Probiotics are living microorganisms, such as bacteria or yeast, which when administered in adequate amounts, offer health benefits. These health benefits include helping to relieve conditions such as diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, and even eczema in young children. Although probiotics can be taken as dietary supplements in pill form, they are also naturally-occurring in certain types of fermented foods such as yogurt and certain cheeses.

It may seem strange to think of ingesting live bacteria or yeast because we take antibiotics to fight bacteria, but these organisms are naturally occurring in our bodies, especially in the digestive tract.

Never Miss a Beat!

Get Healthy Tips Sent to Your Phone!

Message and data rates may apply. Text the word STOP to opt out and HELP for help. Click here to view the privacy and terms.

Why do People Take Probiotics?

The digestive system contains both “good” and “bad” bacteria. There must be the correct balance of good and bad bacteria in order to maintain optimal health. That balance can be upset by several things including:

  • Diet
  • Disease
  • Medications
  • Environment

Probiotics work by balancing the levels of microorganisms in the intestines, reducing the level of harmful bacteria, and boosting the immune system.

Although still ongoing, research suggests that they may be helpful in treating many conditions including:

Researchers are also studying them to determine if they may help other conditions such as:

However, more research is needed to confirm their effectiveness in treating these conditions.

What Type of Bacteria Should I Look For in a Probiotic?

Different strains of probiotics have been shown to provide different benefits. Some common strains you should look for are:

  • Lactobacillus acidophilus — studies have shown this may help reduce the side effects of antibiotic therapy and help replenish the beneficial bacteria that may have been killed by antibiotics.
  • Lactobacillus casei — may help treat several forms of diarrhea.
  • Bifidobacterium bifidum — may aid in the synthesis of vitamins in the intestines and protect the body from losing key nutrients as well as improving digestion and immunity.
  • Streptococcus thermophiles — can help with lactose intolerance by breaking down lactose into lactase, the enzyme that digests milk sugars.

Where Can I Find Probiotics and is there a Recommended Dosage?

Probiotics come in many forms including capsules, tablets, powders, liquids and foods like yogurt and sauerkraut. Some common foods that contain probiotics naturally include:

  • Yogurt
  • Sauerkraut
  • Miso soup
  • Gouda and other soft, fermented cheeses
  • Kefir
  • Sourdough bread
  • Buttermilk
  • Sour pickles

There is no set standard recommended dosage, nor is there a preferred form in which to take probiotics.

The amount of probiotic in each dosage is measured in colony-forming units (CFUs). Common dosages range from 10-20 billion CFUs per day for adults.

Talk with your doctor before beginning a probiotic regimen to determine the appropriate dosage for you and discuss any potential side effects or reactions with other medications you may be taking. If you believe you may be suffering from a stomach disorder, please visit the UPMC Digestive Health Care website or call 1-866-4GASTRO (4427876) to schedule an appointment.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

About Digestive Disorders

UPMC Digestive Health Care cares for a wide range of gastrointestinal (GI) conditions and diseases, from diagnosis to treatment. Whether your digestive condition is common or complicated, our experts can help. Upon referral from your physician, we coordinate your testing and treatment. If you have a complicated condition, we can refer you to one of UPMC’s digestive health centers of excellence. Find a GI doctor near you.