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Probiotics: Healthy or just hype?

June 10, 2018—If you've spent even a brief time in the yogurt aisle of a grocery store, you're probably aware of probiotics. Maybe, like millions of people, you've even used them. But how much do you really know about exactly what probiotics are—and how they might help or even hurt your health? Check your knowledge with these five facts.

1. They're "good" or friendly bacteria.

You might think of bacteria as harmful. But they can be beneficial too. And probiotics are live microorganisms—in most cases bacteria—that are similar to or the same as beneficial bacteria that are naturally found in the gut.

2. They're not only in yogurt.

You can find them in other foods too, such as kefir (a dairy drink), aged cheeses, supplements and even products that aren't taken orally—for example, skin creams and suppositories.

3. Your doctor may suggest them to help with digestive problems.

Emerging research suggests probiotics may help prevent diarrhea caused by infections and antibiotics. They might also improve irritable bowel symptoms. Still, there's a lot more to learn about them. For example, it's still not known what amount of probiotics you might need for digestive health benefits—or whether they might help other health problems, like hay fever, liver disease or tooth decay.

4. Not all probiotics are alike.

They may contain different types of helpful bacteria and have different health effects. Those effects may also vary from person to person.

5. For people who are generally healthy, they have a good safety record.

Side effects—if they occur at all—are typically mild digestive symptoms such as gas. But there have been reports of dangerous infections in people with underlying medical problems who use them. People most at risk include those who are critically ill, have weakened immune systems or are recovering from surgery, and very sick babies.

For safety's sake, always check with your doctor before taking a probiotic supplement, especially if you have health problems. And be sure to check with your child's doctor before giving your child a probiotic.

An animated green protein wearing a Probiotic name tag. Speech bubble reads: I'm not just in yogurt!

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