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The growing popularity of probiotics speaks to their potential both to treat tummy troubles and prevent them in the first place. But how are they best used, and are they for everyone?
“Probiotics may be beneficial for those with poor diets, stress, older age, and who are taking medications—such as antibiotics—that alter the microorganisms in our bodies,” says Kelley Wilson, MS, RD, CD, clinical nutritionist at the Digestive Health Center at UW Health in Madison, Wis.
Probiotics are “good” bacteria that correct symptom-producing imbalances in the gut by preventing “bad” bacteria from multiplying; they also give the immune system a bad-bacteria-battling boost. Probiotics are found in foods like live-culture yogurt or in supplements that use freeze-dried single or multiple bacterial strains. Some supplements add prebiotics, which are non-digestible carbohydrates that help keep good bacteria healthy; prebiotic-rich foods include asparagus, bananas, oatmeal, and legumes.
Use It Right
Manufacturers often suggest taking probiotic supplements once a day for health maintenance and twice a day for treating active symptoms, but bacterial strains and effective dosages vary from person to person. “Choosing a probiotic can be confusing; an appropriate health professional should assist you,” cautions Wilson. “One probiotic might be preferred for antibiotic-associated diarrhea, while another may be effective for symptoms related to travel. Patients may need to try different types to find the one that works best.”
Watch Out For
Mild stomach upset is possible. Patients undergoing surgery or those with acute infections or immune conditions should avoid probiotics. Some supplements may have significantly less bacteria than stated on their labels, so choose a trusted brand or one that’s been independently tested. Check directions for proper storage.
Find your ideal probiotic
Finding the right probiotic for health maintenance or specific symptoms can be complicated. Talk to your health-care practitioner about which of the following products might be best for you.
American Health Controlled Delivery Probiotic CD
$29.99/60 vegetarian tabs; americanhealthus.com
Country Life Realfood Organics Probiotic Daily Powder
$36.99/3.1 oz. powder; countrylifevitamins.com
Culturelle Health & Wellness Probiotic
$29.99/30 vegetarian capsules; culturelle.com
Enzymedica Digest Gold +Probiotics
$32.99/45 vegetarian capsules; enzymedica.com
Garden of Life RAW Probiotics Women
$52.45/90 vegetarian capsules; gardenoflife.com
NOW Foods Probiotic-10
25 Billion $29.99/50 10-strain veg capsules; nowfoods.com
Renew Life Everyday Ultimate Flora Probiotic 15 Billion
$21.99/30 vegetable capsules; renewlife.com
Solgar Probi 30 Billion
$39.98/30 vegetable capsules; solgar.ie