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Benefits of Probiotic Foods: Using good bacteria for better health

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Benefits of Probiotic Foods: Using good bacteria for better health

In this information-packed guide, you’ll learn how probiotics can give your health a major boost. The latest research shows that probiotic foods may offer benefits against a range of health conditions, including allergies, arthritis, asthma, cancer, depression, heart disease, and gastrointestinal (GI) problems. Probiotics may even help with weight loss!  With this Harvard Medical School Guide, you’ll discover which probiotic foods are right for your health needs.

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You’ve heard about the “bad” bacteria that can make you sick. But did you know there are also “good” bacteria that can actually improve your health? These beneficial bacteria are called probiotics, from the Latin and Greek words meaning “for life.” Thanks to Benefits of Probiotic Foods, a just-published guide from the experts at Harvard Medical School, you’ll discover how probiotics can improve your life.

In this information-packed guide, you’ll learn how probiotics can give your health a major boost. The latest research shows that probiotics may offer benefits against a range of health conditions, including allergies, arthritis, asthma, cancer, depression, heart disease, and gastrointestinal (GI) problems. Probiotics may even help with weight loss!  With this Harvard Medical School Guide, you’ll discover which probiotics are right for your health needs.

Benefits of Probiotic Foods includes a helpful list of foods naturally loaded with probiotics, and easy recipes to boost your probiotic intake. The guide also explains what to look for in a probiotic supplement, in terms of quality and quantity of the bacteria, as well as the types of strains included. You also get a handy chart listing common probiotic supplement brands and the bacteria they contain, along with the number of bacteria per dose and other key information.

Prepared by the editors of Harvard Health Publishing in consultation with W. Allan Walker, M.D., Conrad Taff Professor of Nutrition and Director, Division of Nutrition, Harvard Medical School and Professor of Nutrition, Harvard, T.H. Chan School of Public Health (2021)

About Harvard Medical School Guides

Harvard Medical School Guides delivers compact, practical information on important health concerns. These publications are smaller in scope than our Special Health Reports, but they are written in the same clear, easy-to-understand language, and they provide the authoritative health advice you expect from Harvard Health Publishing.

  • Good vs. bad bacteria
    • The probiotic and antibiotic connection
  • Types of probiotics
  • Probiotics as a healer
    • Fecal transplantation: Another way to use good bacteria
    • Women, babies, and probiotics: What you need to know
    • Exercise and bacteria
    • Navigating the gut-brain axis
  • How to get more probiotics
    • Probiotics and the Western diet
    • Don’t forget your prebiotics and postbiotics
  • Recipes
  • Attaining a healthy gut
  • Resources

The probiotic and antibiotic connection

The relationship between antibiotics and gut microbiota is complex. Antibi­otics help fight infections and can control bacteria in your gut—both good and bad. But taking high amounts of antibiotics over a more extended period could disrupt the gastrointestinal system and deplete good as well as harmful bacteria.

Depletion of good bacteria from the use of antibiotics is a growing problem among older people, who are more susceptible to infections and may use antibi­otics frequently. In fact, a 2019 poll of 2,256 adults aged 50 to 80 found that half had used antibiotics within the previous two years.

Some doctors try to compensate for this possible bacteria depletion by recommending that patients increase their intake of probiotic foods like yogurt or kefir (see page 9) when using certain types of antibiotics. Another upside to taking probiotics while on antibiotics is that they can reduce diarrhea, a common side effect of some antibiotics.

Depending on the type of antibiotic, it may be best to take probiotics after the antibiotic treatment has ended rather than while you are taking it. Be sure to ask your doctor for advice.

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