WebMd.com Probiotics - Topic Overview
January 1, 2012 | By WebMD.com
WebMd


What are probiotics?

Probiotics are bacteria that help maintain the natural balance of organisms (microflora) in the intestines. The normal human digestive tract contains about 400 types of probiotic bacteria that reduce the growth of harmful bacteria and promote a healthy digestive system. The largest group of probiotic bacteria in the intestine is lactic acid bacteria, of which Lactobacillus acidophilus, found in yogurt, is the best known. Yeast is also a probiotic substance. Probiotics are also available as dietary supplements.

What are probiotics used for?

In most circumstances, people use probiotics to prevent diarrhea caused by antibiotics. Antibiotics kill "good" (beneficial) bacteria along with the bacteria that cause illness. A decrease in beneficial bacteria may lead to diarrhea. Taking probiotic supplements (as capsules, powder, or liquid extract) may help replace the lost beneficial bacteria and thus help prevent diarrhea.


A decrease in beneficial bacteria may also lead to other infections, such as vaginal yeast and urinary tract infections, and symptoms such as diarrhea from intestinal illnesses.


Research has shown that certain probiotics may restore normal bowel function and may help reduce:



  • Diarrhea that is a side effect of antibiotics.
  • Certain types of infectious diarrhea.
  • Inflammation of the ileal pouch (pouchitis) that may occur in people who have had surgery to remove the colon.

These results suggest that eventually probiotics may also be used to:

  • Help with other causes of diarrhea.
  • Help prevent infections in the digestive tract.
  • Help control immune response (inflammation), as in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Researchers are studying the use of probiotics for inflammatory bowel disease, colon cancer, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).


The results of some early studies suggest that probiotics found in yogurt may help prevent diarrhea caused by antibiotics. But more studies are needed to confirm that yogurt is effective. To offer benefit, the yogurt must contain active cultures. Most yogurt containers indicate whether active cultures are present.


Are probiotics safe?

Probiotic bacteria are already part of the normal digestive system and are considered safe

The content material of this article or webpage is for educational and consumer information purposes only, under section 5 of DSHEA.

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