We have all likely heard the term probiotics at some point, whether from a magazine advertisement for supplements or a television commercial for yogurt, and it ultimately begs the question, “What are probiotics and why are they so important?”
Probiotics are typically found in fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, sourdough bread, and the aforementioned yogurt, along with some additional dairy products and various probiotic supplements. Probiotics are a specific type of bacteria that, unlike the bacteria we associate with germs and infection, are actually safe for consumption and come with some potential added health benefits as well.
So, probiotics are good bacteria but what good do they do? While definitive research on the entirety of positive health effects of probiotics is still needed, many studies have indicated that probiotics have shown a strong potential for the following benefits:
- Relieving or eliminating the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome
- Treating diarrhea, especially that associated with antibiotics
- Aiding in the digestion of lactose and generally supporting good digestive function
- Increasing immune system effectiveness
- Preventing colds or allergies
- Improving vaginal and urinary tract health
Studies have also shown that the risk for side effects is minimal and the majority of adults are safe to consume foods or supplements that contain probiotics; however, consult your primary care physician before making any changes to your diet.