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The Best Ways to Use Probiotics

By Mary Jo DiLonardo
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by David Kiefer, MD

If you’re ready to add probiotics to your diet, you have a lot of options.  Now that more research shows these "good bacteria" may help with digestive issues, you just need to know where to find them.

One common source is supplements -- they may be sold as tablets, capsules, powders, or liquids. Look for them in health food stores, grocery stores, pharmacies, and online.

Recommended Related to Digestive Disorders

Water: A Fluid Way to Manage Constipation

Chronic constipation -- when you can’t poop -- is a common digestive problem. You might have considered over-the-counter laxatives to “get things moving,” but you can do plenty to manage chronic constipation without taking medicine. One of the simplest ways is to drink plenty of fluids every day, eat dietary fiber, and exercise.

Read the Water: A Fluid Way to Manage Constipation article > >

You can also find probiotics in many common foods. Yogurt is the most well-known source of probiotics. They're also in other dairy items like buttermilk, some soft cheeses, fermented and unfermented milk, and kefir. Soy drinks and products like miso and tempeh have them. You can also find these healthy bacteria in kimchi, sauerkraut, and many pickles.

Which One Is Right for You?

Many types of bacteria are probiotics. Each has its own benefits, so talk to your doctor about which strain might best help you.

For example, different strains of the bacteria lactobacillus -- found in some yogurts -- can help with lactose intolerance and types of diarrhea.

Read the Label

If you choose yogurt or another dairy product, look on the label for the phrase "contains live active cultures" or "contains probiotics." Not all yogurt has live bacteria. It’s tasty, but frozen yogurt doesn't have live bacteria, so it doesn't have probiotics.

If you go with a supplement, know that the FDA regulates supplements but treats them like foods and not medications. Unlike drug manufacturers, supplement makers don’t have to show their products are safe or effective to sell them.

How a probiotic works can vary from brand to brand. That's why it's key to get as much info as you can before you buy. Here are some things you should be able to find on the label:

  • The genus, species, and strain of the probiotic (Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, for example)
  • The number of organisms that will be alive by the use-by date
  • The dose
  • The company name and contact information

If you can't find this on the label, you may be able to find it on the company's web site. While you’re there, look for studies there that back up the product's health claims.

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