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Probiotics for Digestion: Questions for Your Doctor

Looking for a natural way to help your digestive problem? Probiotics -- sometimes called "good bacteria" -- may be an option for you. They live in your gut, where they help keep you healthy. But you can also find them in supplements and some foods.

Talk to your doctor about the pros and cons. Here's how to get the conversation started:

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1. Would probiotics help me?

They may work for some conditions but not others. Studies show they can help problems like:

  • Diarrhea from an infection
  • Colitis caused by the bacteria C. difficile
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • 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 work after you're sick. Tell your doctor about your symptoms and see what she suggests.

3. Are they safe?

They're generally OK, but they may cause problems for young children, seniors, and those with a serious illness or a weak immune system, your body's defense against germs. 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, while others are a mixture. 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. You may find them as capsules, powders, liquids, and foods like yogurt and dairy drinks. Your doctor may point you to a product that's been tested and shown to 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 use 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 take them. For instance, your doctor may ask you to use them only while you are treated with antibiotics. But 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.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by David Kiefer, MD on January 11, 2016

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