Probiotics Benefits and Facts
Probiotics - The Benefits and Other Important Facts
The topic of probiotics supplements carries with it many questions. This article will address some of the most widely expressed concerns.
Probiotics were defined by a group of experts [convened by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)] as "live microorganisms administered in adequate amounts which confer a beneficial health effect on the host". In essence they are live microorganisms that are naturally present in the digestive tract and help maintain the natural balance of organisms (microflora) in the intestines. There are hundreds of such species in the human digestive tract, the largest group being lactic acid bacteria which includes the well known Lactobacillus acidophilus, often found in yogurt and nutritional supplements.
Once ingested, probiotics find a home or “colonize” the intestines and other parts of the body and can sustain themselves unless they are destroyed by antibiotics or other factors.
Prebiotics are also thought to improve the balance of probiotics in the intestines. They are non-digestible carbohydrates that stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria in the intestines. Sources of prebiotics include fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) and inulin, found in onions, asparagus, chicory, and banana. FOS is also available as a supplement and is sometimes combined with probiotic dietary supplements.
Not so long ago when most people ate fresh foods that were farmed and made in an organic and natural way, our diets naturally supported our bacterial needs. These days, with so many processed foods and chemicals in our environment our digestive systems are badly impaired. This can ultimately lead to a wide range of health problems - from just feeling lethargic and lacking in energy right through making us prone to serious diseases such as cancer or infections.
A number of medical, diet, and lifestyle factors are believed to disturb the balance microflora in the colon. Such Factors include:
- Inadequate dietary fiber
- Oral antibiotic therapy
- Infant formula feeding
- Ingestion of environmental toxins
Such conditions may cause less healthy bacteria and yeast to flourish, which is thought to increase the likelihood of conditions such as infectious diarrhea and vaginal yeast infections.
There have been countless studies showing health benefits of probiotics. Some of the potential benefits include:
Research has shown that certain probiotics may restore normal bowel function and may help reduce:
- Diarrhea that is a side effect of antibiotics
- Certain types of infectious diarrhea
- Inflammation of the ileal pouch (pouchitis) that may occur in people who have had surgery to remove the colon
Probiotics can also be found in cultured dairy products such as yogurt or kefir. However, the number of live organisms varies greatly from product to product due to differences in processing methods. Some people have experienced benefits from regularly consuming the small, and not inexpensive, yogurt style drinks that have recently launched onto the market. It seems though that some of the benefits may be psychological more than anything else- it may be that there is hardly enough of a 'dose' of probiotic bacteria to help the majority of people substantially. The jury is still open on this to some extent - because thorough experimental work has been limited.
For the reason stated above, it may well be that choosing to use a reliable and high quality probiotic supplement could be the best thing you could do to support your health.This is especially so as you get older.
So what to choose? What you should look out for, though, if you want to avoid taking a chance on ineffective products - is that the probiotic product you choose contains the range of Lactobacillus bacteria. There are other 'good bacteria' but this genus (or family) is the strongest and can survive through the acidity of your stomach, and past other 'chemical challenges' in your diet (alcohol, and caffeine!) to get into the intestines where they are needed.
Are probiotics safe?
Probiotic bacteria are already part of the normal digestive system and are considered safe. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate dietary supplements in the same way it regulates medicines. A dietary supplement can be sold with limited or no research on how well it works or on its safety.
Always tell your doctor if you are using a dietary supplement or if you are thinking about combining a dietary supplement with your conventional medical treatment. It may not be safe to forgo your conventional medical treatment and rely only on a dietary supplement. This is especially important for women who are pregnant or breast-feeding.
When using dietary supplements, keep in mind the following:
- Like conventional medicines, dietary supplements may cause side effects, trigger allergic reactions, or interact with prescription and nonprescription medicines or other supplements you are taking. A side effect or interaction with another medicine or supplement may make other health conditions worse.
- Dietary supplements may not be standardized in their manufacturing. This means that how well they work or any side effects they cause may differ among brands or even within different lots of the same brand. The form you buy in health food or grocery stores may not be the same as the form used in research.