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What exactly are probiotics?


The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) defines probiotics as live microorganisms that, when taken in adequate amounts, provide a beneficial health effect on the host. Simply put, probiotics are considered to be "friendly" bacteria that, in some clinical trials and studies, have been shown to help with a variety of health concerns, ranging from irritable bowel syndrome to high blood pressure. Probiotics may help the bacteria already present in the body to help defend against harmful bacteria and aid in digestion.

There is growing interest in the use of probiotics in patients who take an antibiotic. While antibiotics are effective in killing disease-causing ("bad") bacteria, they will also kill "good" bacteria. As a result, this allows the "bad" bacteria to increase - possibly resulting in side effects such as bloating and diarrhea. Probiotics, therefore, are used to help replace the "good" bacteria and thereby reduce/eliminate the incidence and severity of those side effects.

That said, you need to do your own homework, as probiotics have not been definitively proven in health studies to deliver all the benefits that some product labels may claim. However, a number of studies have shown certain specific microbes to be helpful for people with digestive ailments such as diarrhea and lactose intolerance.

While probiotics are generally considered to be safe, anyone with a compromised immune system or other illness should discuss using probiotic products with his or her physician, as the bacteria - even though considered "good" bacteria - could still increase the person's risk of infections. Newborns and premature infants likewise do not have a strong immune system, so discussion with the pediatrician is also advised on whether to use foods or remedies containing probiotics.

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