Probiotics: Worth All The Hype?

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For some reason, I had a lot of patients asking about probiotics yesterday – whether it was a good idea to add them to their diet.  Not sure if it was a fluke or maybe there have been a ton more Activia commercials on TV or what?  Though I have to say, Jamie Lee Curtis does seem quite convincing on TV!  But either way, probiotics do seem to be quite a popular remedy for keeping you “regular”, aiding in digestion and keeping you gut in good health. probiotics1

Probiotics are naturally occurring bacteria of all different types that can help maintain the natural balance and environment of the intestines.  At any given time, most people have over 400 different types of bacteria in their intestines – known as microflora!  And they all play an integral part to keeping your gut properly functioning.  For example, reducing harmful organisms ingested through food, stimulate the body’s immune system and even producing compounds that harm and fend off harmful bacteria.

However, these super helpful bacteria can be destroyed quite easily.  Things like medications (especially antibiotics), infections, food intolerances, food poisoning/intoxication and IBS all can affect your natural microflora.  In an effort to replenish or prevent these bacteria from being destroyed, many consumers have turned to probiotics for help.

yogurt2 The types of probiotics commonly used are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium – many times found in foods such as yogurt, kefir (fermented yogurt drink) and even over the counter tablets.  It is important to note that there are many specific types of bacteria that fall under each type and health benefits associated may not be similar between each type of bacteria.

The popularity of probiotic supplements has grown quite fast and the research is having trouble keeping up.  However, there have been a few recent studies that do show probiotics to be helpful.  They  may aid in:

  • Shortening the duration of diarrhea – especially when associated with antibiotic use
  • Calming symptoms of irritable bowl disease
  • Reducing the effects of the harmful bacteria H. Pylori which can cause stomach ulcers
  • Prevention of yeast infections
  • Prevention of intestinal or stomach infections

In my opinion, I really think probiotics can be helpful – especially if treating antibiotic related diarrhea.  Plus, the natural sources they’re found in – yogurt – are pretty healthy for you anyways.  Try finding yogurts that say live or active cultures (like Activia) or kefir (which you can find in general grocery stores now).  You may also be interested in taking a probiotic pill which you can find at your local pharmacy.  But remember, take everything with moderation and make sure you speak to your primary care doctor before making any serious changes to your diet or medications.

Resources:
http://nccam.nih.gov/health/probiotics/introduction.htm
http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/probiotics/AN00389

As with any dietary supplement, be aware that probiotic supplements are regulated as foods, not drugs. Tell your doctor about everything you are taking, including the specific bacteria in your probiotic supplement.v

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