Skip to content
    Font Size
    A
    A
    A

    What Are Probiotics?

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

    Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are good for your health, especially your digestive system. We usually think of bacteria as something that causes diseases. But your body is full of bacteria, both good and bad. Probiotics are often called "good" or "helpful" bacteria because they help keep your gut healthy.

    Probiotics are naturally found in your body. You can also find them in some foods and supplements.

    Recommended Related to Digestive Disorders

    Queasy? Crampy? Bloated?

    By Janis Graham Stuffing? Check. Stiff drinks? Check. Stress? Check. 'Tis the season -- for stomachaches. "The holidays create a perfect storm for stomach problems because of all the eating, traveling, and partying," says Roger D. Mitty, M.D., chief of gastroenterology at Caritas St. Elizabeth's Medical Center in Boston. And women are especially vulnerable, since some gastrointestinal ills occur up to six times more often in women than in men. What's more, a recent survey found that during the holidays,...

    Read the Queasy? Crampy? Bloated? article > >

    It's only been since about the mid-1990s that people have wanted to know more about probiotics and their health benefits. Doctors often suggest them to help with digestive problems. And because of their newfound fame, you can find them in everything from yogurt to chocolate.

    How Do They Work?

    Researchers are trying to figure out exactly how probiotics work. Here are some of the ways they may keep you healthy:

    • When you lose "good" bacteria in your body (like after you take antibiotics, for example), probiotics can help replace them.
    • They can help balance your "good" and "bad" bacteria to keep your body working like it should.

    Types of Probiotics

    Many types of bacteria are classified as probiotics. They all have different benefits, but most come from two groups. Ask your doctor about which might best help you.

    Lactobacillus. This may be the most common probiotic. It’s the one you’ll find in yogurt and other fermented foods. Different strains can help with diarrhea and may help with people who can’t digest lactose, the sugar in milk.

    Bifidobacterium. You can also find it in some dairy products. It may help ease the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and some other conditions.

    What Do They Do?

    Probiotics help move food through your gut. Researchers are still trying to figure out which are best for certain health problems. Some common conditions they treat are:

    • Irritable bowel syndrome
    • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
    • Infectious diarrhea (caused by viruses, bacteria, or parasites)
    • Antibiotic-related diarrhea

    There is also some research to show they help with problems in other parts of your body. For example, some people say they have helped with:

    • Skin conditions, like eczema
    • Urinary and vaginal health
    • Preventing allergies and colds
    • Oral health

    Today on WebMD

    man holding his stomach
    Get the facts on common problems.
    blueberries in a palm
    Best and worst foods.
     
    woman shopping
    Learn what foods to avoid.
    fresh and dried plums
    Will it help constipation?
     
    diverticuliltis illustration
    Slideshow
    couple eating at cafe
    Article
     
    sick child
    Slideshow
    Woman blowing bubble gum
    Slideshow
     

    Send yourself a link to download the app.

    Loading ...

    Please wait...

    This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.

    Thanks!

    Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

    Woman with crohns in pain
    Slideshow
    Woman with stomach pain
    Slideshow
     
    diet for diverticulitis
    Video
    what causes diarrhea
    Video