Special Report

Everything You Need to Know About Taking Probiotics

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6. Probiotics are not safe for everyone

While probiotics are generally considered safe, a review of medical studies warns that reporting on possible side effects has been inadequate or incomplete. There are also concerns about the manufacturing of the live microorganisms as strict regulation is lacking because probiotics are sold as supplements, not drugs, and are not checked for safety by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

“Some people feel worse on probiotics because they already have too much bacteria digesting food,” Eitches said. People at higher risk of adverse effects, such as cramps and nausea, include those with compromised immune systems, cardiac valve disease, and short bowel syndrome, as well as premature infants.

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7. Probiotics and antibiotics

“I don’t really recommend probiotics unless you are really in a bad state [with leaky gut] or have been taking antibiotics for some time,” Place said. Antibiotics disrupt the gut flora, and weaken the protective barrier, resulting in an overgrowth of bad bacteria and pathogens. Probiotics help by replenishing the GI flora with nonpathogenic organisms. Probiotics have also been shown to prevent antibiotic-associated diarrhea. Separate research has found promising results for probiotics replacing or complementing antibiotic treatment for many diseases without serious health concerns.

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8. Probiotics and cholesterol

There is mounting evidence that probiotics can help reduce cholesterol levels. In 2012, a study showed a new probiotic, a specific Lactobacillus reuteri strain, lowered low-density lipoproteins (LDL) “bad” cholesterol by almost 12%. Additional research has shown three other specific strains that have significantly reduced total cholesterol. Probiotics supplements don’t appear to have an effect on high-density lipoproteins (HDL) “good” cholesterol.

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9. Probiotics and blood pressure

An increasing number of trials are focusing on probiotics and hypertension. Some studies show that they may help control blood pressure, but not by a lot and only if several species are taken for at least eight weeks. People with blood pressure higher than 130/85 benefit the most. Other research has shown a significant reduction in blood pressure, but there has been a lack of follow-up data.

Recently, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that a probiotic can help boost the beneficial bacteria in the gut that stop pro-inflammatory immune cells, which are linked to hypertension, from growing out of control.

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10. Probiotic foods you may want to try

Yogurt is perhaps the best known source of probiotics, followed by sauerkraut. To benefit from these probiotics it is important to choose the unpasteurized versions. The processed kind has already killed the good active bacteria you need for your gut. Other healthy probiotic foods include miso soup, kefir, kvass, sour pickles, tempeh, kimchi, and kombucha.