Although sometimes necessary, antibiotics wreck havoc on your intestines—because while wiping out the bad bacteria that are making you sick they also kill off the good bacteria that populate your gut and help you digest your food. That's why one frequent side effect of antibiotics is diarrhea.
Taking probiotic supplements helps repopulate your intestines with beneficial bacteria, but researchers didn't know if the effect of taking probiotics and antibiotics together would be strong enough to reduce diarrhea. So a group of them analyzed 63 randomized controlled trials that looked at probiotics and antibiotic-related diarrhea and found that taking probiotics conferred a definite benefit: A 42% lower risk of developing diarrhea.
The researchers, who published their findings in the latest Journal of the American Medical Association, say that more research is needed to determine if certain probiotic strains are more effective than others, if different patient populations respond differently to antibiotics and probiotics taken together, and other variables like that.
What's interesting to me about this study is that it appears that it's beneficial to take probiotics during antibiotic therapy. The last time I had to take antibiotics I stopped taking my usual probiotic pills until the antibiotics were done, because I figured the antibiotics would just kill off the probiotics as soon as I took them—but apparently I would have done my digestion a favor if I'd continued to take probiotics the whole time.
But antibiotics aside, taking probiotics seems like a no-brainer. There's evidence that probiotics boost immunity, ease gastrointestinal disorders, can reduce the severity of heart attacks and maybe even play a role in guarding against obesity. These days the traditional doctors and the alternative medicine practitioners I interview seem to agree that these microscopic microorganisms are a smart move (and those two groups generally don't agree on much).
It can be hard to know which variety of probiotics to take—there are pills, powders, and probiotic-laced food and drink. For a few years I've been taking probiotic pills by Jarro-dophilus brand, just a few times a week. I've suffered from far fewer colds and flu-type illnesses since I started the probiotics, enough so that I've started pushing them on my friends or family.
Have you taken probiotics and, if so, did you notice any positive health effects?
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