The Pros of Probiotics

Aug 11, 2017

By Barret Procyshyn, Pharmacist at the Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy

Probiotics are a health craze, food craze, grocery store craze and even a medical craze. Probiotics are advertised to be in cereals, milk products, yogurt, and beverages. Of course probiotics are also sold as medication in the front store of the pharmacy. Pharmacists also are getting more questions on what exactly probiotics are, how much one needs to take, when to take them and even which brand to purchase. Probiotics are not going anywhere, because they work, and as we gather data on them their use will only become more widespread.

Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are good for your digestive system and good for your health. Some listeners maybe wondering: Does bacteria not cause diseases and infection? Why would I want to take that? The truth is your body, inside and outside, is full of different types of bacteria. If fact, many health care professionals believe we too often use antibacterial products and are leaving ourselves short of normal bacteria. Probiotics are the helpful bacteria because they keep your gut and digestive track healthy.

The medicine of probiotics is fairly new, with studies beginning in the 1990s and to this day we do not have a full understanding how to harness their health potential fully. In fact research is still taking place to figure out exactly how they work in certain situations. We do know that after taking medication such as antibiotics, you lose a significant amount of good bacteria in your body; probiotics can help replace this. They can also be taken to create a better balance of good and bad bacteria in the intestinal tract.

Why do you need probiotics? They help move and digest food through your gut. They also compete with invasive bacteria, keeping life normal inside the digestive tract. While we do not quite know which probiotics are needed in specific situations, they are showing promise to treat conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, infectious diarrhea and definitely antibiotic related diarrhea. Some health care professionals are also pointing to probiotics to improve eczema, urinary health, oral health and prevent allergy and colds. Probiotics are quite safe, so they can be worth a try to improve your digestive health. Some mild side effects like stomach upset, gas and bloating can occur, although it is usually mild and decreases over time.

Probiotics found in pills or foods can both be effective. The best sources of probiotics are often found in fermented vegetable foods and unpasteurized dairy products. However; fermenting your own fresh vegetables is not convenient for most; and for health and safety concerns unpasteurized milk products are not commercially available. So if a probiotic is a living thing some may question how you can take them in the pill form? When bacteria are dried and stabilized properly, they actually remain alive, although dormant, and start to grow again after they reintroduced into the moist environment inside your body. There is also a difference between the term "live cultures" and "probiotics". Probiotics are live microbes that have actually scientifically shown to have a health effect. Live cultures are microbes associated with foods, often as food fermentation agents. While they may have health benefit many live cultures have not actually been clinically tested to show health benefit. This is often the case with yogurt, although you are consuming live cultures, they are not actually helping you. Another interesting fact is that the pasteurization of milk products actually kills most of the live cultures we need. Therefore, the dairy product would actually have to have live cultures added back in after the process, and this is apparently often not the case.

Finally with various brands of probiotics available in the market at various doses and various price ranges, patients want to know which one to use. The one you see on television commercials is not necessarily the best. Also while refrigerated products may advertise they are superior to dried probiotics in the pill form, there is no evidence to fully support this claim. In fact probiotics which can be stored at room temperature might actually work better because they have been shown to survive in warmer conditions. Upon my research, I recommend choosing a product in your price range that contains strains from both the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium groups. The amount of bacteria present in the dose should allow you to consume a minimum of three billion colony forming units (CFU). Products now contain as much as 50 billion CFU, although you might not actually need that much. While we are still grasping at gaining an understanding of everything probiotics can do to keep us healthy there is more and more evidence they do help. So if you have recurrent stomach issues, are annoyed by regular abdominal pain and discomfort or suffer from symptoms of IBS talk to your pharmacist to see if they are worth a try. The best time to use a probiotic is definitely during and after antibiotic use to keep the normal gut bacteria alive and well.


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