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Should you take a probiotics supplement?

The word "bacteria" can often have a negative connotation, but did you know your body needs bacteria to function properly?

“In our gut and specifically in our colon, we have millions of bacteria that are absolutely necessary for a healthy lifestyle,” says Michael Galambos, M.D., a gastroenterologist at Piedmont.

These bacteria break down indigestible food products that make it through the small intestines. These products then release good fatty acids and vitamins into the body.

How probiotics benefit the body

The “good” bacteria offset the negative effects of “bad” bacteria.

“In the intestines, you have a variety of bacteria that normally co-exist with each other,” Dr. Galambos explains. “Good bacteria suppress the overproduction of toxic bacteria.”

For this reason, physicians are often cautious about overprescribing antibiotics, because these drugs kill not only the bad, but also beneficial bacteria. This imbalance can lead to bad bacteria overgrowing in the body’s system.

Do you need more probiotics?

The solution may be in the foods you eat or the supplements you take.  Some foods containing natural probiotics are yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, dark chocolate, miso soup, pickles and tempeh.

“More recently, we’ve learned you can counteract some of these antibiotic problems by consuming probiotics,” he says. “Probiotics are a group of microorganisms that are beneficial to the host.”

Health benefits of prebiotics 

Prebiotics, on the other hand, are food substances beneficial bacteria rely on for healthy growth. Some examples of prebiotic foods are artichokes, oats, barley, greens, garlic and legumes. A diet that contains probiotics-rich foods may relieve or eliminate gastrointestinal issues. Dr. Galambos says there is a wide variety of prebiotics and experts are in the infancy of understanding if the bacteria are beneficial in treating certain diseases and symptoms.

If you do not have gastrointestinal issues, consuming probiotics as a health supplement is not necessary, he says. However, if you are on antibiotics, taking a probiotics supplement is important to help establish healthy gut flora. For those with chronic gastrointestinal symptoms, “the routine use of probiotics can be beneficial and has been shown to reduce symptoms significantly.”

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