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.

Better Digestion?

When milk is fermented to make yogurt or kefir, it’s easier to digest in general: the bacteria that do the fermenting remove most of the lactose (milk sugar) so that alone makes these products easier for people with lactose intolerance to handle without stomach upset. Yogurt might also prevent gastrointestinal distress by helping to restore populations of healthy bacteria knocked out of balance by antibiotic treatment. In one study of 202 hospitalized patients receiving antibiotics, those who were given a twice-daily cup of yogurt were half as likely to develop diarrhea than those who had no yogurt.

But beyond GI upset associated with antibiotics, there’s little research that shows standard yogurts improve other digestive problems like constipation or Irritable Bowel Syndrome. There is some evidence, however, mostly from their manufacturers, that probiotic-enhanced yogurts, such as Activia and Yo-Plus, can help reduce such symptoms. “Regular” yogurt might help with these conditions, too, “but it just hasn’t been studied the way some probiotic[-enhanced] yogurts have,” says Mary Ellen Sanders, Ph.D., an internationally recognized probiotic microbiologist and consultant. If you have a specific digestive problem, you might consider looking for a probiotic-enhanced product that advertises that it contains strains of bacteria shown to be helpful for your condition.

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