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What is Probiotic Therapy?

By J.M. Densing
Updated May 17, 2024
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Probiotic therapy is the practice of ingesting beneficial live microorganisms, also known as probiotics, as a dietary supplement in order to receive the purported health benefits. Probiotics are often referred to as live cultures and are similar in nature to naturally occurring "friendly bacteria" present in the human digestive system. They are present in a variety of foods as well as available as manufactured supplements. The use of probiotic therapy is still being studied, but it is thought to enhance overall wellness and to be helpful with a variety of ailments.

The live microorganisms used in probiotic therapy are most often bacteria, but some yeasts also have probiotic benefits. Common probiotic bacteria include Lactobacillus acidophilus, and Bifidobacterium bifidus; beneficial yeast is called Saccharomyces boulardii. These organisms are extremely similar to beneficial bacteria that aid in human digestion and are found naturally in the digestive system. The human body is host to numerous strains of friendly bacteria that are important for digestion as well as immune system development and functioning.

The practice of probiotic therapy is often called live culture supplementation. On food and supplement labels, the term "live and active cultures" is an indication that probiotic microorganisms are present. They occur naturally in many foods like yogurt, miso, juices, unfermented and fermented milk, soy drinks, and tempeh. They are also available as supplements in tablet and powder form. Probiotics can usually be added safely to a healthy diet in moderation using food sources, but it's recommended to consult a doctor before using supplement forms.

The use of probiotic therapy is thought to assist with digestion and to help support the immune system in fighting off illness. Probiotics are also often recommended to help repopulate the body with beneficial bacteria following antibiotic treatment. Antibiotics often kill friendly bacteria as well as those that cause illness, which can lead to unpleasant symptoms that probiotics can help to relieve. Another commonly recommended use of probiotics is to help to prevent or relieve yeast infections by increasing the good bacteria that keeps the natural yeast population in certain areas of the body under control.

Probiotic therapy is also credited with many other health benefits, although these uses are still being studied. Some of these benefits include regulation of the digestive system and the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). It is also thought that probiotics might be able to prevent or relieve childhood eczema, prevent or shorten the duration of colds and flu, preclude vaginal infections, and even prevent tooth decay. Research into these uses of probiotics is ongoing but appears promising.

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