The literal translation of the word probiotics is "for life." But just what are probiotics, how are they helpful in maintaining digestive health, and how can they be included in daily diets?

Probiotics Defined

The normal human digestive tract contains over 1,000 types of bacteria that reduce the growth of harmful bacteria and help promote a healthy digestive system.

Probiotics are beneficial types of bacteria delivered in food or dietary supplements for a health benefit. These microorganisms may assist with digestion and help protect against some types of unfriendly bacteria.

Digestion Aids

Probiotics are commonly used to prevent diarrhea caused when taking antibiotics. Antibiotics can kill "good" bacteria along with the bacteria that cause illness, and the resulting decrease in beneficial bacteria may lead to diarrhea. Taking probiotic supplements may help replace the lost good bacteria and help prevent diarrhea.

Other possible health benefits include immune system stimulation, improved lactose digestion, and a reduction in flare-ups of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Studies have also shown that probiotics may improve colon health. The health benefits of probiotics are unique to the specific type of bacteria used.

Getting a Daily Dose

Probiotics can be taken in supplement form or by eating foods that features the healthy bacteria, with food being the preferred method of ingestion.

Yogurt or milk with acidophilus; soy-based foods like miso soup and tempeh; and fermented foods like sauerkraut all contain the beneficial bacteria.

Medical professionals can determine if probiotics are beneficial for specific conditions.