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However, not all dietary supplements are created equal, he says. In 1996, when trying to recover from Crohn’s disease, he says he took bottles of probiotics and didn’t get any better. Taking homeostatic soil organisms, which are beneficial bacteria found in dirt, finally worked the best for him. This included microorganisms from the bacilli family and saccharomyces, a friendly yeast.

“I started to see a change pretty quickly,” Mr. Rubin says. “Around day 30, I started to feel better. In 12 weeks, I went from death to life, more or less.”

At the time, he was taking the equivalent of 12 capsules a day of Primal Defense, a probiotic formula he developed and sells through his company, Garden of Life. It has powdered vegetable extracts and organic plant-based minerals, along with homeostatic soil organisms.

After starting the regimen, he says he actually started feeling much worse before he started to feel better as his body went through an initial detox period.

“I always said, ‘Whatever helps me, I’m going to help the world with it,’ ” Mr. Rubin says. “It started with me stocking shelves at a health food store.”

Probiotics can help treat a myriad of conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome and constipation, Mr. Rubin says. He estimates that 70 percent of the immune system is in the gut-associated lymphatic tissue. Therefore, strengthening the gut helps to strengthen the overall immune system, Mr. Rubin says.

Despite what supporters say, unless someone has taken a long regimen of antibiotics, it isn’t usually necessary to recommend probiotics, says Ryan Andrews, dietitian and exercise physiologist at Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center in Baltimore.

“We have some people who swear by them,” Mr. Andrews says. “They say, ‘When I don’t take the Activia drink, I don’t feel right.’ ”

However, Mr. Andrews acknowledges that there are a lot of potential benefits from probiotics, but enough testing hasn’t been completed to know the full effects, he says. Activia is a yogurt drink manufactured by Dannon.

“I read that they are testing out probiotics in infants, looking at the feeding tolerance,” Mr. Andrews says. “I’ve read a couple studies that show that feeding tolerance is improved when they take a round of probiotics, using a liquid form of probiotic.”

After patients have taken a round of antibiotics for urinary tract infections or sinus infections, it should be followed by a round of probiotics, says Dr. Ken Mirkin, chief of gastroenterology at Inova Fairfax in Falls Church.

“It’s not a medication,” Dr. Mirkin says. “It’s treated as a food supplement. There isn’t any FDA control. People have to read labels to see what they’re getting. There are many different probiotics. Know what you are taking and why you are taking it.”

Most patients need to take probiotics for three to four weeks in order for them to be effective, Dr. Mirkin says.

“If you increase the population of certain kinds of bacteria, it inhibits the growth of bad bacteria,” Dr. Mirkin says. “They compete for the substrates and the food. It’s survival of the fittest. If you pour in millions of colonies of good bacteria, the bad guys will not survive, just by sheer numbers.”