What Are Probiotics?
The word probiotics comes from the words pro and biota, which means for life. More literally, probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts. Since healthy people’s bowels contain trillions of such microorganisms that keep harmful pathogens in check, supplementing with additional probiotics is said to have various benefits. Probiotics are sometimes called “good” bacteria.
There are two common classifications of probiotics.
Lactobacillus is the most common form. It can help with diarrhea and aid people who are lactose-intolerant in digestion.
Bifidobacterium can ease the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome
What Can Probiotics Help With?
Ingesting probiotics helps to keep the naturally occurring flora and fauna in your body in check. Antibiotics, for example, wipe out both the bacteria that made you ill and the supportive microorganisms. Probiotics can restore those good bacteria, keeping your body in check. Here are just a few of the healthy issues that probiotics may help with.
Intestinal Troubles: The most studied benefit of probiotics is for diarrhea. Some studies have shown that taking a probiotic reduced antibiotic-associated diarrhea by 60%. Additionally, Lactobacillus GG was shown to reduce the duration of diarrhea in children.
Probiotics can also benefit people diagnosed with Crohn’s and Colitis disease by preventing relapses of Crohn’s. Small studies have shown they maintain remission of ulcerative colitis.
Vaginal Health: Lactobacilli may help treat bacterial vaginosis, although as a supplement to more traditional treatments and not a replacement treatment. Some women anecdotally report probiotics have helped their urinary tract infections clear up faster and current studies of probiotics as an alternative method to treat UTIs are underway.
In some women, vaginal yeast infections are a misfortunate side effect of antibiotics. Ingesting probiotics during the course of antibiotics may help prevent such infections by maintaining the balance between the “good” and “bad” vaginal microflora.
Eczema: Several studies have examined the value of probiotics in preventing the onset of childhood eczema. Pregnant women with eczema consumed probiotics 2 months before and 2 months after birth. The probiotics were passed on to their infants via breast milk. The babies, who had been at increased risk of developing eczema, were less likely to have the itchy skin condition through 24 months of age.
Colic: Some tired and frustrated new parents may think nothing can calm a colicky baby, but probiotics may come to the rescue. The babies of breastfeeding mothers who took probiotics daily cried an average of 194 minutes less per day.
What are Common Forms of Probiotics?
How can you ingest probiotics? Two common ways are through food and supplements.
Food: Yogurt is the most commonly thought-of food containing probiotics and brands tout the levels of probiotics in their products. Greek yogurt, which has seen a surge in popularity as more Americans are concerned about their probiotic intake, has high concentrations. Icelandic-style yogurt, newer to the American market, is another option for probiotic intake. Probiotic-heavy yogurt drinks are a popular on-the-go option.
Other Food Sources: Fermented foods, such as pickles or sauerkraut are naturally-occurring sources of probiotics. Miso is high in the body-friendly microbes, so add an order of miso soup to your sushi takeout order. Certain fermented soft cheeses, like Gouda, carry probiotics, as does sourdough bread. Acidophilus milk has been enhanced with added “good” bacteria.
Supplements: Over-the-counter probiotic supplements are commonly found in drugstores and grocery stores. Typical dosing for adults is 1-2 capsules per day, usually with a meal. Different types vary in their levels of live probiotic cultures and diversity of probiotic strains. As with any supplement, contraindications are a risk. Probiotics are safe for most patients, though those who are severely immunocompromised are advised to take caution.