You have probably heard of probiotics, and you have a basic understanding that they are supposed to be good for you. The word itself starts with, “pro” and is followed with, “bio” so it’s got to be good, right? For many, knowledge of probiotics can roughly be summed up with this statement: probiotics are a thing, they are beneficial in some way, and you can find them in yogurt and possibly in other things.

While people know that probiotics can be good for them, they don’t always know how they can be good for them, what they are, or why they would even need them.

Probiotics are bacteria. Now, this shouldn’t give you cause for alarm. Don’t start panicking and recalling all of those cleaning supplies commercials that show you a close up look of your kitchen sponge. Not all bacteria is bad. In fact, you have good bacteria living in your gastrointestinal tract that helps keep you healthy. The good bacteria protects you from the harmful bacteria that can make you ill. The bacteria in your GI tract also facilitate digestion by breaking down foods and nutrients. Probiotics theoretically work in the same way, giving you added protection from those harmful bacteria, and supporting good GI tract health.

Yogurt is probably the most commonly known source of probiotics. Fermented dairy, like yogurt and kefir, actually form a synbiotic as they contain both probiotics and prebiotics (carbohydrates that probiotics need to survive). But with the increasing popularity of probiotics the number of products in stores containing them has increased as well. You can now find granola bars and chocolates that contain probiotics, as well as supplement powders and capsules.

Research is still being done to determine the extent to which probiotics benefit your health, but they may be able to prevent and treat gastrointestinal ailments and lessen the symptoms of colds and flu.

Probiotics can also be beneficial after taking antibiotics. An antibiotic kills bacteria, but it doesn’t discriminate between the good and the bad. Probiotics can help replace the good bacteria that were removed while taking an antibiotic.

To find out whether probiotics are right for you, schedule an appointment with your physician.