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'Healthy' bacteria help keep you in balance

By Judy Fortin
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(CNN) -- A daily dose of good bacteria may be just what your doctor orders. Bacteria may sound unappetizing, but they're now being sold under the name "probiotic." From yogurt to smoothies to cereal, products that contain probiotics are becoming more popular at the local grocery store. CNN Medical Correspondent Judy Fortin spoke with Marisa Moore, a registered dietician and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, about the pros and cons of probiotics.

Fortin: What are probiotics?

Moore: They are healthy bacteria. We already have about 400 healthy bacteria in our intestinal system. They actually help us to stay healthy. A probiotic supplement or food product helps to replenish the good bacteria in our bodies, help fight infection and boost immune function. (Watch to learn more about probiotics. Video )

Fortin: Where can you find probiotics?

Moore: The best place to find them is in milk and yogurt products, but you can also find them in supplement form. We typically recommend that you get them from food, because you're going to also get the calcium and protein from yogurt, for example. So there are many more benefits from getting them from a dairy product.

Fortin: How often do you need to take a probiotic?

Moore: It's important to make sure you do it on a daily basis. That's the best way to get the long-term benefits.

Fortin: Why should you take a probiotic when you're on an antibiotic?

Moore: Whenever you're on an antibiotic a lot of time the good bacteria are taken out with the bad bacteria causing the problem. Probiotics will help replenish your good bacteria to get your body back to a healthy state.

Fortin: How do you know if a product contains probiotics?

Moore: You want to look for a label that says "live and active cultures." Usually there is a seal to tell you that those cultures are present and active, and healthy bacteria are there.

Fortin: Should a probiotic supplement be taken with food?

Moore: Food acts as a buffer so that the probiotics arrive alive in your intestines. If you're getting it from a supplement you might not have that protection unless you take it with food.

Fortin: Are there some people who shouldn't take probiotics?

Moore: If you have a weakened immune system, such as a person who has HIV/AIDS or someone who is undergoing chemotherapy, it's a good idea to talk with your physician before you start to use probiotics on a regular basis.

Fortin: Why are we hearing so much about probiotics now?

Moore: They have been around for years. But research has shown they are great at helping us fight infection, and they've been shown to help with diarrhea and lactose intolerance. People are more health conscious now and looking for ways to proactively keep themselves healthy.

Fortin: Are probiotics worth the money? Do you recommend them?

Moore: We recommend that anyone who doesn't have any immune system function problem go ahead and include a probiotic on a regular basis in the form of yogurt or a fermented milk product. That would be perfectly fine every day.

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Probiotics -- healthy bacteria -- can be found in supplements, smoothies, yogurt and even cereal.


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