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Should you be pro probiotics?

You've probably heard of probiotics, especially if you spend any time in the yogurt aisles of supermarkets. But what are they exactly? Are they good for your health? And should you join the millions of Americans who already take them?

To answer those questions, here's a primer and some thoughts from Dr. Elsbeth Lo, a family practice doctor at Adventist Health’s Clackamas office.

What are probiotics?

First, most probiotics are live cultures of microorganisms. These bacteria and yeasts may help those naturally found in your gut. These microorganisms help your body function properly and may improve digestion, your immune system and even your moods.

You can find probiotics not only in yogurt but also in other fermented dairy products like kefir and aged cheeses. Other fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, miso and tempeh contain probiotics. Dietary supplements are another source.

Benefits and uses of probiotics

And what about their health benefits? Some may ease the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome or lactose intolerance. There's evidence that some probiotics may help prevent diarrhea caused by infections or antibiotics.

Dr. Lo suggests otherwise healthy patients take a daily dose of probiotics while on antibiotics, making sure to take the probiotic at a different time. Continue for a week after completing antibiotics. This may also help prevent antibiotic-related yeast infections.

For viruses that cause any stomach upset, vomiting or diarrhea, Dr. Lo suggests taking probiotics one to two times a day until symptoms resolve. This can lessen your symptoms and shorten how long they last.

Another great time to add probiotics to your daily routine is during cold and flu season. This is an easy way to help your immune system fight these seasonal illnesses.

Cautions about probiotics

It’s important to note the U.S. Food and Drug Administration only approves health claims for products regulated as drugs, not supplements. And more research is needed to be sure how probiotics may — or may not — boost health.

Be sure to check with your primary care doctor or nurse practitioner before taking any probiotic supplement. They have a good safety record in generally healthy people. But they may cause severe side effects in people with serious health problems.

If you need a primary care provider, call us 503-261-6929. Dr. Lo is one of several providers taking new patients.