What are probiotics?  

Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that live in the body. Probiotics are often called “good” or “helpful” bacteria because they help keep your gut and body healthy. Often, probiotics help defend the body from infections caused by unfriendly bacteria or other germs. Probiotics are naturally found in your body. Products sold as probiotics include foods (such as yoghurt), dietary supplements, and products that aren’t used orally, such as skin creams.

Probiotics may contain a variety of microorganisms. The most common are bacteria that belong to groups called Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Each of these two broad groups includes many types of bacteria. Other bacteria may also be used as probiotics, and so may yeasts such as Saccharomyces boulardii.

Do probiotic pills help improve health?

Researchers have studied probiotics to find out whether they might help prevent or treat a variety of health problems, the evidence is conflicting; however, they have been used in:

  • Diarrhoea that is caused by infections or antibiotics.
  • They may also help with symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease
  • Allergic disorders such as atopic dermatitis (eczema) and allergic rhinitis (hay fever)
  • Urinary tract infection and vaginal yeast infection
  • The common cold

However, not all probiotics have the same effect. For example, if a specific kind of Lactobacillus helps prevent an illness, that doesn’t necessarily mean that another kind of Lactobacillus would have the same effect or that any of the Bifidobacterium probiotics would do the same thing. Scientists think more research is needed. Although a great deal of research has been done on probiotics, much remains to be learned.

What are the downsides to taking probiotics?  

In general, probiotic foods and supplements are thought to be safe for most people, though some people with immune system problems or other serious health conditions should not take them because serious complications such as infections have occasionally been reported. Unlike drug companies, makers of probiotic supplements do not have to show their products are safe or that they work, much remains to be learned regarding their short and long-term effect on our health.