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Benefits of probiotics: Can they really help your gut health?

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Probiotics in milk or yogurt
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria found in foods or supplements.

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It's no secret that <span class="link"><a href="/health/chronic-stomach-issues-heres-how-to-fix-them/">gut health</a></span> is seriously buzzy in the health world. And something that's almost always a part of that conversation is probiotics. Take a walk through any health store or pharmacy and you're likely to see rows and rows of different kinds of probiotic <span class="link"><a href="/health/should-everyone-take-a-multivitamin/">supplements</a></span> promising to improve digestion and your overall health. And they aren't cheap, often costing upwards of <a rel="noopener noreferrer nofollow" target="_blank" data-component="externalLink">$20 or more per bottle</a>. In fact, the probiotic push is so high, the market is expected to reach <a rel="noopener noreferrer nofollow" target="_blank" data-component="externalLink">$73.8 billion by 2024.</a> 

Read more: Best vitamin subscription services for a healthy 2020

Simply put, probiotics contain live bacteria that are meant to help populate “good” bacteria in your gut microbiome. The idea behind probiotics is that a healthy gut microbiome can be conducive to better overall health, and may help specific conditions like Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or even vaginal yeast infections. But, the <a website behind these bugs is quite controversial and a lot of studies are still underway to fully understand how they work. 

To shed some light on the topic, I tapped a gastroenterologist and gut health expert, Dr. Will Bulsiewicz to explain how probiotics work and help you figure out if they are right for you. 

CNET Health and Wellness


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What do probiotics do?

When it comes to probiotics, it's important to understand that there are a plethora of different strains of probiotics that can all have potentially different effects on your body. So even though it is difficult to explain how each strain works, the concept behind the popular probiotics on the market is similar -- to populate healthy bacteria in your gut. 

"The theory with probiotics is that they <a rel="noopener noreferrer nofollow" target="_blank" data-component="externalLink">mimic the effects of our intact microbiota</a>. In other words, just like our healthy gut microbes, these probiotics should optimize our immune system, reduce inflammation, inhibit the growth of pathogenic bacteria, correct leaky gut and restore gut barrier integrity, reestablish intestinal motility, even improve mood," Dr. Bulsiewicz says. 

You can purchase probiotics in supplement form, but they are also found naturally in food -- particularly food that is fermented. Examples of probiotic-rich foods include yogurt, kefir, kombucha and sauerkraut.

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