Probiotics are live bacteria and yeast that help aid in digestion and good health. While the body is teeming with all kinds of bacteria–both good and bad–probiotics are considered “helpful” bacteria for the role they play in overall gut health.

How do probiotics work?

The human digestive system contains a complicated ecosystem of microorganisms, aptly named “gut flora.”  With as many as a thousand different types of flora, including yeast, bacteria, and viruses, it’s no wonder that the ecosystem can fall out of balance from time to time.

When gut flora levels become unbalanced, the body is more susceptible to diseases and conditions like obesity, diabetes, heart disease, mental health issues, and digestive disorders. Probiotics help restore proper balance to gut flora and ensure that the digestive system functions as it should.

Types of probiotics

While lots of bacteria are categorized as probiotics, most of the commonly consumed probiotics fall within two main groups. A medical professional can help choose which probiotics will benefit digestive health the most, based on a variety of criteria for health, diet, and lifestyle.

Lactobacillus is the most common probiotic. It occurs naturally in many types of yogurt and fermented food and can help digest lactose and aid in persistent diarrhea.

Bifidobacterium, the other main group of probiotic, is found in many different dairy products. It helps manage and reduce the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and other digestive conditions.

Yeasts, like Saccharomyces boulardii can also help fight irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, diarrhea, and other digestive issues.

How to use probiotics safely

Probiotic companies, unlike drug companies, aren’t obligated to prove that their products are safe or effective. The FDA treats probiotics the same way they treat food–not medicine.

While most probiotics are safe for the majority of the population, some people with immune system deficiencies and other health issues shouldn’t take them. The best plan of action is to consult a qualified medical professional about probiotics before taking one for the first time.