Probiotics are microbes (bacteria) that are believed to provide health benefits when consumed, and can be found in certain foods or supplements that contain them.
Let’s consider the human lower intestinal tract, which is home to some 100 trillion microbes. This is ten times the total number of cells that make up the entire human body. These microbes are considered “good bacteria” and help to digest food, fight some harmful bacteria, and according to some research, may help boost the immune system.
Probiotics may also help traveler’s diarrhea as well as diarrhea caused by the common “stomach flu.”
Some other health related conditions have been thought to also be helped by taking probiotics. However, there are few good scientific studies to substantiate these claims. Some of these conditions are:
- Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
- Celiac disease and lactose intolerance.
- Constipation and irritable bowel syndrome.
- Bacterial vaginal infections.
Probiotics are thought to be generally safe for anyone, but due to a rare risk of infection, those with a known immune deficiency or anyone being treated for cancer should avoid them.
Some foods that contain probiotics include yogurt, a fermented dairy drink called Kefir, and some fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut and pickles. While they may contain probiotics, there’s no guarantee that they have them in the amount or type that may have health benefits. Only dietary supplements containing probiotics have been tested and may be helpful.
Most supplements contain freeze dried bacteria which come alive in your digestive system. These products can be found at most drug stores, supermarkets, heath food stores, and online. They come as tablets, capsules, or as a powder.
You need to look for a product that hasup to 10 billion colony forming units per day in a single dose. Check for the expiration date for the live bacteria found on the label and follow directions for proper storage.
In summary, although probiotics are touted for treatment of a variety of conditions, the only treatment which seems to hold up to scientific scrutiny is to help prevent antibiotic associated diarrhea. That being said, there appear to be no significant side effects or known health problems for healthy adults who use probiotics for other conditions.
Although there are a number of products on the market, from my research, three commonly used probiotics which have some evidence of being helpful are Culturelle, DanActive, and Florastor.
Talk with your doctor if you have any questions about the use of probiotics.