Give Probiotics a Go!

Mar 14, 2022

By Barret Procyshyn, Pharmacist at Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy.

Probiotics continue to be very popular in health promotion, healthy eating and make a significant amount of income in the grocery and medical world. Probiotics are advertised to be in cereals, milk products, yogurt, and all types of beverages. Of course probiotics are also sold as medication in the front store of the pharmacy. Pharmacists are often questioned on what exactly probiotics are, how you need to take, when to take them and even which brand to purchase. Probiotics have been used for centuries, as they were found in many cultural dishes using natural fermentation, and because of their effectiveness, they are not going anywhere. As we study them further their prevalence and use may increase.

Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts, which benefit your digestive system and are 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. Many health care professionals believe we too often use antibacterial products and antibiotics, leaving ourselves short of "good" bacteria. Probiotics are the helpful bacteria because they keep your gut and digestive track healthy.

The scientific and medical understanding of probiotics is quite new, with studies beginning in the 1990s. To this day we do not have a full understanding how to harness their health potential fully. Current research is attempting to figure out exactly how they work, in certain situations and disease states. We do know that after taking medication such as antibiotics, you lose a significant number of good bacteria in your body, sometimes allowing other bad bacteria room to grow. 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 which have been scientifically proven 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 been clinically tested to show health benefit. This is often the case with yogurt.

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. While refrigerated products may claim superiority to dried probiotics in the pill form, evidence is lacking. Probiotics stored at room temperature may work better because they have been shown to survive in warmer conditions. 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 this dose may be unnecessarily high. While we attempt to gain an understanding of everything probiotics can do to keep us healthy, there is more evidence they do help. If you have recurrent stomach issues, are annoyed by regular abdominal pain and discomfort, or suffer from symptoms of IBS talk to your pharmacist and see if they are worth a try. The best time to use a probiotic is during and after antibiotic use, to keep the normal gut bacteria alive and well.

The information in this article is intended as a helpful guide only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional advice. If you have any questions about your medications and what is right for you see your doctor, pharmacist, or other health care professional.


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