January 6, 2017

Probiotics: The “good” bacteria

Did you know you are an ecosystem? As humans we are naturally full of bacteria. In fact, trillions of them! Most bacteria is “good” bacteria that lives in our intestines. These good bacteria help us to digest food. With over 500 species, these good bacteria also crowd out the “bad” bacteria that cause infections.

These good bacteria are called “probiotics” (in Greek, “pro” means “for” or “in favor of” and “biotic” means “life”). These bacteria can be found naturally in fermented dairy food like: yogurt, kefir and aged cheeses. Just look for “live culture” on the label. These are also present in pickled vegetables like sauerkraut and kim chi.

In northern Europe eating probiotics for health is quite popular, where they traditionally eat yogurt and cheeses. Interest in probiotics in the U.S. is growing, but the focus is more on supplements.

United States researches are just starting to explore the benefits of probiotics. To this point, there is evidence that probiotics help with:
• treating diarrhea;
• digestive disorders, such as Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome;
• preventing vaginal and urinary tract infections;
• boosting the immune system to help fight colds and flu.

Probiotics found naturally in food are generally considered safe for everyone. However, the jury is still out with supplements. Probiotic supplements zero in on specific strains of bacteria. There is not enough known about which strains are best for which conditions. Also, dietary supplements are not held to the same testing standard and quality control that prescription drugs are.

While there are no known side effects from probiotics, there is a theoretical concern for people with immune system problems (introducing a lot of bacteria to someone on immunosuppressants, for instance, may not be the best idea!).

Before giving a dose of a probiotic supplement to you or your relative, talk with the doctor or a registered dietitian.

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