Do you need to take probiotics?

March 11, 2019 | by Priya Jimmy, M.D.
Categories: Healthy Driven Life

It’s true, you need bacteria in your body.

It’s already there. Bacteria, good and bad, live in your body. The good bacteria help keep you healthy — by supporting your immune system, helping to prevent infection and keeping bad bacteria at bay.

However, bad bacteria can get in and cause disease. Antibiotics can clear out bad bacteria, but usually end up taking out a lot of the good bacteria, too. This is where probiotics can help. 

Probiotics are live microorganisms that promote a healthy balance of gut bacteria. You can get more of these beneficial bacteria in your body by eating certain foods or taking supplements.

How can you tell if you need to take a probiotic? Even when taking antibiotics, most people don’t need a probiotic supplement. If you’re eating a healthy diet, you will support the good bacteria in your body through the foods you eat.

Also, taking supplements when you don’t need them could upset the balance of good and bad bacteria in your gut, leaving you feeling sick.

Other times, some type of probiotic is needed to feel better. For example, when too many bacteria growing in your gut leads to Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

In general, there are ways you can help maintain the good bacteria in your body:

  • Eat fermented foods. Good bacteria can be found in foods such as pickles, sauerkraut, some types of yogurt and miso.
  • Take antibiotics sparingly. Using antibiotics too frequently can lower the number of good bacteria in your body.
  • Take probiotic supplements recommended by your doctor. Like vitamins, it’s better to replenish your good bacteria with the food you eat. Sometimes, however, a probiotic supplement can help balance your gut bacteria. This can help people with conditions such as IBS or Crohn’s disease. Ask your physician whether probiotics would help your specific condition.
  • Put prebiotics on your menu. Prebiotics are foods that “feed” the good bacteria in your gut. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains are components of a healthy diet and help maintain your good bacteria.

If you have a gastrointestinal issue, discuss it with your primary care physician. He or she will be able to recommend the correct type of probiotic to help you feel better.

Dr. Priya Jimmy is an internal medicine physician with Elmhurst Clinic. View her profile and schedule an appointment online.

The gastroenterologists at Edward-Elmhurst Health are experts in diagnosing and treating digestive health issues. Learn more.

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