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Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are beneficial for health. They are often referred to as 'good', 'helpful' or 'healthy' bacteria.
An imbalance of the natural bacteria or yeasts within our body has been associated with a range of conditions including constipation, diarrhea, weight gain, skin rashes, yeast infections, and a suppressed immune system.
Probiotics may be taken orally in an attempt to restore any imbalance in the normal intestinal or urogenital flora. Probiotics are available as dietary supplements or contained naturally or added to foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, or kefir.
Sufficient clinical trials have been conducted to enable meta-analyses to be conducted for several clinical conditions. Evidence exists to support the use of probiotics in bacterial vaginosis, diarrhea (acute infectious, antibiotic-associated, and persistent), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), necrotizing enterocolitis in neonates, and ventilator-associated pneumonia. Meta-analyses have shown no effect of probiotics in Crohn disease, eczema, pancreatitis, ulcerative colitis, or in patients in intensive care.
Daily intake of oral probiotic preparations is usual practice, although some trials have used twice-weekly dosing. Preparation strength is commonly measured as colony-forming units per capsule.
The use of probiotics is not advised in patients at risk of opportunistic infections and in those with badly damaged GI tracts.
Information regarding safety and efficacy of specific preparations in pregnancy and lactation is lacking. Trials investigating probiotics have been conducted in pregnant women without obvious problems.
None well documented.