Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are naturally found in the intestinal flora, or the microorganisms living in the lining of your gut.
They’re often known as “good bacteria” because they keep your gut healthy.
The probiotics most commonly used in the United States include Lactobacillusand Bifidobacteria.
They’re available to consumers in dietary supplements, foods, creams, suppositories, and other forms.
Scientists believe these microorganisms work in the gut by:
- Decreasing the amount of “bad” bacteria
- Replenishing the “good” bacteria
- Restoring a favorable bacterial balance
- Stimulating the immune system
However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t approve any health claims for probiotics.
Russian scientist Elie Metchnikoff first introduced the concept of probiotics in the early 1900s.
While studies have found certain medical benefits associated with probiotics, researchers believe more scientific investigation is needed.
It’s been claimed that probiotics can help treat a wide range of ailments. Some people take them to:
- Treat gastrointestinal problems including diarrhea, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ulcerative colitis, and Crohn’s disease
- Prevent tooth decay or treat other oral health problems
- Improve brain function
- Lower cholesterol
- Prevent allergies
- Protect against bacterial infection
- Lower blood pressure
- Prevent urinary tract infection (UTI)
- Prevent yeast infection
- Improve psoriasis or eczema symptoms
- Help chronic fatigue syndrome
Probiotics and Weight Loss
Some research suggests that probiotics might help a person lose weight, but further study is needed to confirm their role in weight loss.
A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition in 2014 found men and women who took probiotic supplements along with following a specific diet plan lost more weight than those who dieted only.
Other studies have shown the intestinal bacteria of obese people differ from that of normal-weight people.
Foods With Probiotics
Common foods that contain healthy bacteria include:
- Aged cheeses
- Soy drinks
Probiotics Side Effects
Studies have shown probiotics pose few side effects.
However, safety data is limited, so tell your doctor if you have any health conditions before starting on a probiotic regimen.
You may experience mild gas or other stomach issues while taking probiotics.
Probiotics for Dogs and Cats
Some research has shown probiotics may help digestive problems such as diarrhea or constipation in dogs and cats.
Talk to your veterinarian before giving a probiotic supplement to your pet.
Probiotics for Children
Studies have found probiotics may benefit healthy children and babies.
However, experts say probiotic supplements shouldn’t be given to kids with chronic or serious illnesses.
Talk to your doctor before giving your child a probiotic.