…can relieve digestive complaints, rheumatoid arthritis and more.

Until recently, probiotics were mostly known for their ability to help prevent or alleviate various digestive problems.

Now: Research has uncovered several other health benefits—for example, these beneficial intestinal microorganisms also boost immunity and reduce the severity of certain autoimmune conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis and asthma.

What you need to know…


Consuming probiotics is one of the smartest things you can do for your health.

What you may not know: Some probiotics—available as over-the-counter (OTC) supplements and in certain fermented food products, such as many brands of yogurt and buttermilk—have been found to be more effective than others for treating certain conditions.

What’s more, because everyone’s intestinal microflora—the term for the many billions of different bacteria and fungi that populate your gut—is unique in its exact makeup, a probiotic that’s effective for someone else might not work for you, and vice versa.

Best approach: Try one probiotic product (such as those described in this article) for two weeks and see if you feel better. Probiotics are extremely safe. While some people may experience slight gastrointestinal disturbance, such as intestinal gas or bloating, from a given probiotic, this can be alleviated by reducing the dosage.

If you don’t see clear benefits after two weeks, try a different probiotic from the same category (listed on the next page).

Even though most research has focused on the benefits of single types (strains) of microorganisms, many people benefit from combining two or more probiotics, and a number of probiotic products also contain multiple strains.

Once you find a probiotic you respond well to, I recommend taking it daily even in the absence of any specific health complaint—just like a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement.

Choose products from well-known manufacturers, such as Sustenex, Culturelle and Align, that include information on the label about the type of micro-organisms and number of viable bacteria, or colony-forming units (CFUs), they contain. Follow the label recommendation on dosage. Studies indicate that probiotics are equally effective when taken with or without food.


In addition to promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut, probiotics aid digestion by inhibiting the proliferation of harmful bacteria and other micro-organisms in the intestines.

If you suffer from digestive problems, including diarrhea, constipation, bloating, gastroesophageal reflux disease or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), try one of the following OTC probiotics…

  • Bifidobacterium. This group, one of the major types of intestinal bacteria, includes Bifidobacterium infantis (found in Align, sold in capsule form)…Bifidobacterium bifidus (a common ingredient of many probiotic supplements, such as those by Source Naturals and Nature’s Way)…and Bifidobacterium animalis (contained in Activia yogurt).

    Important scientific evidence:  In a randomized study of 362 women with IBS, those who took B. infantis in a daily dose of 10 million CFUs showed significant improvement after four weeks, compared with a placebo group.

  • Bacillus coagulans. This species of bacteria (found in Sustenex Probiotic products, sold in capsule and chewable forms, and Digestive Advantage capsules) can survive for an extended time in the digestive tract, which is believed to increase the probiotic’s effectiveness. In a study of 44 people with IBS, those receiving a daily dose of B. coagulans reported significant improvement.


As a first-line probiotic for allergies, asthma, eczema or other autoimmune-related disorders, I recommend trying either B. coagulans—research shows it significantly reduces rheumatoid arthritis pain compared with a placebo—or one of the following…

  • Lactobacillus. Another major category of probiotics, this genus includes the widely used Lactobacillus acidophilus, contained in many probiotic supplements and yogurt products (including Brown Cow, Stonyfield Farm and some Dannon yogurts)…Lactobacillus GG (the active ingredient in Culturelle capsules and powder)…and Lactobacillus casei (contained in the yogurt drink DanActive).
  • Saccharomyces boulardii. This probiotic is actually a strain of yeast. Although most people think of yeast as something to be avoided—as in a yeast infection, for example—S. boulardii helps fight disease-causing organisms. S. boulardii is available in capsule form in Florastor and in products by Jarrow Formulas, Nutricology, Swanson, NOW Foods, Douglas Labs and others.


While it is important that your immune system be activated to attack a cold or flu virus, many of the symptoms that make you feel sick from these ailments are actually side effects that occur due to the fact that your immune system is overreacting.

Probiotics can help you reduce symptoms, such as body aches, of colds or the flu. If you feel a cold or some other virus coming on, consider trying a Lactobacillus, B. coagulans or S. boulardii probiotic.

Some research suggests that probiotics also may help prevent urinary tract infections.


If you are taking a course of antibiotics, it is essential that you also take probiotics to help prevent adverse effects, such as diarrhea and yeast infection.

Reason: Antibiotics kill both infection-causing bacteria and beneficial bacteria. Probiotics will help restore these good bacteria. Any one of the probiotics listed earlier—including yogurt products—can be used.

It’s important to start taking daily probiotics immediately after you’ve completed your antibiotic regimen and continue taking them for a few weeks.

You can also begin taking probiotics while you’re on an antibiotic if desired. Just be sure to take the antibiotic four to six hours away from the probiotic to make sure the antibiotic is fully absorbed. This ensures that the probiotic will not interfere with the antibiotic’s ability to fight infection.


Certain foods, known as “prebiotics,” stay in the digestive tract for an extended period of time, where they stimulate the growth of many types of beneficial bacteria.

Try to include as many of the following prebiotic foods in your diet as possible each day.

For example…

  • Foods rich in natural antioxidants—especially those found in colorful fruits and vegetables, such as berries, citrus fruits, peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, spinach, asparagus and okra…dark beans and nuts…and green tea.
  • • Foods high in soluble fiber—including legumes, such as peas, lentils and pinto beans…oat bran…carrots and Brussels sprouts…apples, pears and prunes…and root vegetables, such as onions and unprocessed potatoes.

    To further boost soluble fiber consumption: Talk to your doctor about taking a daily psyllium supplement, such as Carlson Psyllium Fiber Supplement or Metamucil. Follow label instructions.

    At the same time, minimize your intake of processed foods containing sugar, white flour and other refined carbohydrates—all of which promote the growth of harmful bacteria in the digestive tract.