Understanding Probiotics

You may have seen probiotics on the shelf in the pharmacy and wondered if they would be good for you to take. This tip sheet will provide information to help determine if probiotics are right for you.  

What are Probiotics?

Probiotics are often referred to as friendly bacteria or good bacteria which naturally colonize the body and help keep our digestive system healthy. They help protect the body from unfriendly bacteria that can cause infection. It is estimated that there are about 400 types of probiotic bacteria existing in a normal digestive tract.  The main types of probiotics are Lactobacilli, Bifidobacteria, and Saccharomyces boulardii (a yeast). Lactobacillus acidophilus may be the best-known probiotic; it can be found naturally in yogurt and other fermented foods.

How Do Probiotics Help?

Probiotics are often used to prevent digestive issues caused by antibiotics. The loss of beneficial bacteria from the intestine from antibiotic use contributes to gastrointestinal symptoms such as gas, diarrhea and cramping. A probiotic supplement replaces the body’s natural stores, which may help prevent diarrhea.

What Conditions Can Probiotics Treat?

Further research is needed to determine the effectiveness of probiotics in certain conditions including:

  • Fighting or preventing infections in the stomach and intestine such as a serious infection called C. diff
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis)
  • Allergies
  • Eczema, a skin condition that causes flaky, itchy skin
  • Vaginal infections

Ask your pharmacist which probiotic may be helpful for your specific complaint.

  • Lactobacilli may help treat lactose intolerance and certain types of diarrhea
  • Bifidobacteria may help reduce symptoms of irritable bowel disease
  • Saccharomyces boulardii is a yeast and may help treat diarrhea and certain types of digestive problems

Are Probiotics Safe?

Probiotics are already found in your digestive system and some foods we eat — and these don’t appear to cause illness. Some patients may experience mild side effects such as stomach upset, gas, and bloating at the beginning of therapy.  

The safety of probiotics needs further study in the elderly, young children, and people who have weakened immune systems; it is possible that probiotics may cause infection in susceptible people.

Which Product Should I Choose?

It may be difficult to know if a probiotic supplement is right for you, and with so many probiotic products on the market, choosing the right one may be a challenge. Ask your pharmacist for help to purchase a reliable product. Alternatively, some yogurt food products contain probiotics and low-fat varieties can be part of a healthy diet.




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