Ask a Doctor: Do probiotics live up to the hype?

Rachel Labovitz, MD CHI Memorial Chattanooga Internal Medicine Group

Rachel Labovitz, MD
CHI Memorial Chattanooga Internal Medicine Group

From the Chattanooga Times Free Press

Q: Probiotics seem to be all the rage these days. Are they really helpful for my health, or are they just another so-called health trend?

A: Probiotics are good bacteria that live in our intestines and are part of the gut flora. They're responsible for innumerable functions, including the production of vitamins, aiding the immune system and helping digestion, to name just a few. They can be found in foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha and kimchi, but they're not at a level to provide therapeutic benefit, which is why probiotic supplements are so popular.

For most people, it's fine to take a probiotic supplement after talking with your health care provider. Those with immune system issues should not take probiotics unless specifically told to do so by their physician.

Probiotics can take a while to have an impact on your body. You won't see immediate changes in your body; you'll have to be patient. Probiotics are living organisms and have expiration dates. Oxygen can kill off the probiotics, so you must be pay careful attention to how you store them.

If you choose to take probiotics, there are a few things to be aware of. Like other supplements, there is no approval process by the Food and Drug Administration, which means manufacturers do not have to list the ingredients. There's also no standardized or minimum levels of microbes required by the FDA, so packaging could be misleading.

If you want to integrate probiotics into your gut, I'd suggest asking your doctor for a recommendation rather than following trends or advertising. You want to make sure you take high-quality probiotics.

— Rachel Labovitz, M.D., CHI Memorial Chattanooga Internal Medicine Group