Spirit of Women magazine is a national publication presented to women by hospitals and their physicians. The magazine provides up-to-date, evidence-based healthcare information and promotes our hospitals as leaders in women's health excellence.
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29 S H A R I N G Health Secrets SHUTTERSTOCK "Probiotics are live 'good' bacteria— microorganisms that work inside the intestinal tract to help digest food. They also produce certain vitamins and compounds we can use," says Dr. Dena Sheppard-Madden, a family physician affiliated with McKee Medical Center in Loveland, Colo. Probiotic bacteria can be grown in labs and sold as dietary supplements or added to foods, such as yogurt. You'll frequently see them listed on food labels with names such as S. thermophilus, L. Bulgaricus, L. Acidophilus, Bifidus, and L. Casei. A: Q: A: Q: Can consuming foods with probiotics be harmful? Possibly. "Eating yogurt with probiotic bacteria to prevent GI symptoms, such as diarrhea caused by rotovirus, can make symptoms worse," says Dr. Mike DeWeerd, a family physician with Spectrum Health Gerber Memorial in Fremont, Mich. That's because this common tummy bug can cause a temporary bout of lactose intolerance, and lactose is a sugar found in dairy products like yogurt. By itself, lactose intolerance can cause symptoms such as gas and bloating. If you have diarrhea or you're lactose intolerant, "I would recommend taking a probiotic supplement instead of eating yogurt," says Dr. DeWeerd. In general, if you can't tolerate dairy products, probiotic supplements are a viable way of getting probiotics, provided they're responsibly formulated. A: Q: So why would I need to consume probiotics? Your colon (large intestine) naturally contains healthful bacteria—and harmful bacteria that could make you sick. "If you have lots of good bacteria, the bad bacteria don't have a chance to grow," says Dr. Sheppard-Madden. Beneficial bacteria in the colon can be depleted when you take antibiotics or when you suffer from certain conditions such as diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), C. diff (a gut infection caused by overgrowth of the bacterium), and ulcerative colitis, a chronic colon infection. Taking probiotic supplements or eating foods containing probiotics may help restore the balance of good bacteria. Still, more research needs to be done to pinpoint the effects of probiotics. For that reason, "I only recommend probiotics to my patients in certain instances, such as C. diff and IBS," says Dr. Ashudosh Gupta, a gastroenterologist with Medical Center Health System, Odessa, Texas. The real truth about probiotics What are probiotics? To send a health question to "Sharing Health Secrets," please email email@example.com or write to Sharing Health Secrets, Spirit of Women magazine, 4270 Ivy Pointe Boulevard, Suite 220, Cincinnati, OH 45245. A: Q: If I'm healthy, will adding probiotics benefit me in any way? Overall, the jury is still out on whether probiotics can truly help re-establish and nurture your colon's crop of beneficial bacteria. Until there's more evidence, many physicians are cautious. "I don't routinely recommend probiotics for my patients, even for those I prescribe antibiotics to," says Dr. DeWeerd. Sharing Health Secrets