If you've walked the nutrition aisle at your local supermarket or health-food store, you've no doubt seen probiotics supplements. But you may not know exactly what they are, how to use them or why they're important. Probiotics are natural, healthy bacteria that normally exist in your intestinal tract, fighting off harmful bacteria and keeping your digestive system healthy. These beneficial organisms are found in certain foods, but are also available in supplement form. As with all supplements, however, it's important to work with your doctor to determine the appropriate amount for you.
Probiotics can have significant health benefits, particularly when it comes to gastrointestinal problems. According to Harvard Medical School, research suggests that probiotics may be an effective treatment for diarrhea, Crohn's disease and irritable bowel syndrome. While probiotics are plentiful in fermented foods such as yogurt, buttermilk, kefir, miso, sauerkraut and sour cream, the sour taste of these foods turns some people off. Others may be lactose intolerant and unable to eat many fermented food products. In these situations, or if you simply need more probiotics than can be obtained via food alone, supplements may be helpful.
The University of Maryland Medical Center states that the correct dosage of probiotics supplements varies depending on which medical condition you are attempting to treat. For example, a typical dose for the treatment of diarrhea is 1 to 2 billion colony-forming units -- CFUs -- per day, although some physicians may prescribe up to 15 billion CFUs per day, notes UMMC. For general intestinal health maintenance, a typical dose may be anywhere from 1 billion to 15 billion CFUs per day.
MayoClinic.com states that probiotics are generally considered safe. However, certain individuals may experience complications from them. Specifically, if you have a compromised immune system, intestinal damage, an artificial heart valve or an overgrowth of intestinal bacteria, probiotics may be unsafe for you. In these cases, you should avoid probiotics supplements. In addition, probiotics supplements may interact with some medications.
Since probiotics are plentiful in certain natural foods that many people consume regularly, most notably yogurt, probiotics dosages are generally not a large concern. However, only your physician can advise you on the right dose for you, as well as on whether certain doses may be too high. If you have questions or concerns about taking probiotics supplements, discuss them with your doctor. Your doctor can also review any potential medication interactions you may experience, and advise you accordingly.