Are probiotics and prebiotics the path to a healthy gut?

If you have problems with your digestion, someone may suggest that probiotics could help you. They could be right.


Probiotics are a type of bacteria that help maintain the natural balance of organisms in your stomach and intestines. There are hundreds of these in a healthy digestive tract. Some types of probiotics discourage the growth of harmful bacteria, while others promote good digestion, boost immune function, and increase resistance to infections.

Your health care provider may suggest that you take a probiotic during and after a course of antibiotics since antibiotics can destroy the “good” bacteria in your gut and probiotics may help restore the balance. Another common use of probiotics is to prevent diarrhea.


Prebiotics are also important, but for a different reason. They are the food that the probiotic bacteria need to grow and stay healthy. They’re found in food fibers that we can’t digest in foods such as bananas, oats, legumes, beans, berries, garlic, onions, asparagus, and flaxseeds.

How to find probiotics

Foods that have beneficial probiotics include:

  • Yogurt (check labels to be sure the yogurt has active or live cultures)
  • Some soft cheeses including gouda
  • Fermented foods such as kimchi and sauerkraut
  • Kefir, a fermented milk drink

Probiotics are also available as supplements, but not all probiotic supplements are the same. Read labels carefully and be aware that probiotics are regulated as a food, not as a drug. If in doubt, ask your health care provider whether you would benefit from a probiotic, and which type is best for your condition. As with all supplements, tell your provider if you are taking a probiotic supplement.

While probiotic supplements are generally considered safe for adults, more research is needed on whether they are safe for young children, the elderly, and people who have weak immune systems. Talk to your doctor for more information on probiotics and if they are right for you.

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