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3. What Should I Look for on the Label of a Food Containing Probiotics?

The first thing you want to look for is the full probiotic name, which includes the genus, species, and then the strain. Many products containing probiotics list only the genus and species on the package, such as "bifidobacterium lactis" in Kraft’s LiveActive Cheddar Cheese Sticks.

You might want to check out the web site of the company that sells the product. It may tell you more about:

  • The strain used in the product.
  • How much of the probiotic each serving of the product contains.
  • The research that suggested a health benefit from the probiotic in question, and the amount of probiotic that was used in the research.

4. Are probiotic supplements worthwhile?

Sanders believes that probiotics can be effective when consumed either in food or pill form.

"Food sources of probiotics have the advantage in that they offer good nutrition along with the probiotic bacteria," she says. Still, supplements can be more convenient for some people and may provide higher levels of probiotic, depending on the product in question, she says.

"The most important consideration is that the product -- food or supplement -- deliver adequate numbers of efficacious probiotics for your needs," Sanders says.

5. Are Probiotics Safe for Everyone?

People who are acutely ill or who have a compromised immune system should be cautious about consuming probiotic products and supplements. Researchers are still trying to figure out which types of disease and illnesses should preclude the use of probiotics.

Although no studies have shown probiotics to be harmful in healthy people, Barry Goldin, MS, PhD, a professor at Tufts University School of Medicine, says terminally ill cancer patients and people with conditions with the potential for leaky bowels, including acute pancreatitis, should NOT consume probiotics.

Just to be safe, tell your doctor if you’re thinking about taking (or eating) probiotics regularly.

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