The Benefits of Yogurt

What's tasty, easy, and has lots of health benefits? Yogurt!

By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

Have you noticed that the yogurt section of most grocery stores has practically taken over the dairy aisle? It's getting harder to find more traditional dairy foods, such as cottage cheese and sour cream, amid the sea of yogurt options. But it only makes sense that a food with as many health benefits as yogurt be given prime real estate in the supermarket.

And just what are the health benefits of yogurt?

First off, let us not forget that yogurt comes from milk. So yogurt eaters will get a dose of animal protein (about 9 grams per 6-ounce serving), plus several other nutrients found in dairy foods, like calcium, vitamin B-2, vitamin B-12, potassium, and magnesium.

But one of the words we're hearing more and more of regarding yogurt is "probiotics." Probiotics are "friendly bacteria" that are naturally present in the digestive system. Live strains of these "good bacteria" are also found in many yogurt products. While more research needs to be done, there's some evidence that some strains of probiotics can help boost the immune system and promote a healthy digestive tract.

Probiotics made news recently when a class action lawsuit was filed against the Dannon Co. over marketing for its Activia and DanActive products, in which the company uses trademarked probiotic strains. Activia is a yogurt marketed as being "clinically proven to help regulate the digestive system when eaten daily for two weeks," while DanActive is a drink marketed as being "clinically proven to help strengthen the body's defense systems," according to company websites.

The lawsuit, filed by a California law firm, alleges that Dannon engaged in a "massively deceptive" advertising campaign about those products' "clinically" and "scientifically" proven health benefits not available in other yogurts. But Dannon is challenging the suit. "The scientifically substantiated benefits of Dannon's products are confirmed not only by the scientific journals that have reviewed and published the findings, but also by the millions of highly satisfied consumers who enjoy Dannon's products," the company says in a news release.

Regardless of this dispute, the health benefits of yogurt are so impressive that many health-conscious people make it a daily habit. An each year, more and more research is published adding insight into the health benefits from eating yogurt.

Here are six possible health benefits to having some yogurt each day:

Benefit No. 1: Yogurt With Active Cultures May Help the Gut

While more study is needed, there's some evidence that yogurt with active cultures may help certain gastrointestinal conditions, including:

That's what researchers from the Jean Mayer U.S. Department of Agriculture Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University concluded in a review article. The benefits are thought to be due to:

  • Changes in the microflora of the gut
  • The time food takes to go through the bowel.
  • Enhancement of the body's immune system (more on this below).

In another recent study, the type of diarrhea that some people get after taking antibiotics was found to be reduced when the study participants drank a drink containing three particular probiotics (L. casei, L. bulgaricus, and S. thermophilus).

Benefit No. 2: Some Probiotic Strains May Boost the Immune System

While much also remains to be learned about probiotics and the immune system, recent studies suggest that certain probiotic strains offer some benefits:

  • One review article suggests probiotics may help with inflammatory bowel disease by changing the intestinal microflora and lessening the immune system response that can worsen the disease.
  • Another study indicated probiotics may enhance resistance to and recovery from infection. In research on elderly people, researchers found that the duration of all illnesses was significantly lower in a group that consumed a certain probiotic found in fermented milk. They reported a possible 20% reduction in the length of winter infections (including gastrointestinal and respiratory infections).
  • Yogurt containing two probiotics, lactobacillus and bifidobacterium, was found to improve the success of drug therapy (using four specific medications) on 138 people with persistent H. pylori infections, according to a recent Taiwanese study. H. pylori is a bacterium that can cause infection in the stomach and upper part of the small intestine. It can lead to ulcers and can increase the risk of developing stomach cancer as well.

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