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Q. Do probiotics really work?

A. Probiotics are “friendly” bacteria found in the gut that help us digest foods and fight harmful bacteria. They also include live, active cultures used to ferment foods like yogurt and sauerkraut. Reputed to improve digestion and boost immunity, foods that contain probiotics have been appearing more and more on supermarket shelves. First came yogurt enhanced with special probiotic strains. But the trend has spread quickly, and now cottage cheese, energy drinks, snack bars and cereals advertise high levels of beneficial bacteria too.

The good news is that advances in food processing make it likely that probiotics get to the gut where they can tip the balance of bacteria in a healthy direction. “Companies have developed technologies that allow bacteria to resist the temperatures and pressures of manufacturing as well as the heat and acidity in the stomach,” says Ralph Felder, M.D., Ph.D., author of just-out The Bonus Years Diet (Putnam).

The bad news is that there are thousands of probiotic strains; only a handful have been clinically tested. Manufacturers don’t always list the strain, or amount, of bacteria added. Plus, individuals respond differently to various strains, so what works for one person may not work for another, says Jeannie Moloo, Ph.D., R.D., spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.

If you’d like to try probiotic products, your best bet is yogurt with a “Live & Active Cultures” seal (regulated by the National Yogurt Association), which marks a product that meets a specified level of “friendly” bacteria. The absence of a seal doesn’t mean a probiotic-enhanced food is ineffective (only yogurts are eligible), and often it pays to test several. “If one isn’t providing benefits after a couple of weeks, try another,” suggests Moloo.

COMMENTS POSTEDsort icon

I have been taking a probiotic from cvs pharmacy and it is a hard golf bb sized pill. It has done wonders for me. I'm a career dieter and actually stopped working out so I would not continue to lose weight. I still manage to maintain my weight with little to no effort. Daily I take a 1.5billion cells probiotic, one activia and eat a fiber bar.

Anonymous

03/22/2013 - 10:23am

Before someone can answer yes or no to "does it work" we have to first define what "working" is. It's my understanding that probiotics are harmless to humans but also kill harmful bacteria in the gut keeping the gut flora in balance. I personally don't see why you would require 1 billion+ when bacteria multiplies every 20 minutes or so and I don't see what benefit taking it daily will do if you are taking the same probiotic over and over, the first time you take the probiotic it's in you, it grows, it lives within you multiplying over and over, to continue taking the same probiotic over and over just seems a waste of money and resources.

Anonymous

07/11/2013 - 2:35am

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