Photo by http://benvandenbroecke.be/ Copyright, ISAPP 2019.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host. The word probiotic is often used incorrectly to refer to any live microorganisms—but an international group of scientists convened by ISAPP agreed that the term should be restricted to microorganisms that have been tested and shown to provide a health benefit.
Your body contains 38 trillion microbes that make up your microbiota and assist in keeping you healthy—and probiotics can play a supportive role in these processes. Probiotic bacteria are found in a variety of different products, including foods, dietary supplements, infant formulas, pharmaceuticals, and other products (such as tampons and skin creams, that can also deliver probiotics).
What can probiotics do for health?
Research has shown that probiotics can support health in a variety of different ways. In general, they may assist with your immune function, aid your digestion, keep harmful microorganisms in check, produce vitamins, and aid in nutrient absorption. Specifically, there’s evidence that certain probiotics can:
- Reduce antibiotic-associated diarrhea
- Treat infectious diarrhea
- Improve mild to moderate irritable bowel syndrome and other digestive symptoms
- Help manage symptoms associated with poor digestion of lactose
- Reduce colic symptoms and reduce risk of eczema in infants
- Decrease some common infections, including those of the respiratory tract, gut, and vaginal tract
When you’re choosing a probiotic, it’s important to remember that strains are different—so you need to pick a strain that gives the benefit you want. Amount also matters, so be sure the product contains the level of probiotics needed for the desired health benefit.
Will probiotics work for me?
Like all strategies for promoting health, a specific probiotic strain might not work for everyone. Scientists think the factors that might influence whether a probiotic works for you could include your unique diet, the existing microbes in your digestive tract, and your unique physiology. One strategy for figuring out whether a probiotic is right for you is to try a product for about a month. If you don’t see a benefit, then perhaps it’s not the right one for you. Prebiotics and some fermented foods are alternative ways to address health through the gut.
Are probiotics safe?
Probiotics are safe for most people, but talk to your doctor first if you suffer from an immune disorder or short bowel syndrome, or have a serious illness. You should also check with a medical professional before giving probiotics to an infant.
See here for resources that can help you find a probiotic product to address your needs.