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When Can Probiotics Help?

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Evidence on the benefits of probiotics is building, and much of it is positive. Studies suggest that these natural remedies, which contain beneficial microbes, may help prevent or treat some digestive problems. They may also help regulate the immune system. They may even protect against common respiratory infections.

Probiotics come in many forms, including foods such as yogurt, capsules, powders, and liquids. The various foods and supplements contain one or more of dozens of different probiotic organisms. Each is thought to have its own benefits.

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So which probiotics may be right for your needs? Specific probiotic organisms appear to be effective for particular illnesses, so choosing the right kind is crucial. Many questions remain about the best way to take these remedies. But researchers say there is enough evidence to offer some guidance. Here are their recommendations.

Benefits of Probiotics for Infectious Diarrhea

The most convincing evidence for probiotics comes from studies of infectious diarrhea. In 2008, an expert panel at Yale University reviewed available evidence and gave an “A” grade to probiotics for the treatment of childhood infectious diarrhea.

“If you start children with infectious diarrhea on probiotics, you can shorten the length of the illness by 24 to 30 hours,” says Martin Floch, MD, a gastroenterologist at Yale University School of Medicine and consultant for the Dannon Company, who led the panel. “That may not seem like a lot. But if a child is suffering from severe diarrhea, it’s significant.”

Probiotics appear to be less effective at preventing infectious diarrhea, researchers say, although the evidence remains preliminary.

Organisms that may be helpful: Saccharomyces boulardii, Lactobacillus GG, and Lactobacillus reuteri

Probiotics to Prevent Antibiotic-Associated Diarrhea

As many as two in five children develop diarrhea after taking oral antibiotics. Many adults also develop diarrhea related to taking antibiotics. The reason: Because these powerful drugs target bacteria in general, they can disrupt populations of beneficial microbes.

Findings from several investigations show that probiotics taken before a course of antibiotics may help prevent antibiotic-associated diarrhea.

Organisms that may be helpful: Saccharomyces boulardii, Lactobacillus GG, combination of Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus bulgaricus, Streptococcus thermophilus

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