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Probiotics for Digestion: Questions for Your Doctor

Before you take a probiotic for your digestive problem, talk to your doctor about the pros and cons. Here’s what to ask.

1. Would probiotics help me?

Probiotics may work for some conditions but not others. Studies show that they can help infectious diarrhea, colitis caused by the bacteria C. difficile, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, and diarrhea caused by antibiotics. They may also help Crohn's disease, allergies, and some types of skin problems, but there’s no strong proof.

Your doctor can tell you if a probiotic is a good choice for your specific problem.

2. What are the benefits?

Probiotics aren’t a cure-all. They may help prevent disease, or they might only help after you’re sick. Tell your doctor about your symptoms and see what she suggests.

3. Are they safe?

Probiotics are generally OK. But they may cause problems for young children, seniors, and those with a serious illness or a weak immune system. If you decide to take them, make sure to tell your doctor.

4. Which are best for me?

There are many different probiotics. Some have just one helpful type of bacteria. Others are a mixture. But scientists have studied only a small number of them.

Choose one that has evidence it works. Ask your doctor which ones show promise for your condition.

5. How do I take them?

Probiotics come in many forms: capsules, powders, liquids, and foods like yogurt and dairy drinks. Your doctor may point you to a product that’s been tested and found work for your condition.

6. How much should I take?

To work well, probiotics must have enough good bacteria to allow them to grow in your intestines. The right dose varies for each product and for the condition you’re using them for. Some may not have as many helpful microbes as their labels say. Ask your doctor if she knows which products and how much of them are helpful.

7. How long should I use them?

That depends on the reason you’re taking them. You might take them while you’re on a course of antibiotics. Foods that contain probiotics, like yogurt, can be a regular part of your healthy diet. The effects of supplements last for just a few weeks after you stop taking them. If your doctor has prescribed them, follow her instructions. Otherwise, you’ll need to take them as long as you want to feel their benefits.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by David Kiefer, MD on December 24, 2014

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