Looking for a natural way to help your digestive problems? Probiotics may be for you. These “good bacteria" live in your gut, where they help keep you healthy. You can also find them in supplements and some foods.
Talk to your doctor about the pros and cons.
1. Would probiotics help me?
They may work for some conditions but not others. Studies show they may help problems like:
- Diarrhea that’s a side effect of antibiotics or from an infection
- Colitis caused by the bacteria C. difficile
- Ulcerative colitis
- Irritable bowel syndrome
Probiotics may also help improve Crohn’s disease, allergies, and some types of skin problems, but there’s no strong proof.
Your doctor can tell you if a probiotic is a good choice for your specific problem.
2. What are the benefits?
Probiotics aren’t a cure-all. They may help prevent disease, or they might only work after you’re sick. Tell your doctor about your symptoms and see what they suggest.
3. Are they safe?
They’re generally considered safe, but they may cause problems for young children, seniors, and those with a serious illness or a weak immune system — your body’s defense against germs. If you decide to take them, make sure to tell your doctor.
4. Which are best for me?
There are many different probiotics. Some have just one helpful type of bacteria, while others are a mixture. Scientists have studied only a small number of them.
Choose one that has evidence it works. Ask your doctor which types might help your condition.
5. How do I take them?
Probiotics come in many forms. You’ll find them as capsules, powders, and liquids. They’re also in certain foods, like yogurt and dairy drinks. Your doctor may point you to a product that’s been tested and shown to work for your condition.
6. How much should I take?
To work well, probiotics must have enough good bacteria to allow them to grow in your intestines. The right dose varies for each product and for the condition you use them for. Some may not have as many helpful microbes as their labels say. Ask your doctor if they know which products and how much of them are helpful.
7. How long should I use them?
That depends on the reason you take them. For instance, your doctor may tell you to take them only while you are treated with antibiotics. But foods that contain probiotics, like yogurt, can be a regular part of your healthy diet.
The effects of supplements last for just a few weeks after you stop taking them. If your doctor has prescribed them, follow their instructions.
- American Gastroenterological Society: “Probiotics: What They Are and What They Can Do For You."
- Floch, M. Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, July 2008.
- Sharp, R. American Journal of Gastroenterology, April 2009.
- Katz, J. Gastroenterology, 2002.
- Stefano Guandalini, MD, University of Chicago.
- Martin Floch, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT.