I am often asked questions about probiotics. I am a very big fan of probiotic supplements for digestive and vaginal health so I figured I’d do a little research to help explain the benefits of these supplements.

Probiotics are foods that contain a healthy type of bacteria similar to the bacteria naturally found in the human gut. According to the Mayo Clinic, probiotics can improve digestion and possibly increase the function of the immune system by fighting off harmful forms of bacteria. Probiotic supplements can increase the number of “good” bacteria in your digestive tract. They can help to keep the digestive system in balance and functioning optimally, restore normal flora, and may support immune system function.

I always recommend that my patients take probiotics when starting an antibiotic. Antibiotics do a great job at wiping out the “bad” bacteria that are making you feel sick, but they also wipe out the “good” bacteria. Probiotics can help restore the “good” bacteria and help prevent certain side effects of antibiotic therapy. There are many possible nutritional benefits of probiotics that are still being researched. For example, the Mayo Clinic states that probiotics may be able to reduce yeast infections, prevent eczema and prevent bladder cancer reoccurrence.

There are many brands of probiotics on the market. I often recommend that my patients find a brand that has at least 15 billion live cultures per capsule and fits their budget. The dose is usually 1-2 capsules daily. It’s important to check the expiration date to make sure that the bacteria these products contain are alive and in good condition. Some probiotic brands recommend refrigeration to maintain freshness and high potency – although they usually remain effective for a week or two without refrigeration (important consideration for travelers).

Different brands contain different active ingredients. Lactobacillus acidophilus is helpful for maintaining a natural balance of vaginal flora. Multicultural formulas (Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium lactis, and Bifidobacterium longum) are effective for restoring and maintaining gastrointestinal health.

Most probiotic organisms occur naturally in cultured milk products, such as yogurt with active cultures, acidophilus milk and kefir, as well as natural pickles and sauerkraut. However, experts agree that high cell counts are needed to impact the balance and re-establish the beneficial flora.

You should not take probiotics if you have had an allergic reaction to lactobacillus, acidophilus, bifidobacterium, or streptococcus thermophilus.

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