What Are Probiotics?

The good bacteria--and the products loaded with them--that can improve digestion and aid the immune system

To Your Health

What Are Probiotics?

Find out the five you should have on your shelf

-Susan Crandell

Eating yogurtA friend of mine who’s a chemist tells me we are not really a single organism called homo sapien. No, Jerry says, we should think of ourselves as a colony. Our bodies are teeming with bacteria, trillions of them, that live in very specific areas–in the mouth, on the skin, in the gut–and are minutely specialized. We all know about the bad guys–the ones that cause strep throat, MRSA and assorted other ills. What we don’t all know is probiotics, those white-hat bacteria that are essential to our well-being.

Recently, a slew of products (also sometimes called probiotics themselves) containing these positive bacteria have sprung up to aid certain ailments.

Probiotics can improve digestion, boost the immune system, even prevent cavities. Functional foods are ones that have been formulated to add back helpful bacteria that are destroyed during pasteurization.

These five (the first three are foods, the last two are supplements) have benefits that have been proven in scientific studies.

Dannon Activia yogurt (vanilla, strawberry, mixed berry, peach) contains bifidis regularis, which improves GI tract health and speeds the process of digestion, which can provide relief from bloating or constipation.

Yo-Plus yogurt (vanilla, strawberry, cranberry-raspberry, blackberry-pomegranate, blueberry acai, cherry, peach) contains Bifidobacterium lactis Bb-12, which boosts both immune system and digestive-system health, reducing transit time of wastes, just like Activia.

Dannon DanActive dairy drink (plain, vanilla, strawberry, blueberry, cranberry and raspberry) contains L. casei Immunitas, which helps the immune system and can shorten the duration of colds. It has also been shown to relieve or reduce diarrhea caused by taking antibiotics.

BioGaia chewable tablets, lozenges and drops contain Lactobacillus reuteri 55730, which improves gum health and can reduce cavities as well as ease antibiotic-associated diarrhea.

RepHresh Pro-B capsules contain Lactobacillus rhamnosus, which improves vaginal health and can ward off vaginal infections.

Probiotics may just be able to help you regulate digestion and boost immunity; at the very least, three of these are a healthy snack choice.

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