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Health Benefits of Probiotics - Food Sources & Supplements

Updated on March 8, 2011

What are Probiotics?

Probiotics are live microorganisms (bacteria and yeasts) that benefit the body, when eaten or taken as a dietary supplement. The human digestive system is heavily dependent on flourishing "friendly" bacteria in our intestines. Probiotics aid the existing flora, or help repopulate your colon when it's been stripped of bacteria by antibiotics, chemotherapy, disease, or radical detox diets like the Master Cleanse.

Types of Probiotics

There are many types of probiotics, including different kind of bacteria, as well as some yeasts (such as Saccharomyces boulardii).  Most probiotics fall into two categories of bacteria: Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.  Another popular probiotic is the Nissle strain of Escherichia coli (E. coli).  Every kind of bacteria has several strains, each with its own health benefits.

Health Benefits of Probiotics

Probiotics have a wide range of benefits, including boosting the immune system to help combat infections, allergies, and exposure to toxins, and also regulating the digestive system, relieving lactose intolerance, and even IBS. Each bacterial strain has unique strengths, so most probiotic supplements include a variety of strains for maximum benefits.

Generally, probiotic supplements emphasize one of the types of probiotics. Depending on your own needs, one might be more beneficial to you than another, so the health benefits unique to these main types are listed below:

Health Benefits of Lactobacillus

  • Stimulates the immune system
  • Reduces symptoms of lactose intolerance
  • Prevents bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine
  • Provides some relief for antibiotic-induced diahrrea
  • Regulates bowel movements
  • Increases satiety (feelings of fullness)
  • Metabolizes body fat
  • Eliminates atopic eczema
  • Prevents and treats vaginitis
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Improves mineral absorption
  • Helps prevent colon cancer
  • Inhibits candida yeast growth

Health Benefits of Bifidobacterium

  • Stimulates the immune system
  • Prevents children's and traveller's diahrrea
  • Alleviates atopic eczema
  • Lowers the incidence of allergies
  • Prevents some forms of tumor growth
  • Inhibits candida yeast growth

Health Benefits of Escherichia Coli - Nissle strain

  • Stimulates immune system
  • Reduces symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Reduces symptoms of ulcerative colitis
  • Reduces symptoms of inflammatory bowel disorder (IBD)
  • Combats Crohn's disease
  • Combats celiac disease

Health Benefits of Saccharomyces Boulardii

  • Stimulates the immune system
  • Reduces symptoms of gastroenteritis
  • Reduces symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Reduces symptoms of inflammatory bowel disorder (IBD)
  • Reduces symptoms of ulcerative colitis
  • Helps prevent relapse of Crohn's Disease
  • Relieves traveller's diahhrea
  • Increases recovery from diahrrea of Stage IV AIDS patients

Yakult, a probiotic milk drink
Yakult, a probiotic milk drink

Side Effects of Probiotics

Probiotic supplements do not generally have any negative side effects.    Rarely, mild digestive discomfort, such as gas or bloating, has been reported, and theoretically probiotics could cause an infection.  You should always consult a doctor before beginning a probiotic regimen.

Foods Containing Probiotics

Probiotics are often found in fermented foods, such as acidophilius milk, some soft cheeses, cultured buttermilk, and sour cream. They are also found in soy products like tempeh and miso, as well as some soy beverages and juices. Increasingly, additional probiotics are being added to foods, like yogurt products DanActive and Activia.

Probiotics work well with prebiotic foods like artichokes, honey, oats, and fruit, which do not contain bacteria themselves, but which help support the growth of bacteria.

Probiotics' Journey Through the Body


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    • sailove profile image

      Anisley Smith 5 years ago from Los Angels, Canada

      Very Interesting - Thanking you very much Sharing the good Information

    • dreamsandreality profile image

      dreamsandreality 6 years ago from Brasil

      Very interesting!! Thanks for this good information

    • profile image

      Sarah 7 years ago

      I am taking antibiotics for a bad sinus infection. I am supposed to be taking it for 14 days and it's only day 8 and I have a yeast infection. Should I be taking probiotics at the same time as the antibiotics or wait until after?

    • profile image

      JanieK 8 years ago

      Thanks so much for the article. It's extremely helpful especially since yeast can be a big problem for women. Thanks again.

    • AndyBaker profile image

      AndyBaker 8 years ago from UK

      I have tried these thing before and they are OK for a while.

      Expensive though.

    • Sascha H profile image

      Sascha H 9 years ago from The Netherlands

      Wow, you are very very well informed! Thumbs up.

    • Earth Angel profile image

      Earth Angel 9 years ago

      Thank you sooooooooooooo much for the helpful information Maddie!! YOU are the BEST!! I am going to get my friend some Probiotics today!! I'm going to pick some up for myself as well!! Thanks again for the GREAT Hub!! Blessings always, Earth Angel!!

    • Maddie Ruud profile image

      Maddie Ruud 9 years ago from Oakland, CA

      Earth Angel:

      YES! Probiotics are great in the treatment of candidiasis. Candidiasis is a yeast (fungus) overgrowth, and probiotics work to restore the natural bacteria in your intestinal tract which inhibit the growth of candida, as well as boosting your immune system to fight off the infection. A combination of lactobacillus and bifidobacterium is best for treating candidiasis.

      Thanks for the question. Looks like I neglected to mention it in the hub itself--I'll go back and edit.

    • Earth Angel profile image

      Earth Angel 9 years ago

      GREAT Hub Maddie!!

      Thank you sooooooooooo much for the information!! Good and to the point!!

      A friend of mine suffers with candida - is a probiotic good or not so good for something like that??

      Blessings always, Earth Angel!!

    • Maddie Ruud profile image

      Maddie Ruud 9 years ago from Oakland, CA

      Good point, mistyhorizon2003. I never put much stock in food with probiotic additives. I eat regular low-fat yogurt, plenty of prebiotic foods, and take a 4 billion CFU probiotic supplement.

    • mistyhorizon2003 profile image

      Cindy Lawson 9 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands)

      An older friend (in his 70's), of my Husband's and mine, has recently been put on an intensive medication for medical reasons that is full of probiotics, and he was told the amount of probiotics provided in the small 'drinks', is not sufficient to make any difference to most people. In fact his dose is many times the amount contained in each bottle of the supermarket stuff. Worth knowing!

    • glycodoc profile image

      glycodoc 9 years ago

      Great video - Thanks for the information. this is one area that many people still need to understand better.