Probiotics are beneficial bacteria (sometimes referred to as "friendly germs") that help to maintain the health of the intestinal tract and aid in digestion. They also help keep potentially harmful organisms in the gut (harmful bacteria and yeasts) under control. Most probiotics come from food sources, especially cultured milk products. Probiotics can be consumed as capsules, tablets, beverages, powders, yogurts and other foods.
Probiotics should not be confused with prebiotics. Prebiotics are complex sugars (such as lactulose, lactitol, a variety of fructo-oligosaccharides and inulin) that are used as fuel by the healthful bacteria to stimulate their growth and activity while suppressing the growth and activity of harmful organisms. Other foods that support probiotic activity include Japanese miso, tempeh, kefir, raw milk, kombucha, bananas, garlic and onions. When prebiotics and probiotics are combined in one product, it is called a synbiotic.
Probiotics work by colonizing the small intestine and crowding out disease-causing organisms, thereby restoring proper balance to the intestinal flora. They compete with harmful organisms for nutrients and may also produce substances that inhibit growth of harmful organisms in the gut.
Probiotic bacteria have been found to stimulate the body's immune system. They may also aid in several gastrointestinal illnesses such as inflammatory bowel diseases, antibiotic-related diarrhea, Clostridium difficile toxin-induced colitis, infectious diarrhea, hepatic encephalopathy, irritable bowel syndrome and allergy.
Probiotics have been found to enhance the digestion and absorption of proteins, fats, calcium and phosphorus. They may help overcome lactose intolerance. Finally they may help restore healthful bacteria after a course of antibiotic therapy has altered the normal gastrointestinal flora.
AB-yogurt, acidophilus, acidophilus milk, antibiophilus, bacillus, Bifidobacteria, Bifidobacterium animalis ssp. lactis (BB-12), Bifidobacterium DN-173 010, Enterococcus, Enterococcus faecium M-74, escherichia, fermented soymilk, flora, fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS), Helicobacter pylori, L. acidophilus milk, L. acidophilus yogurt, lactic acid bacteria, Lactobacillaceae (family), lactobacilli, Lactobacillus, Lactobacillus casei DN-114 001, Lactobacillus casei shirota, Lactobacillus coryniformis CECT5711, Lactobacillus gasseri CECT5714, Lactobacillus johnsonii LA1, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1, Lactobacillus paracasei ssp. paracasei (CRL-431), Lactobacillus reuteri B-54 and RC-14, lacto bacillus, Lakcid L, oligofructose, oral bacteriotherapy, prebiotic, Saccharomyces boulardii, VSL#3, yogurt.
Note: There are many other related terms that identify specific varieties or forms of probiotics. Many such terms are used in the naming of commercial probiotic products.
Note: Do not confuse probiotics with prebiotics (defined separately below).