What are probiotics?
Probiotics are live bacteria or yeasts that are intended to have health benefits when eaten or applied to our body. Often, they are the good bacteria that live in our body. The good bacteria help defend the body from infections caused by bad bacteria or other germs.
Probiotics have been around for years in foods such as yogurt and sauerkraut. They are also available on the market as probiotic pills, although their effectiveness in treating conditions remains a subject of debate and investigation.
Potential benefits of probiotics
The potential positive effect of probiotics have mostly been focused on their ability to support gastrointestinal health.
Research is ongoing to definitively determine if probiotics can:
Help fight or prevent infections in the stomach or intestine, including a serious infection called “C. difficile”
Reduce antibiotic associated diarrhea
Help treat constipation
Aid lactose digestion
Help in management of chronic gastrointestinal conditions such as Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome
Outside of gut health, researchers are also studying whether probiotics:
Prevent or treat allergies
Help prevent or fight infections in the vagina such as bacterial vaginosis
Can probiotics be harmful?
It’s easy to assume that probiotics are good (or at the very least, harmless) for health and that gives us the green light to eat as much kefir and supplements as our heart and gut desires.
Before you spend money on probiotic products, consider the following:
Probiotics are not regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration. That means that the probiotic companies do not have to demonstrate efficacy or even prove the ingredients listed are actually in the bottle.
Probiotics are generally safe for healthy people but there is a small risk of infection in people with a weakened immune system, or in people with severe illness.
Talk to your doctor before you decide to take probiotic supplements to make sure probiotics are appropriate for you.