Probiotics: What We Know

January 2018

Talk about a hot topic. Probiotics are becoming increasingly popular. They’re available to consumers in oral form, such as dietary supplements and yogurts, as well as in other products like suppositories and creams.

Probiotics are live microorganisms (for example: bacteria) that are either the same as or similar to microorganisms found naturally in our bodies and may be beneficial to health. The lower gastrointestinal tract, in particular, contains a complex and diverse community of bacteria. Even though we often think of bacteria as harmful “germs,” many bacteria help the body work properly.

Researchers have studied probiotics to find out whether they might help prevent or treat a variety of health problems, including digestive disorders such as diarrhea associated with infections or antibiotics; allergic disorders such as eczema and hay fever; tooth decay; liver disease; and even the common cold. That work has shown that there is some evidence that probiotics may be helpful for acute diarrhea, antibiotic-associated diarrhea and atopic eczema, a skin condition most commonly seen in infants. Unfortunately, along with the promise shown in this research, strong scientific evidence to support other uses of probiotics for most conditions is lacking.

Probiotic products may contain different types of probiotic bacteria that can have different effects in our bodies. Effects also may vary from one person to the next. Studies suggest that probiotics usually have few side effects, especially for otherwise healthy people. However, the data on safety, particularly long-term safety, are limited, and the risk of serious side effects may be greater in people who have underlying health conditions.

Considering a probiotic dietary supplement? Talk with your healthcare provider. Use care to not replace scientifically proven treatments with unproven products or practices.

Source: National Institutes of Health

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