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What are probiotics and do I really need them in my yogurt?

Probiotics are microorganisms, also known as “good bacteria,” that are naturally occurring in the body. Especially helpful in regulating the digestive system, probiotics assist in reducing the amount of harmful bacteria that can cause infections or other complications. While most people are naturally equipped with the amount they need, there are times when it’s useful to increase probiotics through certain foods and supplements.

By helping food move through the digestive tract, probiotics can help with conditions like inflammatory bowel disease; infectious diarrhea caused by viruses, bacteria or parasites; and antibiotic-related diarrhea. Other evidence suggests that probiotics are helpful for eczema, allergy prevention and oral health.

While there are numerous types of bacteria classified as probiotics, the two most popular groups include:

  • Lactobacillus – This is the most common form that is often found in yogurt and other fermented foods like miso, sauerkraut and kimchi. Some of these can help with diarrhea, as well as provide relief for those who are lactose intolerant.
  • Bifidobacterium – Found in many dairy products, this also can help ease symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

With so many probiotic supplements on the market, consider the following when selecting one:

  • Read the label – It should include information about the probiotic’s group, as well as how many live cultures per serving it includes.
  • Contact your doctor – If you’re considering a probiotic for a specific condition, don’t rely on the product’s claims.
  • Beware of unknown companies – If you’re purchasing a probiotic from an unknown source, especially one found on the Internet, you may not be getting what you’re paying for. Well-established companies, on the other hand, are more likely to back their claims with research.

The benefits of probiotics are temporary and will disappear within a few weeks after discontinuing use, so it is recommended that you take them as long as the benefits are felt. However, if your doctor has prescribed a probiotic, follow his or her instructions.

Always store your probiotics according to package instructions, especially important since they are living organisms. Some even require refrigeration. And be sure to use it before the expiration date.

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