Josephine P. Briggs, M.D.
Probiotics are gaining in popularity in the United States, and chances are you’ve heard about them as “good bacteria” or seen them advertised in your supermarket’s yogurt aisle. But what are probiotics, and do they have any real health benefits?
Probiotics are live microorganisms—bacteria, for example—that are either the same or similar to microorganisms found naturally in our bodies. Although we tend to think of bacteria as harmful “germs,” many bacteria actually help the body function properly. Probiotics are available as dietary supplements and in dairy foods, and our research tells us that probiotics are among the top five natural products used for children. It is important to note that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved any health claims for probiotics; however, there is some evidence that probiotics may be helpful for conditions such as acute diarrhea, antibiotic-associated diarrhea, and possibly atopic eczema.
There is information on NCCAM’s Web site about what the science says about the safety and effectiveness of probiotics. I encourage you to take a look at this information, particularly if you are considering a probiotic dietary supplement, and talk to your health care provider. As always, take care and be well!