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Breaking Down the Pros and Cons of Probiotics

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The latest health craze is all about probiotic in supplements and in food. But what exactly are they? NY1's Jill Urban filed the following report.

We see them everywhere. From yogurt to supplements to baby food, probiotics seem to be in everything. But what exactly are they?

"The human gut is full of billions of bacteria. Some are good and some are bad," says Dr. Christine Frissora of NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. "A probiotic introduces good bacteria into the gut to try to get the ratio into a favorable state."

There are several different types of probiotics with names we can hardly pronounce. So to help digest all this information, we asked Frissora to break down a few.

For example, saccharomyces boulardii can help prevent c-diff if you have to take an antibiotic," she says. "The bifidal bacteria can help people who suffer from constipation, and the VSL3 helps patients with colitis and diarrhea."

Some are designed to help boost the overall immune system.

OK, so who should take them and when? Well, for one, if you have certain conditions, or if you're on antibiotics, your doctor may suggest a probiotic supplement to maintain balance in your digestive tract. But for some people, these supplements can be dangerous.

"Probiotics are not good for patients who are taking medications that interfere with their immune system," Frissora says. "They can be dangerous in patients who are elderly, chronically ill or who have diabetes."

She warns that probiotic supplements are not regulated, which means what you see may not always be what you get. So she recommends asking your doctor first if you should take them, and if so, which brands can be trusted.

Also, she says that most healthy people don't need a probiotic supplement. If you are just looking for a little digestive relief, she says it's safer to take a prebiotic, which is found naturally in foods we eat.

"A prebiotic is a substance like banana or honey that feeds the bacteria in the human body," Frissora says. "It's not as strong as a probiotic, but it would be safe for people who cannot take them."

So if you want to give your belly a good bacteria boost, don't give into the hype. First, check with your doctor to understand the pros and cons of probiotics.

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