What are probiotics?
A probiotic is a live microbial food ingredient that, when ingested in sufficient quantities, supplies health benefits. Basically, probiotics are beneficial bacteria. We humans have lots of different types of bacteria in our digestive tracts (sometimes referred to as the intestinal flora), which is a good thing, because they are an integral part of both the digestion and immune systems. They also keep other insidious things from colonizing in there.
Often the beneficial bacteria can be overpowered by harmful types of bacteria, or killed off from antibiotics, poor diet, or stress. This is a major problem, because a lack of beneficial bacteria in the gut can cause a host of problems with both digestion and immunity.
What are the benefits of a probiotic supplement?
An easy way to ensure that we maintain the proper levels of favorable bacteria in our bodies is to use a probiotic supplement. These are small capsules containing billions of helpful organisms to aid in the following ways:
- Lower cholesterol21
- Improve lactose tolerance1,2,11,15
- Prevent diarrhea1,2,11,15
- Improve symptoms of GI tract inflammatory diseases like Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Colitis, Crohn’s disease, etc.1,3,5,9,17,19,20
- Prevent eczema, allergies, and asthma1,13,14,16
- Improve immune system response1,4,18,20
- Clear up ulcers from Helicobacter Pylori bacteria1,5,10
- Have the potential to prevent certain cancers1,2,11,15,19,20
- It seems very clear that a mother’s use of a probiotic supplement during pregnancy
improves the infant’s immune system.1,7,8,12,13
- So does supplementing with fish oil, by the way.6
Who should use a probiotic supplement?
Probiotics are useful for general health and immune system support.
I recommend their use for just about everyone.
Folks who definitely should use a probiotic supplement include:
- People with inflammatory GI problems, like IBS, colitis, Crohn’s disease.
- People struggling with indigestion or acid reflux, especially if you use acid-reducing medication.
- Anyone with ulcers from Helicobacter Pylori bacteria.
- Pregnant women
- People who often find themselves bloated or gassy.
- Anyone who is using, or has recently used, antibiotics.
- People with a gluten allergy (celiac sprue).
Disclaimer: Just a reminder that this article (along with every article I publish) is not intended to diagnose, prevent, or treat any illness or medical condition. You should always consult a qualified professional to determine the best course of action for your particular circumstances.
What kind of probiotic supplement should I use?
Probiotics are available in varied forms such as yogurt and other cultured milk foods, capsules, tablets, beverages, and powders. For the record, probiotics are not the same as prebiotics, which are complex sugars (such as inulin and other fructo-oligosaccharides) that are ingested as fuel for bacteria already present in the gastrointestinal tract.
Typical probiotic capsules contain between 1 billion and 3 billion active organisms. For general health and immune system support, a daily dose of 1-5 billion organisms is generally sufficient. If you are combating a yeast infection, replenishing the gut after a course of antibiotics, or using probiotics for another therapeutic function, you may have to temporarily use a dose of 10-30 billion organisms per day. Consult a knowledgeable healthcare provider for advice.
As with every nutrition supplement, it is important to purchase products from reputable companies that consistently test well in the laboratory for purity and labeling accuracy.
I use the NOW brand probiotics, which contains 1 billion organisms per capsule, and does not have to be refrigerated.
- Adv Biochem Eng Biotechnol. 2008;111:1-66.
- Br J Nutr. 1998 Oct;80(4):S203-7
- Br J Nutr. 2002 Sep;88 Suppl 1:S51-7.
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- Lancet. 2001 Apr 7;357(9262):1076-9.
- Med J Aust. 2008 Mar 3;188(5):304-8.
- Nutr J. 2005 Aug 4;4:22.
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- Wiad Lek. 2004;57(9-10):491-8
- Christopher J. Martoni, Ph.D. and Satya Prakash, Ph.D. from the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2012
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