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.

Probiotics can be found in:

  • Some yogurts
  • Some cheeses
  • Other dairy products that contain probiotics, such as Lactobacillus milk or kefir
  • Sauerkraut
  • Kimchi

A probiotic dietary supplement can aid your health in a variety of ways. Lactobacillus species, 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. Bottom line: Not all probiotics are the same, nor do they all have the same effect in the body.

The right type and amount of a probiotic can help you in several ways:

  • Promotes a healthy immune system*
  • Supports a weight management program*
  • Prevents occasional diarrhea or constipation.*

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 gastrointestinal tract.

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 might 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.

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 the sources of the probiotics (dairy, for example)

If you are considering taking a probiotic dietary supplement, check with your health care professional first, especially if you are pregnant or have a health condition.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

April 14, 2017