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Should You Be Taking Probiotic Supplements? Here's What You Need to Know

Our bodies are filled with bacteria, but probiotics are often considered to be the “good” bacteria, which aids the digestive system. Probiotics can be found naturally in some foods, like yogurt, kefir, and pickles, but there are also a variety of dietary supplements on the market, but, should you be taking them?

According to Harvard Medical School, the answer to that question is not really black-and-white, because while taking these supplements may help healthy people, they aren’t “formally recommended.” Infectious disease specialist Dr. Patricia Hibberd explained why this is, saying, "They can be helpful in some cases, but we have relatively few studies to tell us if and when they are safe and effective for older adults."

Our bodies contain microbes that are considered to be both “good” and “bad” and sometimes the balance can be disrupted due to poor health, lack of nutrition, aging, and disease. When the levels of “bad” bacteria are higher, this can cause a number of health issues, and probiotics have been recommended for boosting immune health, reducing blood pressure, improving glucose control and reducing symptoms associated with gastrointestinal disorders, The Conversation reports. But Harvard Medical School notes that there is little evidence to document that this works, especially in older individuals.

It also seems that much of the scientific research has been conducted on people with existing medical conditions. So, the question should really be, should you take probiotics as a healthy individual?

There is little evidence on this subject, although The Conversation notes that a study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition has been found to reduce abdominal discomfort, boost the immune system and possibly decrease the frequency of the common cold, as well as increase good bacteria in and around the vagina. However, the positive results seem to be short-lived and once you stop taking the supplements, the effects will wear off.

Another consideration is the number of supplements on the market, not all of which have been studied extensively. The FDA also does not monitor probiotics because they are considered supplements and not drugs.

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