What are Probiotics?

Probiotics. It’s become the new buzzword in the health industry. All the sudden, commercials are advertising probiotics, whether in a supplement or in a food like yogurt. So, what’s the deal with probiotics? What are they? Probiotics are microorganisms such as bacteria or yeast that are believed to improve health. It might sound odd to digest bacteria; after all, one would think our body tries to get rid of as much bacteria as possible, but health experts say probiotics can help our digestive system.

A friendly bacteria

“Probiotics can improve intestinal function and maintain the integrity of the lining of the intestines,” Stefano Guandalini, MD, professor of pediatrics and gastroenterology at the University of Chicago Medical Center tells WebMD.

“In societies with very good hygiene, we’ve seen a sharp increase in autoimmune and allergic diseases,” Guandalini tells WebMD. “That may be because the immune system isn’t being properly challenged by pathogenic organisms. Introducing friendly bacteria in the form of probiotics is believed to challenge the immune system in healthy ways.”

More than just digestive help

Although studies are still be conducted, researchers say there is enough evidence to suggest that probiotics decrease the chances of ear infections and strep throat in children. In a study with 600+ children, those who drank a yogurt drink with probiotics were 19 percent less likely to get sick.

Finding the right source of probiotics

Probiotics are found in supplements and in food, but which is best? Experts say either one is fine. For those people interested in a supplement, experts suggest going with a name brand supplement until more research can suggest the best brand and dosage.

“For now, the best advice is to choose products from well-known companies, especially those that have been tested in research studies,” Guandalini says.