Holistic Benefits of Probiotics

The facts that some bacteria can reduce symptoms of illness may be hard to swallow. Probiotics are foods and supplements that contain “helpful” bacteria–the same type that populate your intestines to ward off infection, says the Mayo Clinic. Probiotics may even give your immune system a boost. These supplements are in good graces with researchers, which have identified them as being beneficial for specific health concerns.

Probiotics and Antibiotics

Probiotics are often suggested for use whenever you’re taking oral antibiotics. The University of Michigan Health System explains that antibiotics kill off the bacteria that cause illness–but also take out the “good” bacteria as well. Probiotic supplements–capsules, powders or liquid formulations–can help repopulate your digestive tract with beneficial bacteria and reduce symptoms of antibiotic use, namely diarrhea, gas and stomach cramps.

Lactose Intolerance

Probiotics are also used to reduce symptoms associated with lactose intolerance, says the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. People with lactose intolerance lack an enzyme that permits them to process the sugars in milk and other dairy products.

Traveler’s Diarrhea

The Mayo Clinic states that probiotics are beneficial for some types of infectious diarrhea. Integrative physician Andrew Weil states that he takes probiotics when traveling underdeveloped countries to reduce his risk of traveler’s diarrhea. He advises checking the expiration date on your probiotic supplement to make sure that the bacteria are still alive. Mayo Clinic experts suggest using probiotic supplements that contain lactobacillus or Saccharomyces boulardii for this purpose.

Other Potential Benefits

The Mayo Clinic indicates that probiotics have been suggested for irritable bowel syndrome, as well as a way to prevent vaginal yeast infections and bladder infections. While there’s no conclusive evidence that shows probiotics are beneficial for these purposes, there’s no harm in taking them to be on the safe side. Some foods are natural probiotics–yogurt, miso, tempeh, soy products and kefir. However, both the Mayo Clinic and Dr. Weil agree that there are only a small amount of helpful bacteria in probiotic foods and recommend using supplements instead.

About this Author

Lisa Sefcik has been writing professionally since 1987. Her subject matter includes pet care, travel, consumer reviews, classical music and entertainment. She’s worked as a policy analyst, news reporter and freelance writer/columnist for Cox Publications and numerous national print publications. Sefcik holds a paralegal certification as well as degrees in journalism and piano performance from the University of Texas at Austin.