Probiotics are beneficial bacteria (sometimes referred to as "friendly germs") that help to maintain the health of the intestinal tract and aid in digestion. They also help keep potentially harmful organisms in the gut (harmful bacteria and yeasts) under control. Most probiotics come from food sources, especially cultured milk products. Probiotics can be consumed as capsules, tablets, beverages, powders, yogurts, and other foods.
Probiotics should not be confused with prebiotics. Prebiotics are complex sugars (such as lactulose, lactitol, a variety of fructo-oligosaccharides, and inulin) that are used as fuel by healthful bacteria to stimulate their growth and activity while suppressing the growth and activity of harmful organisms. Other foods that may support probiotic activity include Japanese miso, tempeh, kefir, raw milk, kombucha, bananas, garlic, and onions. When prebiotics and probiotics are combined in one product, it is called a synbiotic.
Probiotics are thought to work by colonizing the small intestine and crowding out disease-causing organisms, thereby restoring proper balance to the intestinal flora. They compete with harmful organisms for nutrients and may also produce substances that inhibit growth of harmful organisms in the gut.
Probiotic bacteria have been found to stimulate the body's immune system. They may also aid in several gastrointestinal illnesses, such as inflammatory bowel diseases, antibiotic-related diarrhea, Clostridium difficile toxin-induced colitis, infectious diarrhea, hepatic encephalopathy, irritable bowel syndrome, and allergies.
Probiotics have been found to enhance the digestion and absorption of proteins, fats, calcium, and phosphorus. They may also help overcome lactose intolerance and restore healthful bacteria after a course of antibiotic therapy has altered the normal gastrointestinal flora.
You should read product labels, and discuss all therapies with a qualified healthcare provider. Natural Standard information does not constitute medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
More Answers from Natural Standard, The Authority on Integrative Medicine