Health & Food

Health benefits of probiotics

Friday, July 18, 2008

Go to most grocery stores and you'll see drinks, snacks and supplements all saying they're loaded with probiotics. We've all heard how these friendly bacteria can help with digestion and overall health. But are they really beneficial and can they help fight conditions like IBS?

Irritable bowel syndrome would always get the best of Danette Dulaney.

"I would be in the store and I would have to rush to the bathroom not knowing if I was going to make it or not," said Dulaney.

Traditional medicine made her feel groggy so her doctor suggested she take probiotic supplements.

These live bacterial bugs can be found in yogurt, cheese and fermented milk. In fact more than 150 probiotic products have hit stores in the U.S.

By the year 2010, probiotic food is projected to be a $1 billion a year business.

"Many studies show they replenish the gut with beneficial bacteria, that aid in absorption of nutrients and regeneration in the intestinal tract," said Dr. Jane Sadler.

Research shows the bugs' benefits aren't limited to the gut. Some studies show they can boost the immune system, reduce bladder cancer recurrence, treat yeast infections and ease allergies.

"I am not having to take my allergy medication anymore," said Dulaney.

But some doctors say it's too early to judge.

"Unfortunately we don't have the long term studies to prove whether or not there is a definite health benefit to large scale patients," said Dr. Sanni Thomas.

There's also concern about whether the right bacteria is getting into the right products.

"Unfortunately you are at the mercy of the company that produces that food product," said Dr. Thomas.

Other experts advise going with a product that has a proven track record.

"I think it's a matter of going to the store and trying a yogurt brand or a nutritional supplement that is in some kind of milk or yogurt based product that you know comes from a solid company," said Dr. Sadler.

Pro-biotic enhanced foods are so popular in Europe, they're even sold in vending machines.

Currently, scientists are researching the potential cancer killing abilities of probiotics.

Web Extra Information:

THE UPSIDE OF BACTERIA

WHAT ARE PROBIOTICS?

Probiotics are living microorganisms (usually bacteria) similar to those found in the human gut. Sometimes referred to as "friendly" or "good" bacteria, probiotics are typically ingested through dietary supplements in the form of capsules, tablets and powders, and also through food. Many people use probiotics to promote overall health as well as prevent and treat certain wellness. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), foods that contain the organisms include yogurt, fermented and unfermented milk, miso, tempeh, and certain juices and soy drinks. They may be naturally present in these foods or added to them during processing. Fermented foods and cultured milk products were even found in ancient times.

Today, interest in the dietary supplement is growing. From 1994 to 2003, spending on probiotic supplements has almost tripled, NCCAM says. Probiotics are typically from two groups of bacteria: Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium. A few common probiotics are yeasts, which are different from bacteria. Saccharomyces boulardii is one example.

GOOD EATS: GOOD HEALTH:

Bacteria is a natural part of the human body and can be found in and on the skin, in the gut, and in other cavities. There are 20 times more bacteria than cells in the body, says Healingdaily.com. The body's immune system relies on friendly bacteria for protection from microorganisms that can cause disease. The organisms are also vital for digestion and absorption of food and nutrients.

The mix of bacteria in each person is different. Interactions between the body and their microorganisms as well as between the microorganisms themselves is critical for health, but several things can disrupt their balance. First, along with killing "unfriendly" bacteria, antibiotics can also kill desirable bacteria. Some people take probiotics to prevent the side effects of these drugs, such as gas, cramping or diarrhea. Those that experience similar symptoms due to lactose intolerance may also use probiotics. The second way the body's balance can be thrown off is by "unfriendly" microorganisms, like disease-causing bacteria, yeasts, fungi, and parasites.

These can cause a variety of health problems ranging from tooth decay and periodontal disease, to vaginal infections, skin infections, irritable bowel syndrome, and stomach and respiratory infections in children. According to Mayo Clinic, probiotics can treat a variety of these conditions and may also reduce bladder cancer recurrence, prevent and treat inflammation after colon surgery, and even prevent eczema in kids.

PROBIOTIC RISKS:

According to NCCAM, probiotics have a fairly safe track record for use in humans, they have not been thoroughly studied. If side effects occur, they are typically mild and relate to digestive issues like gas or bloating. They may result in infections that require antibiotic treatment.

 

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