5 Probiotic Products That Really Work

In recent years, much of the biggest news in food sales has focused on probiotics, microbes that benefit your health. But now they're not the only "biotic" generating headlines. Prebiotics are showing up in health bars, cereals, and more. These are not microbes, but a type of soluble fiber that nourishes the good bacteria in your gut. Prebiotics are often added to foods billed as "high in fiber" (they may be listed on the label as inulin or chicory root extract). But what do probiotics and prebiotics do for you? How do you know whether to try them, or which to choose?

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For prebiotics, answers are still coming. Research suggests they may help increase calcium absorption, protect against traveler's diarrhea, and play a role in preventing colon cancer. What we do know: Taken in a high enough dose - five to eight grams a day - they can bump up the count of beneficial bacteria already in your digestive tract, says probiotic expert and industry consultant Mary Ellen Sanders, Ph.D. Supplements, such as FiberChoice and Prebiotin, provide four grams per serving; you can't calculate the amount in fiber-boosted foods because the prebiotics are not counted separately from a product's other soluble fiber. But note: If you're trying to boost your fiber intake in general, whole foods are still best.

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Probiotics have been better studied, and guidelines for their use are now emerging. For a start, each strain is specific: Just because one may help with a certain condition doesn't mean it will work for another, says Anthony J. Lembo, M.D., associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. You also may have to try several products to see which is best for you. But there's promising evidence for the problems listed below.

The following products deliver the right (study-tested) probiotic strains:

1. For Colds
Probiotics may ease your coughing and runny nose, and shorten a cold's duration. Sick or well, you need to have some every day.
What to try: Attune Probiotic Chocolate Bar; CVS Digestive Probiotic capsules

2. For Antibiotic Side Effects
In research, probiotics cut the odds of antibiotic-associated diarrhea 57% and invasion of Clostridium difficile 41%.
What to try:
Culturelle capsules; Florastor capsules; DanActive Dairy Drink

3. For Keeping You Regular
Daily consumption of probiotics may result in faster, easier transit of food through your GI tract, with possible relief of belly distension and pain.
What to try:
Dannon Activia Yogurt

4. For Digestive Woes

Both irritable bowel syndrome and lactose-intolerance symptoms may improve with probiotics.
What to try:
For IBS: Align capsules; for lactose intolerance: all yogurts with live, active cultures.

5. For UTI Returns

Eating fermented milk products at least three times a week may head off recurrent urinary tract infections.
What to try:
Stonyfield yogurt; Bio-K Plus International Fermented Milk

-By Janis Graham

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