It is an exciting time to be bacteria.  Once seen as a villain, many strains are now recognized as heroes!!  Indeed, the 100 trillion bacteria on and in your body for the most part make great neighbors to your human cells- as long as there is a good fence between the neighbors (such as your skin, or gut lining).

The bacteria that have a definite health benefit are labeled as “probiotics.”  Probiotic means  “promote life” and of the 400-plus different types of bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract, more than 100 of these types are considered probiotics, providing a specific, often unique, health benefit to you.  Some probiotics help your immune system fully develop and respond optimally.  Some help support the gut to maintain normal balance.  Many strains aide digestion by helping break food substances, including lactose, down properly.  Other health benefits certain probiotics have include helping with symptoms and treatment of irritable bowel syndrome and potentially irritable bowel disease (especially ulcerative colitis), reducing gastrointestinal exposure to potential carcinogens (cancer causing substances), improving mood, helping with weight maintenance and competitively inhibiting the ability of bad bacteria taking up too much real estate in your gut, including clostridium difficile.

Just like our uniqueness on the outside, we are as unique on the inside and that includes the bacteria in and on our bodies.  No two humans have the exact same make up of bacteria.  In fact, you can get a “map” of your unique bacteria if you would like! As we learn more about bacteria,  this map can then help us determine what strains of probiotics might be most helpful in supporting our individual health plan and goals.

Even without knowing your exact bacteria makeup, probiotics can still provide a definite health benefit.  Here are some tips on using probiotics in your health plan:

1. Know your goal: What is the reason you think you want to try probiotics? Is it to be more regular? Is it to support your immune system?

2. Find the right strain: Find the strain that scientific evidence shows supports your health goal. Sources on the Web that can lead you in the right direction include, and  Once you have identified the strain you are looking for, find a quality supplement or food product with that strain. Personally, I prefer to see probiotics provided through food as part of a lifetime change.

3. Take the right amount: Probiotics are measured in CFUs — colonizing forming units. Doses are at least 1 billion CFUs daily and it is not uncommon to see a 20 billion CFU daily dose.

4. Know the risks: Probiotics have very few health risks.  Those that have a severely compromised immune system may need to avoid probiotics. Some probiotics may cause diarrhea.

Want to make your own probiotic? You are invited to make sauerkraut and take it home! Join us Feb. 17 at 6:30 p.m. in the Senior Center Art Studio.

Georgia Boley MS, RD, LD, CSO is the registered dietitian at the Sheridan Senior Center.  Center Stage is written by friends of the Senior Center for the Sheridan Community.  It is a collection of insights and stories related to living well at every age.