By Linda Gooding, PhD, professor
of microbiology and
immunology at Emory University
School of Medicine, Atlanta.
Though bacteria are often viewed as agents of disease, many of the billions of microorganisms dwelling inside our bodies are essential for good health. "Friendly" bacteria_such as the lactobacillus and bifida cultures in yogurt-inhibit growth of yeast and other disease-causing organisms. There's even evidence that friendly bacteria help lower cholesterol levels. Problem: Each time you take an antibiotic, you kill bacteria in your body-friendly and unfriendly alike. That raises your risk of diarrhea, yeast infection and food sensitivity. Bacteria are also killed by cortisone, prednisone, birth-control pills, antacids_even stress.
To the rescue: A family of supplements known as probiotics. These blends of bacteria and rice or milk powder repopulate the bowed with friendly bacteria. In a study at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, women who ate a daily cup of yogurt had fewer vaginal infections than women taken probiotics. To keep your intestinal flora healthy, I recommend eating yogurt regularly. Most brands contain active cultures. Check labels if you're unsure. Take probiotics in addition to yogurt if you have high cholesterol or chronic yeast infections...while traveling...or while taking antibiotics, steroids, birth-control pills or antacids. Probiotics are available at health-food stores. Pick a brand that contains at least one billion live organisms per gram. Be sure to check the package's expiration date.