By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 20 May 2014)
Our bodies maintain populations of good bacteria that help with digestion and protect against harmful bacteria. Overall, we have 1 to 2 kg of bacteria in our guts that produce a broad array of beneficial chemicals, and people who have a more diverse range of bacteria tend to be healthier as they age. Probiotics, which are good bacteria that can be taken via supplements or foods, can provide a number of benefits.
General benefits of probiotics include improving digestion and boosting immune function. Probiotics enhance health improving nutrient absorption and keeping the numbers of harmful micro-organisms down to reduce the likelihood of succumbing to a variety of illnesses.
The findings from research that has been conducted thus far suggest that probiotics may be beneficial for the following conditions (though more studies are required to confirm these benefits):
- Anxiety and depression
- Bladder cancer (reduce the risk of recurrence)
- Cardiovascular disease (prevention by reducing LDL cholesterol)
- Certain intestinal infections (speed recovery)
- Childhood eczema (prevention and treatment)
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Colds and flus (prevention and reduction in severity when they do occur)
- Crohn’s disease
- Diarrhea (especially in children or when caused by antibiotics)
- Inflammation (which is a factor in a variety of diseases)
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Oxidative stress (diminishes oxidative stress, reducing the risk for many diseases)
- Ulcerative colitis
- Urinary tract infections
- Vaginal yeast infections
- Weight loss (increases the likelihood that weight loss programs will be successful)
Probiotic supplements are considered to be safe for most people, though they may be problematic for those with serious illnesses such as severe pancreatitis or weakened immune systems. Checking with a doctor before taking supplements is recommended to be on the safe side.
If you’re considering probiotic supplements, be aware that not all products contain as many organisms as they claim. Although they’re assessed at their manufacturing sites, heat and humidity during shipping and storage may significantly reduce the number of active organisms.
Also, keep in mind that specific probiotic strains are effective for particular illnesses while others will not provide any benefits. If you’re interested in treating a specific illness rather than generally improving your health and boosting your immune function, do some research or consult with a specialist to determine which strain is likely to be the most effective.
Not enough is known about probiotics to determine the optimum dose, frequency of consumption, and treatment duration for various conditions. However, experts typically recommend that those taking probiotic supplements should choose a product that contains at least 1 billion colony-forming units (CFUs) and includes more than one strain of bacteria.
See Natural Sources of Probiotics for a list of probiotic-rich foods.
This article is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for medical or psychiatric advice from a qualified doctor. Health and psychiatric concerns should be referred to an appropriate professional.
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