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Probiotics seem to be everywhere in the news lately. However, far from being a miracle cure or a complicated medication, probiotic supplements are some of the most gentle and natural additions you can make to your health regime. But what exactly is a probiotic? Should you buy probiotics online? And what are the benefits and side effects of these supplements?

What is a probiotic?

Probiotics are the microscopic organisms that line the human gastrointestinal (GI) tract. These bacteria are a natural part of the body, and don't cause harm. They are healthy bacteria that assist in a number of functions and have numerous benefits to the body. The community of probiotics that line your digestive tract is commonly referred to as your microbiome.

When taking a probiotic, there are a number of things to keep in mind. Don't forget that these bacteria are living organisms, so they need to stay alive in order for them to benefit your health. Never buy more probiotics than you'll use up before the expiration date - if you do, it's likely you'll be taking deactivated probiotics that won't benefit your health.

Also remember to combine a probiotics regime with a diet rich in prebiotics. These fibrous foods provide sustenance for the healthy bacteria in your gut, enhancing the growth of bacteria and allowing them to survive and thrive. While different strains of bacteria prefer varying prebiotics, a few common ones to consume are broccoli, Jerusalem artichoke, leek, onion, legumes, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and kale.

Benefits of probiotics

Now that you know what a probiotic is and how you should take it, you may be wondering what these probiotics stand to do for your health. A paper published in the US National Library of Medicine reviewed a collection of studies about the effects of probiotics. Researchers found that supplementation with probiotics such as lactobacilli and bifidobacteria - two of the most common probiotics on the market - was linked to a reduction in a variety of inflammatory responses.

One such response is allergic disease, especially allergic reactions of the skin. This quintessential manifestation of the inflammatory response demonstrates how probiotic supplementation can reduce inflammation and promote health. If you're wondering why you might want to reduce inflammation, consider this: According to the Mayo Clinic, chronic inflammation may be linked to conditions such as Crohn's disease, irritable bowel syndrome(IBS), heart disease, cancer and stroke.

There are also a number of other benefits to probiotic supplementation. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, for example, maintaining a healthy balance of bacteria in the body may help stave for staving off vaginal infections such as yeast infection and bacterial vaginosis.

Side effects of probiotics

While the side effects you may experience when beginning a supplementation regime are minimal, you should still be prepared for them. When starting off with probiotics supplementation, you may experience digestive upset in the form of gas, bloating, cramps and diarrhoea. This can also lead to rashes and acne on some peoples' skin.

Most of these side effects should go away within two weeks, according to However, if you want to avoid these sometimes inconvenient side effects, you can decrease your dosage and try to drink more water.

If your side effects don't go away within that two-week time frame, you may want to consult with your doctor. All in all, probiotics are an easy and largely safe way to help re-balance your microbiome and reduce a number of unpleasant digestive symptoms - not to mention improve your overall health.

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