Can Probiotics Really Help Your Health?

By Joyce Hendley, M.S., "Can Fermented Foods Really Help Your Health?," November/December 2010

Health benefits of fermented foods.

Reams of research have looked into the health effects of probiotic (“good”) bacteria that ferment our foods. But most of these trials test specific strains of bacteria delivered in supplement form—or via a heavily fortified food, such as a yogurt that bills itself as probiotic-enhanced. (All yogurts contain probiotics; some manufacturers add large amounts of specific strains of probiotics associated with certain health benefits.) These probiotic strains are often patented by the manufacturers who paid for the research. Sometimes the products tested are prototypes that aren’t yet available to consumers. For example, a preliminary study published in a 2010 issue of European Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that a fermented milk drink fortified with a strain of bacteria called Lactobacillus gasseri, or LG2055, might help people to lose belly fat.

But we can’t buy this drink—nor can we assume that other strains of probiotics might offer similar benefits to LG2055.

So what does research actually say about the probiotics in foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi? We sift through the science.

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