Can I take any probiotic?

Probiotics and gut-health are hot health topics, but what do probiotics do for you, and are they all the same?


Everyone has heard of probiotics – they’re in yoghurt and certain supplements, and you’ve been told to take them when you’re on a course of antibiotics. But what are they?

Probiotics are bacteria that help to maintain the natural balance of organisms in your intestines – also known as microflora.  The human digestive tract contains around 400 types of probiotic bacteria, and it’s their job to promote a healthy digestive system and reduce the growth of harmful bacteria.  The best-known of these is Lactobacillus acidophilus, found in yoghurt with live cultures.

What are probiotics used for?

Probiotics are used to prevent flatulence, cramping and diarrhoea.  Broad spectrum antibiotics kill “good” bacteria along with the bacteria that make us ill, but a decrease in these beneficial bacteria may lead to other infections, such as vaginal yeast and urinary tract infections, or symptoms such as diarrhoea from intestinal illnesses.  It is believed that taking probiotics may help replace the lost good bacteria.

Other uses

Probiotics have been shown to play a positive role in regulating your immunity, helping you to absorb nutrients, and the treatment of diarrhoea in both children and adults. Research has shown that only certain types of bacteria or yeast work in the digestive tract. It still needs to be proved which probiotics work to treat diseases. At this point, the special strains of probiotics that have been proved to work for a specific disease are not widely available.

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Use of probiotics is being studied for:

  • Helping to control immune response in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • Help in prevention of infections in the digestive tract

Probiotics are being studied for benefits in colon cancer, skin infections, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

How do I take probiotics?

Different strains of probiotics provide different benefits. If you have been prescribed a course of antibiotics, it’s important to ask your doctor about how and when to take probiotics, as they can interfere with the medication. Your pharmacist can also advise you when you are getting your antibiotic prescription filled.

Are probiotics safe?

Some probiotics have been used for most of human history, such as the kind you find in cultured milk products and fermented foods, and these don’t appear to cause illness. However, more research is needed on the safety of probiotics in people who have weak immune systems, young children and the elderly.  As with any supplement, discuss it with your doctor.

Joanne Hart for