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Are probiotics good for our health?

Dr Neha Sanwalka answers if probiotics are in fact healthy.

Written by Dr Neha Sanwalka |Updated : February 28, 2014 10:52 AM IST

ProbioticsProbiotics are the friendly bacteria which are naturally found in certain food items and also in our gut. There are many probiotic drinks in the market too which appeal people to drink it every day. But are they really needed for our health? We find out more on it from Dr Neha Sanwalka.

What are probiotics?

Probiotics also known as 'good bacteria' or 'helpful bacteria' are living microorganisms that are beneficial to our health. The human digestive tract contains about 400-500 types of good bacteria that reduce growth of harmful bacteria and promote a healthy digestive system. Lactic acid bacteria and bifido bacteria are the most abundant strains of bacteria in the human digestive tract and are most commonly used as probiotics. Some kinds of yeast are also used as probiotics. (Read how probiotics help women lose weight.)

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Health benefits of probiotics

  • Have shown to alleviate lactose intolerance
  • Enhance immunity
  • Help in the treatment of diarrhoea and Crohn's disease
  • Help in prevention and treatment of vaginal yeast infection and urinary tract infection
  • Have shown to reduce incidences of cancer especially bladder and colon cancer
  • Help in the prevention and treatment of eczema in children
  • Reduce severity of cold and flu
  • Prevent pouchitis (inflammation of intestines)

How do probiotics work?

Consumption of heavy dosage of antibiotics or long-standing infections disrupt the friendly microbial colonies in the digestive tract. Probiotics help restore the good microorganisms and improve the intestinal function.

Sources of probiotics

Curd/yoghurt (dahi) with live strain of bacteria is the most commonly consumed source of probiotics. Other foods include:

  • Fermented soy milk
  • Sauerkraut (fermented cabbage)
  • Kimchi (fermented vegetables)
  • Kefir or kewra (fermented product made from goat's milk and kefir grains)
  • Kombucha tea
  • Miso soup (a traditional Japanese soup)
  • Olives stored in brine
  • Home-made pickle

Some dark chocolates and probiotic fortified ice-creams are also sources. Other than naturally occurring probiotics, some probiotic-rich health drinks such as Yakult are also available in the market.

How safe are probiotics?

People across the globe of all age groups have been consuming foods rich in probiotics such as yoghurt for centuries. Probiotics consumption has not shown to have any side-effects or cause any illness. However, more studies are needed to evaluate the safety of probiotics in young children, elderly and people who have weak immune system.

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