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What are probiotics and should you take them?

These days, it seems that everyone is recommending particular diets to improve your health. And, lots of people, including Consumer Reports, are recommending probiotics, such as dark chocolate, greek yogurt, kimchi and sauerkraut.  What are probiotics and should you take them?

According to the National Institutes of Health, probiotics are microorganisms similar to good bacteria in our guts. It warns that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any health claims about the benefits of probiotics.

There is some evidence that probiotics can benefit people with diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome. But, there is more research needed. Benefits have not been shown conclusively, and it’s not clear which, if any, probiotics are beneficial.

The data suggest that side effects of consuming probiotic foods and drinks are few for people who are relatively healthy. But people who are critically ill with weak immune systems or post surgery could experience severe side effects, including infections.

The NIH warns against taking probiotic dietary supplements, marketed like vitamins as capsules or tablets, without first talking to your doctor. They are not regulated by the FDA and it’s not always clear what ingredients they contain.

[Editor’s note: New studies reported in StatNews continue to warn against taking probiotic supplements. They also suggest probiotics may not be good for your immune system. Findings from one small study show that people taking probiotic supplements who were also getting cancer immunotherapy treatment for melanomas were far less likely to respond to the treatment. Eating more fiber appeared to help people respond to immunotherapy treatment.]

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