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From tips on how to lose weight effectively to ways to combat boredom eating, this collection of informative articles covers a wide range of health topics that matter to real people, like you.

What are Probiotics and Should You Be Taking Them?

Probiotics are safe for children, adults, and the elderly, but what do they do and who can benefit from taking them? Read on for answers.

What are Probiotics and Should You Be Taking Them?

Erin Andrews tells you to take them. And just about every yogurt company out there recommends probiotics as well. But what are probiotics, and what do probiotics actually do? Lastly, can anyone benefit from taking probiotics, or are they only helpful in certain cases?

There are easy answers when it comes to these little micro-bugs and your health.

Probiotics - "For Life"

The word probiotic literally means "for life". Antibiotics are chemicals designed to kill harmful bacteria, and probiotics are part of the family of healthy bacteria that are essential for life.

Probiotics are normally found in fermented foods-yes, it might seem a little gross at first - but if you enjoy yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, or kefir, they all have live bacteria that help break create those food products.

You probably already know that you can also take probiotics in a pill form, or as a supplement-and that there are lots of different brands and kinds of probiotics on the market.

The Benefits of Probiotics

So should you take probiotics?

Scientists around the world would most likely answer you with a unanimous-yes. Or-they may suggest that you at least eat foods that contain live 'good' bacteria. Like the Lactobacillus kind commonly found in yogurt and kefir.

So what are probiotics? Simply bacteria – like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species. There are millions of different strains or types of bacteria that are known as probiotics. The more important question is... what do probiotics do?

Do they just sort of swim around and wiggle or something?

Actually, yes. Probiotics are good bacteria that 'set up house' or colonize all along the lining of your colon, and sometimes even the distant parts of your small intestine. And while there, they help digest the remaining portions of food that have been traveling through your gastrointestinal tract.

The probiotics benefit from being inside your gut-because they can survive well in that environment and have a food source-and you benefit from them being there in a wide variety of ways.

Researchers around the world have shown that probiotics can help improve your immune function. Some research has shown that you can boost your immunity to colds, as well as train your immune system to keep from having an allergic response using probiotics.

Probiotics can help your digestive system with regularity, might improve symptoms associated with lactose intolerance, help reduce diarrhea, and can be beneficial in individuals suffering from irritable bowel syndrome as well as Chrohn's disease.

Health Benefits Beyond Digestion

Probiotics don't just help with digestive issues. They have been linked to many, many health improvements beyond the gut.

When it comes to your lungs, you might not immediately make the connection to probiotics, but as it turns out, taking probiotics of any kind might prevent acute upper respiratory tract infections better than a placebo, and reduce the length of time of infection.

If you suffer from depression or anxiety, probiotics might also be helpful for you. Researcher found that probiotics might improve the neuroendocrine-or nerve plus hormones-side of depression and anxiety disorders, by producing and delivering substances that act on your brain, such as serotonin, which is often described as a 'feel good' chemical.

Probiotics May Help Lower Cholesterol

What else are probiotics useful for? It just keeps getting better. Turns out it probiotics might help reduce your cholesterol.

Recent research has demonstrated that if you have high cholesterol, there are actually certain probiotic strains that could have cholesterol- lowering capability. After just 24 hours of taking probiotics, animals who were fed a high-fat diet started to show improvement. And the same held true for people who took Lactobacillus reuteri NCIMB 30242, which is the long name for a probiotic that helped decrease cholesterol levels by 11% in people who took it.

Probiotics also have the ability to break down tiny little fibers in fruits and vegetables, called fructooligosaccharides, which are commonly found in bananas, onions, and other plant-based foods [8]. This helps the probiotics grow, and helps you digest your food even better.

When probiotic bacteria are present in your gut, they can produce a small amount of Vitamin B12, Riboflavin, and vitamin B11 (salicylic acid) that your body can easily absorb, and are essential to good health.

One the most important features of probiotics-their presence in your gut can keep bad bacteria from settling down inside your colon. Harmful bacteria, like C. difficile, can keep people in the hospital indefinitely. Right now, physicians are finding that fecal transplants from family members for some patients is an effective way to bring healthy bacteria back into the gut, and the treatment is easy and works for most individuals.

Oh the power of probiotics.

Who should take probiotics?

Probiotics are safe for children, adults, and the elderly, and typically must be refrigerated to help lengthen the shelf life. Look for one that contains both Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains, as these are the most widely researched.

If you are not currently taking probiotics, inform your doctor before beginning a probiotic regimen if you are immunocompromised or if you have short bowel syndrome.

Sarah Asay's Photo
Written By Sarah Asay, RDN. Published on November 06, 2015. Updated on November 10, 2015.


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