Probiotics can help the army of good bacteria in your tummy

You may have seen “probiotic” on food labels and wondered if that’s something you should be adding to your diet.

Probiotics, taken as a supplement or ingested through food like Greek yogurt, are one of the latest health trends and experts claim they give the body and digestive system a needed boost.

To offer guidance, Lynya Floyd, health director of Family Circle magazine, and Kristin Kirkpatrick, a wellness expert at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, answered questions about probiotics on TODAY Tuesday.

What is a probiotic?

Kirkpatrick: A probiotic is a live microorganism that actually promotes the good bacteria in our digestive system.

Since we already have good bacteria in our systems, do we really need to be taking more?

Kirkpatrick: Yes. If we think about our digestive system as a battleground, we have bad bacteria. We have good bacteria. We want the good bacteria to outnumber the bad bacteria. We want that army to be a lot bigger, and that helps to promote some of these health benefits that we’re seeing. So absolutely, we should be taking them because of these health benefits.

Just what are the health benefits?

Floyd: We know that probiotics can absolutely help us with some gastrointestinal issues, the diarrhea, the constipation that can come with certain ailments. We know it can help boost your immune system. 

Are they a miracle cure for other conditions?

Floyd: Those claims are not backed up by research. “You’ll see claims for things like helping you lose weight or even helping to fight cancer. “We don’t have enough information for that kind of thing yet.”

Does it matter which probiotic I take?

Floyd: Yes, because there are many different strains of probiotics. You want to take the strain that is going help with the particular condition that you’re trying to target.

If I don’t want to take a pill to add probiotics, can I add them through my diet?

Yes, through fermented and pickled foods, including sauerkraut, yogurt, kimchi and miso.

What should I look for on the label?

The phrase “live and active cultures,” because if the probiotic is not alive, you won’t get the health benefits.

Kirkpatrick: You want to make sure the probiotic was added after the pasteurization, after that heating process, because that’s the only way for it to survive.

Are probiotics for everyone?

People with compromised immune systems or premature babies should speak to their doctors before adding a probiotic supplement.

Kirkpatrick: Other than that, we should all be including these in our diets. And they happen to be in very healthy foods.

Lisa A. Flam is a news and lifestyles reporter in New York. Follow her on Twitter.