ZocdocAnswersWhat are probiotics?

Question

What are probiotics?

I'm a woman in my 40s, and I recently had to take a course of antibiotics recently for an episode of bronchitis. One of my friends said I should take probiotics to undo the damage. Is she right? What do probiotics do?

Answer

'Probiotic' is a common term used to describe bacteria and other microorganisms that have been theorized to improve the digestive system. They can be found in many different yogurts and dietary supplements. The theory that they may help in digestion stems from the fact that we have bacteria that we need for digestion living in our large intestines that resemble these probiotics. These bacteria are crucial in the formation of stool and the metabolism of nutrients we cannot break down. In addition, these bacteria provide us with vitamin K. It is true that antibiotics can reduce the number of these bacteria temporarily. In severe cases, antibiotics can result in an overgrowth of the bacteria Clostridium Difficile, causing a feared disease known as pseudomembranous colitis. Unfortunately, there are have been few large scale trials of probiotics in the treatment of intestinal disorders, and no evidence that they would be of any benefit in someone that just took a routine course of antibiotics. Plus, it isn't clear if the probiotics even make it to the large intestine alive, since the acid in the stomach kills most bacteria. I would suggest that you schedule an appointment with your primary care physician before doing anything. You can pose this question to him or her and get an answer that is best in your particular situation. I would not recommend taking the probiotics before getting the go-ahead from your doctor. This is because they can be dangerous in people with certain medical conditions and people on certain medications. Good luck.

This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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