products. In that case, consider using a dairy-free probiotic.
Is it safe to take a probiotic dietary supplement with a prescription medication?
Take a probiotic dietary supplement with caution if you:
- Are taking an antibiotic or prescription drug that affects your immune system
- Are being treated for a fungal infection
- Have pancreatitis
Taking a probiotic dietary supplement may not be safe if you:
- Get infections often
- Have a weakened immune system
- Are allergic or sensitive to probiotics
What does Mayo Clinic think about probiotic dietary supplements?
Integrative medicine specialists at Mayo Clinic recommend considering probiotics as a low-risk way to boost your everyday healthy habits. For example, getting more probiotics in your food or from a dietary supplement can help your flu shot work more effectively.
Incorporating foods with bacteria in them makes sense, but for now, most of the clinical studies have used amounts of probiotic bacteria that are only attainable through taking a probiotic dietary supplement.
This information is provided to help you make an educated choice. Remember to talk with your health care professional before starting a dietary supplement regimen.
- Oral probiotics: An introduction. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/probiotics/introduction.htm. [Accessed Jan. 29, 2015].
- Kligler B., et al. AmFam Physician 2008; 78:1073-1078.
- Sartor RB. http://www.uptodate.com/home. [Accessed Jan. 29, 2015]
- Vouloumanou EK., et al. Int J Antimicrob Agents 2009; 34:197.e1-197.e10.
- Douglas L., et al. J Am Diet Assoc 2008; 108:510-521.
- Ciorba MA. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2012; 10:960-968.
- Nagalingam NA., et al. Trends Microbiol 2013; 21:485-492.
- Borges S., et al. Arch Gynecol Obstet 2014; 289:479-489.
- Diarrhea. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/diarrhea/#treated. [Accessed Jan. 29, 2014.]
- Surawicz CM., et al. Am J Gastroenterol 2013; 108:478-498.
- Hempel S., et al. JAMA 2012; 307:1959-1969.
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