SOMERSET, NJ - Probiotics, we often hear and see ads for them but do we know what they are? We’ve heard about their possible benefits, but are they beneficial? Well fear not, the following is a brief overview of probiotics and their benefits.

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are living microorganisms that boost your immune system when consumed in adequate amounts. They are so known as “good bacteria” because they keep your gut healthy. But not all of the bacteria in your body are good for you. Some research suggests that having too many of the "bad" and not enough of the "good" bacteria is harmful to your body and can wreak all sorts of havoc on your body's systems. This imbalance can lead to weight gain, skin conditions, constipation or diarrhea, and various chronic health conditions. Probiotics work to help balance the good and bad bacteria. So, eating probiotic-rich food helps us increase the good bacteria in our digestive system. 

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There are many different types of probiotics. They can be consumed through natural wholesome foods or supplements. The right type and amount of a probiotic can help you in several ways, they help: 

● Promote a healthy immune system 

● Support and help manage a healthy weight

● Prevent occasional diarrhea or constipation

Where can you find them? 

Probiotics are concentrated mostly in fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh and kimchi, and sour pickles.  You can also find them in various supplements in found at your local pharmacy. Popular brands like Align and Culturelle are examples of over the counter probiotics. Probiotics should not be confused with prebiotics, which are dietary fibers that help feed the friendly bacteria already in your gut. Consuming yogurt products with probiotic content is a good option if you want to get more probiotics in your diet. 

When choosing a brand of yogurt, look in the ingredients that say "Live and Active Cultures" on the product label. A popular brand is Activia, make sure your yogurt has at least 100 million active cultures per gram of yogurt.

If you choose to take an encapsulated probiotic supplement, a good place to start is with a combination that contains strains from the Lactobacillus family and the Bifidobacterium family, because these strains are naturally found in the human gastrointestinal tract.

 Are there any side effects when taking probiotics? 

Probiotics are generally well tolerated and considered safe for most people. However, in the first few days, you may experience side effects related to digestion, such as gas and mild abdominal discomfort. After your body adjusts, your digestion should begin improving. People with compromised immune systems, like those with HIV, AIDS and other conditions, probiotics can lead to dangerous infections. Not sure if you have a compromised immune system? Consult with your doctor first before taking a probiotic supplement product. 

Editor's note: The above is a brief overview of probiotics and is not in any way to be taken as medical advice, please contact your doctor for more information before beginning a probiotic regimen.

This guest column was brought to you by Etheridge Family Medicine

Feb. 6 and 20, between 4 pm - 7 pm, Etheridge Family Medicine will host a meet and greet with staff members. Light refreshments will also be served. In addition to the meet and greets Etheridge Family Medicine will also host a free health screening (blood pressure and glucose screening) on Feb. 13 and 27, between 4 pm - 7 pm. 

Etheridge Family Medicine has recently expanded their office hours and is now accepting new patients. 

All commercial insurances accepted, and Medicaid patients in the following plans – Horizon NJ Health, United Health Community Plan, Amerigroup and Well-Care.

For the full listing of insurance plans and to schedule your appointment call or go to our website www.etheridgefamilymedicine.com

Dr. Etheridge's office is located at 81 Veronica Avenue in Somerset. Visit: http://etheridgefamilymedicine.com/schedule-your-visit/ or call 732-246-0057.

Schedule your visit today, we accept all commercial insurance, TAP here, for details.