Probiotics are live microorganisms that are thought to produce many health benefits when ingested. Many people are surprised to learn that the human body actually needs certain bacteria in order to function properly and that not all bacteria is harmful. The Harvard Medical School cites over 500 different beneficial microorganisms being present in a healthy human intestinal tract. Most commonly used in treating digestive problems, probiotics are friendly bacteria that can be taken as a pill or powder supplement, or ingested in some of your favorite foods and beverages.
Yogurt can be a great option when introducing probiotics into your lifestyle. Choosing one can be a challenge, though, as not all yogurt is made with live cultures and cow’s milk. Different yogurts contain different microorganisms, with Activia being one of the best choices due to its use of the bacteria Bifidus regularis, which is known to help regulate the digestive system. Cured olives that are free of sodium benzoate and apple cider vinegar are also excellent options to consider. Fermented olives contain lactobacilli, a microorganism that reduces pathogens found in the digestive tract and relieves the discomfort often associated with gut dysbiosis and Chron’s disease. The apple cider vinegar contains raw apples that help the stomach acid digest important nutrients and proteins, and feed the healthy bacteria located within the digestive tract.
Probiotics are also used to treat other conditions such as those affecting the mouth and colic in babies. In both cases, the bacteria Lactobacilli is the live microorganism. When using probiotics to treat or prevent tooth decay, the lactobacilli was found to reduce streptococcus and candida growth (the cavity causing bacterias). Probiotic use for colic in infants is considered typical throughout Europe. In fact, Dr. Indrio of the Aldo Moro University in Italy says she routinely prescribes probiotics to cure and/or prevent colic in babies up to 3 months of age. The lactobacillus bacteria is used as liquid drops and regulates the infant digestive system, reducing common gastrointestinal issues like acid reflux and constipation.
Although the microorganisms found in probiotics are healthy and good for the body, taking introducing probiotics does come with risks due to the complexity of bacteria-host interactions. Typically, side effects are minimal and include ailments like gas and bloating. However, people who have compromised immune systems, for instance, those with autoimmune or metabolic disorders, premature infants and the elderly, are at risk for bacteremia which often leads to sepsis. Further research is being done on the long-term effects of probiotics. The overstimulation of the digestive system could cause gastrointestinal problems over time, and the effects of how probiotics affect genes are still unknown.
Current research on probiotics includes the Tulane University study on the use of probiotics to treat diarrhea in children of underdeveloped countries, the Tufts University research on the treatment of MRSA with probiotics and the Mayo Clinic trials focusing on using probiotics in the reduction of substances found in urine that would cause kidney stones. Once further research has been completed in the United States, probiotics could easily become a “go-to” natural treatment option for a number of diseases and disorders.
When taking probiotics, it is important to always do so under the care of your physician. If you experience any side effects you should consult your doctor. Keep in mind that not all probiotics are the same. Each one contains a different type of living microorganism. While one probiotic may cause you to become gassy, choosing a different one may yield only positive results. Probiotics have and will continue to be a rapidly growing alternative to prescription drug treatments.