In order to be healthy, we need to put healthy things into our bodies – including healthy bacteria – such as probiotics. Probiotics are live microorganisms that can help promote a healthy digestive tract and immune system, in addition to preventing (and even treating) certain illnesses, including autoimmune diseases, urinary tract infections, and skin ailments. When your body doesn’t have enough healthy bacteria, or if you are suffering from an illness, this can change the balance of bacteria in your system and lead to some of these aforementioned digestive and health-related problems. By introducing probiotics, this changes the composition of the bacteria in the gut and pushes out the bad, preventing it from multiplying and leading to infections or inflammation.

The most common reasons why probiotics are recommended is when you are taking antibiotics. While antibiotics are helpful in getting rid of infections, they not only kill off the bad bacteria, but can also kill off the good bacteria. As a result, a common symptom associated with antibiotic use and a lack of healthy bacteria in the gut is diarrhea. This is why, in order to replenish the healthy bacteria and restore the healthy balance of your gut, you should use probiotics whenever you are on an antibiotic.

There are different strains of probiotics, each of which have a different effect on the body, and they include the following:

• B. animalis
• B. breve
• B. lactis
• B. longum
• L. acidophilus

The best way to increase your probiotic intake is through your diet – specifically from foods that are part of the dairy group, including yogurt and fermented cheeses (i.e. Swiss cheese, gouda, cheddar, mozzarella, parmesan, and cottage cheese.) Fermented vegetable products, such as pickles (pickled cucumbers), sauerkraut (shredded cabbage that has been fermented by lactic acid bacteria, and is a traditional European food), and miso (fermented soybeans), are also good dietary sources of probiotics. (**As a tip, if you are going to choose yogurt as your main probiotic source, it’s important to note that you should choose yogurt that contains active or live cultures on its list of ingredients.**)

If, for some reason, you cannot eat any of the aforementioned foods or don’t find them appealing, then you can also take a probiotic supplement. When choosing a product, be sure to look for supplements that contain live cultures, in addition to having a combination of different bacteria strains (a probiotic that contains multiple bacteria strains tends to be more effective.)

While most people generally tolerate probiotics well, some individuals can experience unpleasant side-effects such as an increase in gas and bloating – although these particular side-effects are usually only temporary. To reduce the development or severity of these side effects, it’s usually recommended that you first start with a lower dose and then slowly increase the dosage of your probiotic so that your body can better adjust. It’s also possible to develop headaches from certain probiotic-rich foods due to biogenic amines, which form when foods are aged or fermented. In this instance, keeping a good diary can be helpful to determine what foods you’re more sensitive to. If you’re having trouble with a probiotic supplement or certain foods, you can also bring this to the attention of your family physician for further advice.