What are probiotics?
Probiotics, also known as acidophilus, are bacteria that help maintain the natural balance of organisms (microflora) in the digestive system. A normal human digestive tract contains about 400 types of probiotic bacteria that aid in reducing the growth of harmful bacteria and promote a healthy digestive system. Lactobacillus acidophilus, found in yogurt is the most commonly known probiotic in the largest group of probiotic bacteria of lactic and acid bacteria. Yeast is also a probiotic substance and probiotics are also available as dietary supplements.
Certain types of probiotics have been shown to assit in digestive disease treatments. Studies in these types of treatments are still in their infant stages and many probiotics need to still be proven as effective disease treatments. Even at this point, strains of probiotics known to work for treatment of certain diseases are not readily available. However, it is known that probiotics are an important part in maintaining a healthy and happy digestive system.
What are probiotics used for?
A decrease in beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract can lead to infections, such as vaginal yeast and urinary tract infections, and symptoms such as diarrhea from intestinal illnesses.
A common circumstance to use a probiotic is to prevent diarrhea caused by antibiotics. Antibiotics kill “good” (beneficial) bacteria along with the bacteria that cause illness. A decrease in beneficial bacteria may lead to diarrhea. Taking probiotic(acidophilus) supplements (which can be found in pills, powder or liquid) may help replace the lost beneficial bacteria and thus help prevent diarrhea.
Research has also 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.
These results suggest that probiotics may also be used to:
- Help with other causes of diarrhea.
- Help prevent infections in the digestive tract.
- Help control immune response (inflammation), as in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
Researchers are currently studying the use of probiotics for inflammatory bowel disease, colon cancer, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) with promising results.
These results found in early stage studies have helped reinforce the use of probiotics in the treatment of diarrhea caused by antibiotics. Yogurt can offer benefits if it contains active cultures in it, which is indicated on their containers.
Are probiotics safe?
Probiotic bacteria are already part of the normal digestive system and probiotic supplementation is 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.
- The long-term effects of most dietary supplements, other than vitamins and minerals, are not known. Many dietary supplements are not used long-term.
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