Probiotics are living microorganisms, that scientific research has shown to benefit your health. Most often they are bacteria, but they may also be other organisms such as yeasts. In some cases they are similar, or the same, as the “good” bacteria already in your body, particularly those in your gut. These good bacteria are part of the trillions of microorganisms that inhabit our bodies. This community of microorganisms is called the microbiota. Some microbiota organisms can cause disease. However, others are necessary for good health and digestion. This is where probiotics come in.
The most common probiotic bacteria come from two groups, Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium, although it is important to remember that many other types of bacteria are also classified as probiotics. Each group of bacteria has different species and each species has different strains. This is important to remember because different strains have different benefits for different parts of your body. For example, Lactobacillus casei Shirota has been shown to support the immune system and to help food move through the gut, but Lactobacillus bulgaricus may help relieve symptoms of lactose intolerance, a condition in which people cannot digest the lactose found in most milk and dairy products. In general, not all probiotics are the same, and they don’t all work the same way.
How They Work
- Boost your immune system by enhancing the production of antibodies to certain infections.
- Prevent harmful bacteria from attaching to the gut lining and growing there.
- Send signals to your cells to strengthen the mucus in your intestine and help it act as a barrier against infection.
- Inhibit or destroy toxins released by certain “bad” bacteria that can make you sick.
- Produce B vitamins and certain substances which promote a healthy large intestine. They also aid in the absorption of certain minerals.
- May help relieve bloating from gas and regulate bowel movements in those with Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
- Some studies suggest that probiotics may help reduce inflammation and delay the next bout of ulcerative colitis. They can also reduce the severity of H. Pylori infections that cause ulcers in the stomach.
- Taking probiotics when you first start taking an antibiotic may help prevent antibiotic-related diarrhea (caused by the destruction of the good bacteria along with the bad). It can also be beneficial in infectious diarrhea often seen in small children and traveler’s diarrhea.
- May control high blood pressure.
- May be beneficial in liver cirrhosis.
- Can reduce cholesterol levels.
- May help those with lactose intolerance and gluten sensitivity.
- May be beneficial in those undergoing gastric bypass surgeries.
- Probiotics may have therapeutic potential in autism and some psychiatric disorders. They can protect the nervous system by regulating toxins released by bad bacteria which are capable of affecting the brain.
- Taking probiotics in the last 4 weeks of pregnancy may help reduce the incidence of atopic dermatitis at 2 to 4 years in their infants, especially those with a family history. It can also reduce the risk of preterm delivery. It may also help cut post-pregnancy belly fat.
- Other potential uses for probiotics include maintaining mouth hygiene, preventing eczema, protecting the skin from UV damage, promoting health in the urinary tract and vagina and preventing allergies and colic, especially in children.
Is It Safe?
Ultimately these are live bacterial cultures, therefore, caution must be used in patients with a compromised immune system. Separate administration of antibiotics from probiotics by at least two hours.
Keep in mind that probiotics are considered dietary supplements and are not FDA-regulated like drugs. They are not standardized, meaning they are made in different ways by different companies and have different additives. How well a probiotic works may differ from brand to brand and even from batch to batch within the same brand. Probiotics also vary tremendously in their cost, and cost does not necessarily reflect higher quality.
Side effects may vary too. The most common are gas and bloating. These are usually mild and temporary. More serious side effects include allergic reactions, either to the probiotics themselves or to other ingredients in the food or supplement.
Remember to store your probiotic according to package instructions and make sure the product has a sell-by or expiration date. Probiotics are living organisms. Even if they are dried and dormant, like in a powder or capsule, they must be stored properly or they will die. Some require refrigeration whereas others do not. They also have a shelf-life, so make sure you use them before the expiration date on the package.
Last but not the least: follow your healthcare professional’s advice on how to take and how long to take them.