Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are called “good" microorganisms because they benefit the body, specifically the digestive system. There are billions of bacteria living in the intestinal tract often referred as microflora that work to keep healthy intestinal balance by replenishing and maintaining beneficial, intestinal bacterial strains which in turn promotes healthy gastrointestinal function.
Why do I need probiotics?
The body does not need the addition of food and supplements that contain probiotics to be healthy. However, food and supplements that contain probiotics assist the "good" bacteria already present in your gut. Probiotics can help keep you healthy by:
decreasing the number of "bad" bacteria in your gut that can cause infections or inflammation
replacing "good" bacteria lost after taking antibiotics
restoring the gut's "good" bacterial balance which then helps to keep your body functioning properly
Why supplement with probiotics?
Beneficial, “good” bacteria may be reduced due to a variety of factors:
Antibiotic or other medication use that can result in diarrhea
Dietary changes or poor diet
Who can take probiotics?
Daily probiotic supplementation supports health in:
Pre and post pregnancy
Infants (1year+), children and adolescents
While probiotics may be added in foods, direct probiotic supplementation provides the highest amount of beneficial live and active cultures. For some, probiotics should be a routine part of a daily lifestyle to help maintain optimal health in certain conditions.
What are some examples of probiotics?
Probiotics that are naturally found in your intestines include: Saccharomyces boulardii (a yeast) and bacteria in the Lactobacillus and Bifobacterium families of microorganisms. Outside of the body, Lactobacillus acidophilus is the probiotic that is found in some yogurts.
Foods that contain natural probiotics include: some juices and soy drinks, fermented and unfermented milk, buttermilk, some soft cheeses, miso, tempeh, kefir, kim chi, sauerkraut, and many pickles. Probably the most well-known food product containing probiotics is yogurt.
Supplements: dietary probiotic supplements are available in capsules, tablets, powders and liquid extracts and contain a specific type of probiotic. These products are sold at health and natural food stores as well as vitamin and other stores/sites.
For what medical conditions are probiotics used?
Digestive tract conditions. Probiotic supplements may be useful in treating and preventing inflammatory conditions such as inflammatory bowel diseases (such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease), chronic stomach inflammation and ulcers caused by Helicobacter pylori bacterium and pouchitis (affects people who have had their colons removed). They may also be helpful in bloating, constipation, gas, irritable bowel syndrome, acid reflux and spastic colon. It has been reported that probiotic supplements shorten the duration of infectious diarrhea.
Other conditions in which probiotics are being and/or have been studied: female urinary tract infections, vaginal yeast infections, childhood skin infections e.g. eczema (atopic dermatitis), stomach and respiratory infections, allergies and asthma; sleeping problems; mental illness; joint stiffness; lactose intolerance; diabetes, and obesity. The latter reported to produce a change in metabolic pathways of mice, particularly those related to carbohydrate metabolism (Science Traditional Medicine. Vol. 3. 106ra106).
The Swansea Baby Trial by Allen et al. (2014) studied probiotics in the prevention of skin sensitivity. Infants were evaluated at 6 months and 2 years of age. Probiotic supplementation was found to safely and effectively reduce the incidence of skin sensitivity by 57%.
The Sheffield clinical trial conducted by Williams et al. (2008) demonstrated that probiotic supplementation was found to decrease the number of days with intestinal discomfort while improving satisfaction with bowel habits and overall quality of life.
How safe are probiotics?
Probiotic foods and supplements are generally considered to be safe as they already exist naturally in the body. Always read manufacturers’ product labels for instructions and any untoward side effects.