September 2013

Considering Probiotics?

You might have noticed “probiotics” listed on the label of your yogurt. Maybe you’ve seen probiotic pills on store shelves next to vitamins or other supplements.

Probiotics are live microbes, such as bacteria, similar to those found naturally in the human body. We tend to think of microbes as harmful, but certain kinds are good for us and help the body to function properly.

Probiotics are found in some foods or are taken by mouth as dietary supplements. Probiotics also come in other products, such as creams.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration hasn’t approved any health claims for probiotics. Although some products have shown promise, there’s little evidence to support specific uses of probiotics for most conditions.

Some evidence suggests that probiotics may relieve diarrhea, ease irritable bowel syndrome and reduce symptoms of atopic eczema, an itchy skin condition usually seen in infants. Probiotics generally have few side effects, but there’s little data about their long-term safety.

Talk with your health care provider before taking probiotics for a health condition. These products contain different types of bacteria, and their effects on the body can vary from person to person. Probiotics might cause serious side effects in people with underlying health conditions. To learn more, visit NIH’s Probiotics Web page.